John Oliver takes on Donald Trump and the "long history" of politicians being "weird around corn"

"I just met non-liquid gold, you know where it was? Iowa! It’s called corn,” Trump said in a recent speech

By Nardos Haile

Staff Writer

Published May 20, 2024 11:53AM (EDT)

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (HBO)
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (HBO)

Comedian John Oliver took a shot at Donald Trump's intelligence Sunday night during a "Last Week Tonight" episode on the corn industry and the politicians who cater to it.

At the start of the segment, Oliver explained that the U.S. has a record of politicians pandering to voters in corn-farming regions. The show flashed photos of former President Barack Obama, Sen. Mitt Romney and former President George W. Bush with corn on the campaign trail.

"There's a long history of American politicians being weird around corn," Oliver said. However, Oliver noted, "No one has been weirder when discussing it than this ..."

"I just met non-liquid gold, you know where it was? Iowa! It’s called corn,” Trump said in a speech in New Hampshire in January. “You have more non-liquid gold. They said, ‘What is that?’ I said, ‘Corn!’ They said, ‘We love that idea.'”

Trump continued, “That’s a nickname in its own way, but we came up with a new word for ... a new couple of words for corn!”

Oliver joked at Trump's confusing statements: “Did you though? Because non-liquid gold isn’t so much a way of describing corn as it is a way of describing regular gold.”

The host delivered another jab at the former president, “That’s a level of non-innovation innovation that we haven’t seen since Lyft invented something called Lyft Shuttle, which was — and this is true — the bus!”

However, Oliver did agree with Trump that America is the “largest producer, consumer, and exporter of non-liquid not-gold in the world.”

The nearly $90 billion industry services Americans in different ways. The host highlighted that about 15% of U.S. domestic corn use is for food, seeds and industrial use; 40% for animal food; and the last 45% for ethanol.

"As it turns out, corn's utter dominance of American agriculture comes at the expense of our environment, our health and some of our farming communities," Oliver pointed out.

Oliver noted that the government has ultimately forced small farmers into producing corn even if they are not making profits off of production. "In the world of agricultural products, corn is the questionable superstar. Beans wanna be it. Oats wanna f**k it."

He continued: "As the corn industry has ballooned, some of the biggest beneficiaries haven't actually been the farmers themselves but enormous corporations."

Oliver pointed out that while production by corporations has been supersized, the methods used to capitalize on its growth are detrimental to the environment. These methods can result in chemicals like nitrates infiltrating drinking water and depriving kids of oxygen in a disease called blue baby syndrome.

"No child should ever turn blue unless they disobeyed Mr. Wonka's clear instructions about not trying the chewing gum and now only suffering the only slightly disproportionate consequences," Oliver joked.

Eventually such fertilizer chemicals find their way into the ocean, resulting in pollution dead zones in places like the Gulf of Mexico, Oliver noted. At the same time, corn is now used for fuel, in the form of ethanol added to gasoline, part of a stated effort to wean the U.S. of its dependence on foreign oil

"There are lots of negatives when it comes to ethanol, mainly because the positives have been so widely overstated," Oliver said.

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"While ethanol lobby groups have long argued it slashes greenhouse emissions," Oliver continued, "one recent study found that thanks to fertilizer and land use needed to grow the corn for it, corn ethanol produced under the Renewable Fuel Standard has a carbon footprint at least 24% higher than regular gasoline."

The comedian finished the episode by saying he thinks it is "long past time we shift our farming policy when it comes to America's number one crop."

"Maybe the best way to drive this home is to explain it in the way people seem to most being educated about corn, and that is watching someone get absolutely assaulted by it," Oliver said while walking into a corn maze. 

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver airs on Sundays at 11 p.m. ET on Max.


By Nardos Haile

Nardos Haile is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She’s previously covered all things entertainment, music, fashion and celebrity culture at The Associated Press. She resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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