In his last episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight before going on winter hiatus, John Oliver turned his attention to the disturbing trend of authoritarianism in counties throughout the world — from places like Russia and North Korea, to the Philippines and Brazil. As he explained, there are three traits all authoritarian dictators share: projecting strength, demonizing enemies, and dismantling institutions.
After going into depth about each of those traits, Oliver brought it back around to America’s own unfolding situation. “And look, as we’ve gone through these three traits, you may have found yourself thinking, ‘Uh-oh! Some of these are ringing a bell!,'” he quipped, before turning his attention to President Trump, and why his presidency is setting a dangerous precedent.
“The real worry here isn’t just that Trump sounds like an authoritarian, it’s that many people in this country like the way that sounds,” Oliver explained of the president’s surrogates and supporters, who are not only unbothered by his rhetoric, but thrive on it.
He then went on to deliver a not-exactly comforting warning to America:
The world is dabbling with something very dangerous right now, and America needs to be careful. And look, I know democracy can be, often by design, frustrating. Checks and balances can be irritating and slow, and might not deliver the outcome that you wanted. But removing them opens to door to something much worse. And that is true whether you live in Russia, Turkey, Hungary, the Philippines, Brazil, or, yes, the United States.
And I know that America is a different country, with a different history, and thankfully, more resilient institutions, but that is no course for complacency. Because the truth is, the honest answer to could authoritarianism happen here, is and possibly always will be: No. I think? No? Probably no.
“Probably no,” is better than a hard “yes,” anyway, but it serves as a reminder of why we all need to stay vigilant in these scary, tumultuous times.