John Oliver delivered a seething takedown of Confederate monuments on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, which featured a guest appearance by Stephen Colbert.
“In recent years, there has been a robust debate over Confederate symbols, from flags being taken down to statues being removed to the white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville, both the one that ended in violence in August and another one that happened just last night,” Oliver said.
“So as this debate is clearly not going away, we wanted to take a look at some of the arguments, as you don’t have to look hard to find people that are very upset by the idea of Confederate statues being taken away.”
Oliver compared the situation to Britain’s own Jimmy Saville, a beloved TV host who even received knighthood until it was posthumously discovered that he was a sex predator. The monuments dedicated Saville quickly came down in the aftermath of the scandal. Like Saville, Oliver finds it abnormal to honor a stain in the country’s history.
“What we do know, collectively, is that they were fighting to protect the institution of slavery, and I do get wanting a more comfortable history for your family, but in doing so, you can’t invent a more comfortable history for your country, because you would be erasing the actual painful experiences of many Americans,” Oliver said.
The majority of these Confederates statues and monuments weren’t erected in the shadow of the Civil War but instead in the decades defined by Jim Crow Laws and the Civil Rights Movement.
“Some of these statues commemorate people who fought a war to preserve slavery, were erected to assert white supremacy and were dedicated by Klan members, and yet there is a blanket defense that tends to get offered by people, and not just people, but also this guy,” Oliver said, cutting to Donald Trump’s speech in defense of Confederate monuments.
Oliver then introduced the “Hitler-Hanks Spectrum” that measures all people from bad to good, with the men often celebrated with Confederate statues leaning towards the bad side of the spectrum. Even Confederate general Robert E. Lee argued that Civil War monuments should not be erected in order to “obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”
“It’s true: Robert E. Lee was against statues of people like Robert E. Lee,” Oliver said.
As more and more Confederate statues are taken down across the nation, Oliver recommended that the empty plinths be dedicated to “honor someone who really deserves it,” like the first African-American female pilot Bessie Coleman for Texas, an alligator giving the middle finger for Florida and, in a surprise appearance, Stephen Colbert for his hometown Charleston, South Carolina.
“He’ll actually stand there all day and tell you fun facts about your wonderful town,” Oliver promised.
“Charleston is the site of the first free public library in America,” Colbert said from his pedestal. “We’re also Travel & Leisure’s Number One destination for five years running!”