John Oliver on a second Trump term: ‘Really does promise to be far, far worse’

<span>John Oliver on Trump’s second term and Project 2025: ‘If Trump’s first term was defined by chaos, his second could be defined by ruthless efficiency.’</span><span>Photograph: Youtube</span>
John Oliver on Trump’s second term and Project 2025: ‘If Trump’s first term was defined by chaos, his second could be defined by ruthless efficiency.’Photograph: Youtube

On the latest Last Week Tonight, John Oliver looked into what will be in store should Donald Trump be elected to a second term as president in November – and particularly the ominous conservative framework known as Project 2025, which would make his second term “much, much worse” than his first one.

As a candidate, the former president has promised to enact anti-trans legislation, establish mass deportations of people seeking asylum, require local law enforcement departments to use controversial measures such as “stop and frisk”, cut funding for any school that has a vaccine or mask mandate and impose a universal tariff of at least 10% on all imports.

“If you’re thinking: ‘OK, Trump’s making big, scary promises, but he did that in 2016 too and he broke a lot of them,’ that is true,” said Oliver on Sunday evening. “Though, he did also go on to do a lot of damage,” such as ending the Iran nuclear deal, withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, separating migrant children from their families at the border and appointing three rightwing supreme court justices.

Some goals, such as ending the Affordable Care Act and getting Mexico to pay for his border wall, remained out of reach. “Trump as president was sort of like a hamster in an attack helicopter,” Oliver explained. “Sure, he wants to bathe the world in blood and terror – he wants it with his whole rotten hamster heart – but luckily, he doesn’t know what buttons to press and his brain is the size of a peanut, so that puts some hard limits on the damage he’s actually able to do.”

Related: What is Project 2025 and what does it have to do with a second Trump term?

But if elected this fall, “Trump will have a lot more help”, he said. The courts are more conservative, the Republican party is more aligned with him and a group of conservatives have come up with a plan of action called Project 2025, to ensure he can hit the ground running. “Even if he does meet resistance from Congress and the courts, he will now have ways to go around them,” Oliver said.

Project 2025 aims to do for Trump’s presidency what the Federalist Society did for his judicial picks: “give him a step-by-step game plan that he simply has to execute and then take credit for”, Oliver explained. The 900-page manifesto, co-signed by more than a hundred conservative organizations, recommends, among other things: disbanding the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration because it’s “one of the main drivers of the climate change alarm industry”; eliminating the Head Start program; installing a “pro-life” task force; defunding the Department of Justice; dismantling the FBI; and eliminating the Departments of Education and Commerce.

Project 2025 has also established a “conservative LinkedIn”: a network of prospective hires for the whole federal government. “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,” Oliver joked. “And their goal here is clear: to assemble an ‘army of vetted, trained staff’ who can ‘begin dismantling the administrative state from Day 1’.”

But the “most insidious” and consequential Project 2025 mandate could be the enactment of Schedule F, a new designation that would reclassify about 50,000 career civil servants as political appointees, meaning they wouldn’t have protections from getting fired on political whims, would be responsible to the president and would be replaced by applicants based on loyalty, not merit.

Former Trump staffer and Project 2025 organizer John McEntee, in one of his TikToks to support his rightwing dating app, put it this way: “So Elon Musk cut 90% of Twitter’s staff and it’s still working fine … should we try that with government next?”

“Is that the best comparison, though?” Oliver mused. “Because I’m not sure Twitter is working fine, so much as it’s a ruined castle slowly sinking into the bog of irrelevance. But I guess there are a lot more Nazis on there now, which does seem to track with your plans for government.”

“I’m not saying that there aren’t lots of ways to make the government more efficient,” Oliver added. “There are! But this isn’t the way to do it. Because there is clearly a problem with making large chunks of the government subordinate to the chief executive and his advisor / amateur food comedian / founder of tradwife eHarmony. Especially when this particular chief executive famously values loyalty over all else.”

The consequences of Schedule F could be catastrophic for the government. As Jacqueline Simon, the policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees, put it: “There will be a massive exodus of competence.”

“When you fire everyone who knows what they’re doing and only hire people who will say yes to the rich guy in charge, that’s not a recipe for good government,” Oliver added. “It’s a recipe for the Titan submersible.”

Related: John Oliver on Narendra Modi: ‘India seems to be sliding toward authoritarianism’

With a civil service full of loyalty appointees, Trump wouldn’t need Congress to pass a national ban on abortion drugs, for example, when his head of the Food and Drug Administration could just rule them “unsafe” – a plan specifically outlined in Project 2025.

“For all of Trump’s talk about wanting to eliminate the deep state, Schedule F isn’t eliminating it; it is creating a deep state that is loyal to him and driving good people out of government,” said Oliver. “I do get that ‘Trump unraveling civil service protections’ isn’t the sexiest headline. But it is also the action that could unlock his ability to do all the incredibly damaging things that he and those involved in Project 2025 have been planning.”

What can be done? Don’t vote for Trump, for one. But “even if Trump loses, that won’t be the end of this. The people who cooked up Project 2025 will just move on to Project 2029 instead,” said Oliver, noting that the ideas expressed in it – a limited government of a white minority rule with a strongman to keep everyone in line – are not new.

And “for anyone tempted to think ‘well, we survived Trump’s first term’ – first, not everyone did. And it should hopefully be very clear by now, a second Trump term really does promise to be far, far worse,” Oliver concluded. “Because if Trump’s first term was defined by chaos, his second could be defined by ruthless efficiency.”