John Oliver returned with a new “Last Week Tonight” after a month-long hiatus, and delivered a rousing screed that lasted for most of the episode. The topic: Donald Trump’s attempt to fast-track Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court right before the election even though he and the Republicans in the Senate don’t represent a majority of the American people.
“If, and almost certainly when, Barrett is confirmed to the Supreme Court, the impact could be dire. In recent years, key cases have been decided by just one vote. From upholding the Affordable Care Act, to preserving DACA, to striking down an incredibly restrictive abortion law,” Oliver said.
“Should those issues come before the court again, they could now easily go the other way. And there is clearly no point holding on to hope that conservatives might choose to respect the precedent they set by refusing to even consider Merrick Garland in an election year, because that was always in bad faith.”
The problem, Oliver said, is that Republicans are clearly defying the will of the people with a far-right pick like Barrett. Oliver notes that polling shows clear majority preference for liberal causes like abortion rights and Medicare-for-all and the elimination of the Electoral College.
“This has been a very dark week for a lot of people. The Supreme Court is about to lurch to the right for the foreseeable future. And if things seem hopeless right now it’s because, to be completely honest, they basically are,” Oliver said.
“This is a pivotal moment. And while we got here a little bit by bad luck and bad timing, we also got here through diligent effort by Republican leadership and, crucially, some very big systemic problems that just have to be addressed. So tonight, let’s talk about that. Specifically, how the f— we got here and what the f— we can possibly do next.”
Oliver continued on from there by going in-depth on “the deeply undemocratic nature of America’s institutions.” “Last Week Tonight” then played a few videos of Republican senators claiming to have a “mandate” to do what they’re doing with Amy Coney Barrett.
“Let’s talk about that mandate, because neither the presidency nor the Senate are nearly as reflective of the will of the American people as they are suggesting there,” Oliver said. “First, take the White House. A Democrat has won the national popular vote in four out of the last five elections, but we’ve spent 12 of the last 20 years with a Republican in office. And that is because the Electoral College, with its winner-take-all approach in most states, can distort the will of the majority.
“On top of which it grants disproportionate power to less populous states, which tend to be rural and more conservative. Something which is even more pronounced in the Senate where there are 15 states representing 38 million people that have 30 Republican senators. Even though that is less than the total population of California, which has just two Democratic ones. And that’s before you even get into the fact that places like Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., where the populations are largely black or Hispanic, don’t have representation in the Senate at all.”
Oliver then dropped a pretty interesting bit of information: “The Senate gives the average Black American only 75 percent as much representation as the average white American. And the average Hispanic American, only 55 percent as much.”
When you consider how the Republicans have such a dramatically unfair and undemocratic advantage, Oliver said, it makes the current political situation in the United States seem even more ridiculous.
“When Barrett is confirmed, a president who lost the popular vote will have picked a quarter of the federal judiciary and a third of the Supreme Court. And his choices will have been rubber stamped by a Senate Republican majority representing 15 million fewer people than the Democratic minority,” Oliver said.
“And if that sounds absurd to you, it’s because it clearly is. Especially when those courts have allowed Republicans to set wildly unpopular policy that wouldn’t actually pass muster with voters.”
All is not lost yet, of course, Oliver said. Maybe the Democrats could take both the Senate and the presidency despite the system being “rigged” in favor of Republicans and Trump’s hope that SCOTUS will keep him in office if he loses the election.
“Let’s say for the sake of argument Democrats do manage to sweep the upcoming election. The biggest mistake will be to think that that has in itself fixed everything or, indeed, anything,” he said. “Because there is no point getting power unless you then willing to be bold enough to use it to make significant structural change.”
So what do the Democrats need to do? According to Oliver, there are a few things: abolish the Electoral College, or bypass it; expand the Supreme Court; make Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico states; abolish the filibuster.
Oliver acknowledged that “court expansion could open the door to a never-ending cycle of both parties doing it, which could permanently destabilize one of the bedrock institutions of American governance.” But he pointed out once again, to end the segment, that these moves would just be the start of a very, very long fight.
“Because the unavoidable truth here is that the system is already rigged,” Oliver said. “And it’s rigged in a way that has allowed a party without popular support to drastically reshape an entire branch of government for the foreseeable future by appealing almost exclusively to white voters in some of the least populous regions of the country. That is not a mandate and it’s not democracy. It’s a f—ing travesty.
“We are at the end of a generational battle, and the heartbreaking thing is, we lost. And that hurts. It’s gonna hurt for a long time for a lot of people in ways that could take a while to fully comprehend.’
But Oliver isn’t being fatalistic about it.
“The next battle has to start right now, and it will be long. We didn’t get here overnight and we won’t get out of here overnight, but we must be willing to fight tirelessly, and with every tool and tactic at our disposal.”
You can watch this entire segment from this week’s episode of “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” in the video embedded in this article, or on YouTube right here.