John Oliver says Trump's 'dangerous' push to pull the U.S. from the WHO is also 'on the ballot this year'

John Oliver on the WHO
(Image credit: Screenshot/YouTube/Last Week Tonight)

The World Health Organization is one of President Trump's "favorite punching bags," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "Over the last six months, Trump has constantly tried to deflect blame for his handing of the coronavirus onto the WHO, China, and the close relationship that he claims the two have" — so much so he "decided to withdraw the United States from the WHO," and "the clock is ticking."

"Given that we're now on track to leave the WHO in less than a year, tonight let's talk about what that actually means — how important the WHO's work is, how valid criticisms of it are, and what we might be putting at stake," Oliver said. "One of the biggest powers it has is the ability to declare a 'public health emergency of international concern,' and issue recommendations on how countries should respond." And despite the WHO having "absolutely no power on its own to enforce those recommendations," he said, "it's managed to do some incredible things in the past," including eradicating smallpox, nearly wiping out polio, and overseeing the more "tedious" task of developing the annual flu vaccine, all on a budget around the same size as a large U.S. hospital.

Oliver put Trump's main critiques of the WHO in context and explained why the U.S. walking away from the organization — not trying to fix its problems — would be misguided and counterproductive, "especially in the middle of a global pandemic."

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"This is yet another depressing example of Trump seeing something that involves shared sacrifice, trade-offs, and complexity and decided to just blow it up because he either doesn't understand it, doesn't care, or both," and it's "incredibly dangerous," Oliver said. "We're currently on track to leave the WHO on July 6 of next year — if, that is, Trump is re-elected. And this means our membership in the WHO is yet another important thing on the ballot this year. And even though Trump likes to pretend that we can insulate ourselves from the rest of the world, if the coronavirus has shown us anything, it's that diseases don't recognize borders, and we're only as strong as our worst-prepared country." There is quite a bit of NSFW language. So consider putting on headphones when you watch below. Peter Weber

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.