John Oliver kicked off his main story on Sunday's Last Week Tonight making fun of Donald Trump's U.S.-Mexico border wall (and hands). But after about a minute, he did something much less predictable. "The border wall is one of the few policy proposals Trump has talked about in detail, so instead of mocking it or dismissing it out of hand, tonight let's take a serious proposal by a serious presidential candidate seriously," he said. Setting aside "the potential racism and xenophobia involved here... let's focus on the practicality of whether and how it can actually be done."
Oliver started with the cost, which Trump has gradually raised from $4 billion to $12 billion. In fact, it will cost at least $25 billion, excluding land and maintenance, Oliver said. Trump's solution is to get Mexico to pay for it, something Mexico obviously says it won't do. "To be fair here, Trump has thought through how he will get Mexico to foot the bill," Oliver said, but his rationale — using the trade deficit as leverage — is "literally not how anything works." He explained why.
Still, Oliver continued, "let's say we did find the money. Where would we put a border wall?" That sounds simple, but it isn't. When George W. Bush signed into law a border wall law in 2006, the feds had to use eminent domain to grab ranchers' lands, further endanger vulnerable species, and cut through Indian burial grounds. "Trump might well argue that having a wall is worth all of this, because it will work as a fortress to keep people and drugs from flowing across the border," Oliver said, before tearing that argument down.
"But let's face it," he finished: "For many people, efficacy is beside the point. This wall is about making us feel safer." After returning briefly to "the racism and xenophobia that we put aside at the top," Oliver made his final pitch: The conservative estimate of $25 billion comes out to $77 per person, so why not buy every American a waffle iron? It is a stupid plan, he admits, "but is it significantly stupider than Donald Trump's wall?" What kind of America do we want to live in? he asked, bringing it home. "One that spends billions on an impossible, impractical symbol of fear, or one that smells like breakfast?" There are parts that may be unsuitable for children or work viewing, but otherwise, watch below. Peter Weber