By Melissa Locker
August 20, 2018

On the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver zeroes in on trade, which he defines as “the basic system of barter and exchange that you have to do really carefully or you’ll end up with Dwight Howard.”

Trade is a frequent topic for President Donald Trump, who has been engaged in a growing tariff dispute with China, which has grown from 18 products being subject to tariffs to more than 10,000.

While Trump has tweeted that when it comes to tariffs “we win either way” because countries end up paying “vast sums of money” to the U.S., Oliver notes that tariffs are paid by importers and typically passed along to consumers in the U.S. That could lead to rising prices on domestic products, including e-scooters, which Oliver would actually be okay with, because they are like “if Dane Cook somehow became transportation.”

Oliver understands why Trump is confused, though. “Trade is one of the most complicated issues there is technically, politically, and emotionally,” he said. “Think of trade like sex. If you’re doing it right, it can be good for both partners, though the odds of that happening plummet as soon as Donald Trump gets involved.”

According to Oliver, though, the real problem with Trump not understanding trade is that he doesn’t seem to understand its ripple effect. “When it comes to trade, nothing happens in isolation,” said Oliver, pointing to the steel tariffs, which helped steel workers, but caused a nail factory to lay off their workers because the cost of steel skyrocketed. “Protecting steel helps steel, but hurts anything made from it,” Oliver said.

Tariffs could actually be costing the nation hundreds of thousands of jobs, Oliver said. He noted that if Trump wanted to create jobs, he would be better off “dressing a turtle up as David Bowie and throwing him into a pool full of milk.” While that won’t create jobs, he concedes, at least it won’t “actively lose hundreds of them, plus it will be the highlight of Ziggy Shelldust’s life.”

Even members of Trump’s own economic team seem to be against the idea of a trade war, leading Oliver to ask why Trump is waging a trade war in the first place. The answer may lie with White House economic advisor Peter Navarro, whom Oliver refers to as “the human equivalent of getting an all-caps email from your uncle.” Navarro was allegedly brought to the White House by Jared Kushner, who reportedly scoured amazon.com to find an expert on trade with China.

Because Trump’s current strategy seems to be doing the opposite of what he says he wants, Oliver decided to make a Navarro-inspired documentary addressing “one of the most urgent problems facing America — the destruction of economic knowledge by stupidity.”

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