Let’s be clear about Trump’s speech to the United Nations yesterday — it was an example of what he was elected for. Bombastic and in-your-face. That’s what people who voted for Trump wanted, and that’s what he displayed.
It was “bad” in the sense that it was Trumpian.
It was also “bad” in the sense that it projected a horrible Republican philosophy — nationalism.
And it was “bad” in the sense that it was often incoherent and contradictory.
So let’s try to break it down. In short, the speech was a 40-minute mixture of bombast, insults, threats, praise for the ideals of the UN, and a declaration of his belief that America’s pursuit of its own interests was in America’s best interests and the world’s.
Making headlines was Trump’s most explicit warning to date to North Korea about its continuing efforts to develop nuclear weapons that could reach the U.S. The president warned that America would “totally destroy” North Korea if forced to “defend itself or its allies.” Though that declaration elicited gasps from the diplomats and criticism from the media, it was a more explicit version of his earlier threat that Pyongyang would be met with “fire and fury” if it continued threatening America and its allies with its nuclear and missile tests. In vintage Trumpian (childish) form, he mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a “rocket man” on a “suicide mission.” Demanding the “denuclearization” of the peninsula, Trump did not call for a resumption of negotiations to achieve that goal.
One has to ask: “Does Trump actually think that if he issues a few more bellicose threats then North Korea will agree to give up its nuclear weapons?” I can’t imagine any reasonable person would. It would not be unreasonable for Kim to believe that his nuclear weapons are the only thing keeping the United States from launching a war against him.
In fact, when Trump criticized the “deal” with Iran as an “embarrassment”, it clearly sent a message the North Korea that the ONLY way Trump was going to deal with it — if he had to deal with it — is through complete destruction of North Korea, meaning millions of men, women and children.
Trump did not come across as someone that our potential enemies were willing to work with. If anything, he made it clear: this is an administration that does not do deals. Which is odd for a president who touted his deal-making abilities.
Of course, Trump’s North Korea bluster may be posturing, and it will be seen as posturing. In other words, Trump is making a line in the sand which he cannot keep. And if he can and intends to, woe to the United States.
And therein lies a serious flaw with Trumpism — it is words, not policy. With North Korea, Iran, and other “rogue nations”, Trump offered no specific proposals for countering the threat he claims they pose.
The president’s speech elicited some applause from the assembled diplomats, but mostly uncomfortable silence. His shrill tone and bombast was reminiscent of his campaign rallies. But his base undoubtedly welcomed his assertion that the rogue states menacing America’s and world stability were “going to hell,” and that America was being “taken advantage of” in paying 22 percent of the UN’s expenses.
But all of his belligerent and confrontational rhetoric just raises tensions in several different parts of the world, and it appears to commit the U.S. to more meddling around the world and potentially risks getting the U.S. into more avoidable wars. None of that has anything to do with putting American interests first. Much of Trump’s speech was an assertion of a desire to dictate terms to other states, and as such it is likely to be poorly received by most of the governments of the world.
As some have pointed out, Trump’s speech contained literally dozens of uses of the word ” sovereign” or “sovereignty”. It was an odd theme: emphasizing — in an increasingly interconnected and globalizing world — the need for greater sovereignty. “The nation-state remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition,” he said. The subtext was that walls, along every nation’s borders, were the keys to prosperity and international security.
The line baffled veteran American diplomats. “The President kept talking about sovereignty as if it were imperiled,” Richard Haass, the current president of the Council on Foreign Relations and the head of the State Department’s policy-planning staff under the George H. W. Bush Administration, told me. “The last I checked, we still have a veto at the U.N. We set our own limits in the Paris climate pact. No one is forcing us to adhere to trade agreements. It seemed to me it was something of a red herring. U.S. sovereignty is not imperiled. It’s an odd emphasis at the U.N., where our goal is to generate collective effort against common problems. It seemed to me inherently contradictory.”