Brow Beat

John Oliver Reminds Us America Was Screwing Over the WHO Long Before Trump

After using the organization as a scapegoat for his administration’s management (or lack thereof) of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump has formally submitted a notice to withdraw from the World Health Organization that will take effect July 6, 2021, a choice that John Oliver says was the “worst decision at the worst time.” And while the WHO’s constitution technically doesn’t even have any provisions for member-states to withdraw, there is an exception for the U.S. that we demanded decades ago. “That is a pretty weird perk for America alone to have,” Oliver said during Sunday’s WHO-focused episode of Last Week Tonight. “It’s like demanding we be the only country allowed to wax the pubes of every squirrel. Why would we want the right to do that in the first place, and more to the point, why would we ever consider actually doing it?”

America acting against its own best interests while screwing the rest of the world over was a running theme in Sunday’s episode, with Oliver noting that one of Trump’s key criticisms of the WHO—that we, as a country, pay far more into the organization than countries like China—is actually a result of a Reagan-era zero-growth policy that froze member-states’ contributions at 1990s levels. “So with those contributions unable to go up, the WHO has naturally needed more and more voluntary donations as the years have gone by,” said Oliver. The fact that the U.S. contributed $446.5 million to the WHO in 2019 compared with China’s contribution of $43 million is a problem of our own making.

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the WHO will likely have long-lasting ramifications: The organization was on target to fully eradicate polio by 2023 with significant help from the U.S., which is the second largest funder of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Should we withdraw next July, that timeline would undoubtedly be set back. As Oliver put it: “While it feels almost inappropriate for polio not to make a comeback during this fucking nightmare of a year, we should still probably try to prevent that from happening.”