John Oliver Warns: Project 2025 Warps Reality to Trump’s Whims

As substantively terrifying as John Oliver can make Last Week Tonight‘s deep dives into social, political, technological, and environmental issues (and boy, will we get there tonight), one of the long-running series’ chief joys is seeing how the cheeky Brit’s most offhandedly mischievous bits can take on lives of their own. For anyone imaging that Oliver’s initial prank ridiculing the private equity owners of beloved seafood chain Red Lobster by snapping up the entire contents of a greed-bankrupted franchise restaurant had run its course, the gag kept on giving.

When a bakery close to the now HBO-owned Red Lobster complained, Oliver, spotting a new source of fun for him and us, threw down the gauntlet, offering up two expensive new ovens on the condition that the bakery transform its signature cake bears into John Oliver bears, complete with giant, edible asses. Well this Sunday, the bakery volleyed back. Is this the end of the lobster-to-bear prank train? Only time will tell.

But Last Week Tonight can’t be all yummy cake-butts and wasting HBO’s money, sadly. With the 2024 presidential election mere months away, and former President, 34-times convicted felon, legally adjudicated rapist, and twice-impeached insurrectionist Donald Trump essentially only needing a coin flip to reclaim the White House, Oliver took a long, sobering look at just what a second Trump administration would look like. (Spoiler: Really, really bad.)

Focusing, as is his way, on a seemingly incidental thing that could be the key that unlocks something truly destructive and awful, Oliver unpacked the sinister-sounding Project 2025. More specifically, that right-wing manifesto’s plan to undermine [overly dramatic music sting]… governmental staffing policy. As John Oliver himself conceded, that’s not a sexy-sounding subject, but the host did his level best to unsettle viewers with the insidious truth behind the [second bombastic music sting]… wide-ranging HR reclassifications.

It’s Been a Busy Week

The potential downsides of artificial intelligence have become hot topics with every new AI-faked image of a six-fingered Donald Trump having a totally real cookout with Black supporters, but Oliver seized upon one local politician’s use of AI for one of the most jaw-dropping abuses of a questionable new technology yet.

Plucking one MAGA Republican congressional candidate named Anthony Hudson out of the “you will not f**king believe this one” file, Oliver played the entirety of the Michigan House hopeful’s internet video in which Martin Luther King (yes, that one) claimed that he has “another dream.” That dream? That Michiganders elect Anthony Hudson, a guy whose policies so align with those of listed hero Donald Trump that one imagines the actual Dr. King, um, not endorsing him.

Oliver, after affecting the mouth-agape reaction of someone who’s just heard what he heard, could only double down on his bemusement (and amusement) when the not-MLK signs off with the phrase, “Okay, I am now going back to where I came from. Goodbye.” Hudson, for his part, at first claimed one of those darned loose-cannon staffers repurposed the voice of one of the most influential civil rights and social justice leaders in world history to throw support behind a person screaming about deporting “illegals” and eliminating all gun laws. But then he, like Oliver, doubled down, claiming that, if he hadn’t been murdered by a right-wing white guy with a gun, Dr. King would totally be on the Anthony Hudson bandwagon. If you’re going to steal a beloved person’s voice, might as well take it all the way.

Schedule F, as in F**cked

First, a word about MILF Manor, the reality show that proves how even yesteryear’s sitcom gags about how abysmally low TV would go had no earthly idea. John Oliver utilized clips of the TLC series about mature women making out in hot tubs with both much younger men and their dads as bait/reward throughout his main story tonight.

Oliver confessed that there were going to be some dry subject headings (Article 2, Schedule F, impoundment) and even less salacious subject matter (governmental HR procedures) on the way to his usual call for people to wake up to the potentially cataclysmic things happening right under their noses. And then he showed how those innocent sounding bureaucratic employment policies are at the heart of a proposed Trump agenda that would fundamentally change the separation of powers.

Again, that might not sound like something destined to get out the Democratic vote in a panic, but if you know John Oliver, you’re already dialing the first numbers of your representatives’ offices and preparing to hit “send.” While noting that it’s true that some of Donald Trump’s most egregiously racist, authoritarian, or just plain stupid policy initiatives never actually happened in his first term as President, Oliver reminded everyone that that’s because Trump took the Oval Office just as flummoxed as the rest of us. Unprepared, unstaffed, and utterly over his head when it came to doing the job, first term Trump still managed to do a whole lot of damage. (“Not everyone did,” was Oliver’s answer to those scoffing that we survived four years of a Trump presidency.)

This time, however, Trump has backup in the form of the 100 or so conservative organizations behind Project 2025, whose 900-page action plan to reshape America reads like a first draft of The Handmaid’s Tale that Margaret Atwood threw out for being too on the nose. Apart from the right-wing’s greatest hits (banning abortion, ending no-fault divorce, eliminating departments overseeing everything from education to justice to environmental protection, even outlawing porn!), the plan’s most sweeping provision involves changing how government vacancies are filled. (Cue MILF Manor clip to keep everybody watching.)

As Oliver explained in his typically entertaining manner of couching alarm in exuberant Brit-accented digressions, the plan entails reclassifying which government jobs are able to be filled by the president directly, as opposed to being apolitical, merit-based career positions. Oliver noted that Project 2025 would let a hypothetical term two Donald Trump essentially jettison tens of thousands of merit-based government workers in positions as varied as NASA researchers, FDA scientists, and nuclear regulators in favor of others whose primary (if not sole) qualification is loyalty to Donald Trump. Think nuclear safety being in the hands of a Homer Simpson but with Smithers’ penchant for unquestioning boot-licking.

Bringing up the non-hypothetical instance of an egotistical President whipping out a Sharpie to alter the path of a deadly hurricane he found politically inconvenient, Oliver explained that, once those pesky qualified individuals with all their disrespectful science-based objections were sh*t-canned, there would be no need for the Sharpie. As in all dictatorships where the Leader’s word is law, objective truth will give way to one unbalanced authoritarian’s whim. “Basically the entire government becomes an extension of the President’s brain,” Oliver stated, leaving viewers to realize just whose brain he’s talking about—and shudder.

As ever, Oliver took some time to throw the unflattering spotlight on some Trump minions not as well known to the electorate as the candidate claiming he aced his recent cognitive test while repeatedly forgetting the name of the longtime associate (and White House drug connection) who administered said test. There’s Trump economic advisor and professional incorrect guesser Larry Kudlow, seen squirming with joy as urges Trump to “impound their tuchuses off.” (Impoundment would allow a President to cut off funds already allocated by Congress if he decides he doesn’t approve.) There’s longtime Trump sadist Stephen Miller, explicitly planning for mass deportation camps and a military fortified Southern border despite, as Oliver says, looking like “a condom filled with soup.”

Self-described Christian nationalist Russell Vought gleefully spells out Project 2025 putting an end to “critical race theory” to a clearly uncomprehending and barely listening Kimberly Guilfoyle. And former presidential body man turned White House personnel director John McEntee alternates between bragging how Trump impulsively chose the 29-year-old from “holding the President’s purse” (Oliver’s words) to run a major government department and touting his conservative dating app. (His promo ads are essentially a montage of every worst date every woman has ever had, all delivered with the charm of an Entourage message board.)

Rounding to possible solutions, Oliver said that “not voting for Donald Trump” would be a good place to begin. But he also noted how the Heritage Foundation and other white nationalist, fundamentalist, right-wing groups aren’t going anywhere, second Trump administration or no. For Oliver, this push to consolidate more and more power in the hands of a receptively conservative head of state is merely the latest example of an ethos that has infested the nation from the beginning. “Project 2025 is born from an impulse as old as America,” Oliver warned in closing, “that one class of Americans is entitled to lead, and the rest of are lucky to be allowed to serve. That thinks that there should be a limited government when it comes to rules that they have to live by, but also a unitary executive to keep the rest of us in line.”

Noting that while a first Trump term was marked by chaos, Oliver admonished that the players are in place to make a second Trump reign an example of “ruthless efficiency.” Oliver didn’t specifically mention Monty Python, but a certain famous sketch by his fellow British comic icons notably saw representatives of another violently fundamentalist (if laughably ridiculous) regime touting that exact same trait in themselves. At least viewers of Last Week Tonight won’t be able to say that nobody expected a second Trump administration.

And Now This…

Someone on the Last Week Tonight staff watches enough lifestyle porn to have put together a super cut of celebrities showing off the one universal feature of their lavishly appointed homes—the fireplace. Gwynneth Patrow loves her fireplace. Liev Schreiber loves his. Lots more people you think you remember from that one thing you watched joyfully point out their designer buckets of groomed hardwood next to their gleaming fireplaces.Talented acting couple Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard can’t get enough of their fireplace! Sure, most of these happy hearth-havers live in Los Angeles, and it doesn’t really ever get cold enough for a purposeful fire indoors, but hey—fireplace!

The Lobster That Wouldn’t Die

As noted in the intro, John Oliver is now a delicious chocolate bear with a butt you could take a bite out of. Or several bites, as Deising’s Bakery, formerly tetchy that Last Week Tonight prankishly bought up the contents of a defunct Red Lobster in their vicinity, made good on Oliver’s bargain that they receive some shiny new kitchen equipment in exchange for churning out branded John Oliver cake bears with giant, chocolatey asses. “They have donk!,” Oliver noted in delight at the hastily produced Oliver cakes (with giant cakes), showing a delivery truck dutifully delivering the promised cake ovens to the New York bakery.

Nothing if not committed to the bit, Oliver had his ultimatum delivered to Deising’s via scrawled note taped to the business’ door, just as Deising’s had inexplicably done in pursuit of the Red Lobster kitchen gear. And not a bakery content with just cooking up what they’re told, the business went the extra mile by whipping up a suitably rumpled giant John Oliver cake bear, complete with a big, delectable rump that Oliver greedily chomped on to end the show. Local bakery gets new ovens, John Oliver gets to eat his own bear-butt on national TV. It’s the rare win-win.

Cardus Endus

Sunday was Father’s Day, a joyous (if greeting card-manufactured) holiday for people who like their dads, and a valid reason to grind your molars and drink for many others. If you do like your dad but didn’t do anything for him on Sunday, well, there’s always a nice, nondescript coffee mug of the sort featured in tonight’s title card. After all, it’s the thought that counts, even if only one father in the entire world rightfully deserves the “#1 Dad” mug pictured on tonight’s show. Is it your dad? Almost certainly.

Last Lines Tonight

“Trump as President was sort of like a hamster in an attack helicopter. Sure, he wants to bathe the world in blood and terror, he wants it with his whole hamster heart. But luckily, he doesn’t know what buttons to press and his brain’s the size of a peanut so that puts some hard limits on the damage he’s actually able to do.”

On Trump’s first term

“It’s essentially an open audition for people who might want a new job because they lost their old one back on January 6 for some reason.”

On Project 2025 organizers actively recruiting Trump loyalists

“Okay, few things. First, you don’t need a new dating app to find conservatives online. Just go to any existing app and filter for people who describe their views as ‘moderate.’ Any single women in the big city can tell you, ‘moderate’ just means, ‘I’m a right-wing nut job but I’d like to get laid, please.'”

ON conservatives-only dating app ‘The Right Stuff’

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