September 25, 2018
By Dana Milbank
“The world is laughing at us,” Donald Trump often said during the campaign.
The claim was not obviously true then, but Trump has made it so. The world is now laughing at us — specifically, at our president.
“In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,” Trump boasted, in typical fashion, to world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. “So true,” he added, as if addressing a campaign rally.
The world leaders chuckled at the braggart before them.
“Didn’t expect that reaction,” Trump acknowledged, “but that’s okay.”
In fairness to those who chortled, Trump’s speech was funny, in a way: a kind of rhetorical blitzkrieg. Trump spoke as though he had accepted a dare to see how much of the world he could offend in the span of a 35-minute address. It felt as though Triumph the Insult Comic Dog had been unleashed in the General Assembly.
Not only did Trump criticize the usual suspects — Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and particularly Iran — but he also attacked China, the 15-nation Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the 164-nation World Trade Organization, the U.N. Human Rights Council, Germany, the International Criminal Court, socialist countries (what did the Scandinavians ever do to him?), and the United Nations’ two-month-old Global Compact on Migration. He threatened recipients of U.S. foreign aid — almost all of South America, Africa, Eastern Europe and South Asia — and reiterated his vow to cut payments for peacekeeping.
By the end of the barrage, he had taunted nations that are home to perhaps 90 percent of the world’s population. Billions of people dissed in half an hour? Even for Trump that’s huge.
“The United States will not be taken advantage of any longer,” proclaimed the leader of the richest nation on Earth. “America will never apologize for protecting its citizens,” he said of his protectionist trade policies.
Each time he used the word “global,” it was as an epithet, disparaging the very principle on which the world body was founded amid the ashes of World War II. America rejects “global governance, control and domination,” he said, and “we will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable global bureaucracy,” and “we reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.”
He stuck to his teleprompter, squinting and using a sing-song delivery to read the words adviser Stephen Miller had written for him, adding occasional banal grace notes: “Far greater!” “Just can’t do it!” “Not good!” The foreign leaders in the room shook their heads, shrugged, smiled and whispered to each other. They applauded other leaders when introduced and during their addresses; Trump didn’t get any (except at the moment when they were laughing at him) until the polite ovation when he finished.
But this address was for domestic consumption, a campaign speech against the world to appeal to his nationalist base. Trump already alienated the world; Tuesday alone brought reports that Europe was devising ways around U.S. sanctions on Iran, Chinese state media was whipping up popular sentiment to fight the trade war Trump started, and the administration was about to miss the deadline for a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. Trump’s speech did to the world what he does to domestic opponents: name-calling and humiliation.
OPEC: “We defend many of these nations for nothing and then they take advantage of us.”
Trade: “We will no longer tolerate such abuse.”
Mexico: “We’ve started the construction of a major border wall.” (Congress just sent him a spending bill without funds for the wall.)
The Human Rights Council: “a grave embarrassment.”
Germany: “will become totally dependent on Russian energy.”
The WTO: Member countries “rig the system in their favor.”
The ICC: “has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy and no authority.”
Socialism: “It has produced suffering, corruption and decay . . . incursion and oppression. All nations of the world should resist socialism and the misery that it brings to everyone.”
While trashing these and other institutions, Trump hailed the “courage” of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and praised the nationalist governments of Poland and Israel, both of which have made recent moves to restrict democracy. He offered no criticism, and barely a mention, of Russia.
Trump, rejecting the U.N. plan to address the migrant crisis, instead suggested that other nations embrace a familiar-sounding theme. “Make Their Countries Great Again,” he proposed.
An American president, devoting half an hour before the world body to insulting friend and foe alike and trashing all efforts at international cooperation? Sad.
The same American president then suggesting that the solution to the world’s problems is for other nations to adopt his campaign slogan? Now that’s funny.