Trump’s UN speech: Contradiction, Irony and Embarrassment

By David Malcolm

Watching Donald Trump’s speech, I couldn’t help but feel two interesting points. The first was that I’d heard a lot of this speech before and the second was that it would have been a great speech if it wasn’t wrapped up in so much irony and contradiction. Trump went into the UN with everyone expecting him to push an ‘America First’ agenda and, in that respect, he didn’t disappoint. It’s hard to know where to begin.

Some hoped that we would get Teleprompter Trump which sort of happened but I suspect that he went a great deal off-script. Maybe he thought that addressing the United Nations was the same as addressing the United States since some of his previous bedbugs like the nuclear deal with Iran and the issue of having a global economy are all subjects that have cropped up in various other speeches from his campaigns and rallies.

Of course, no speech from Trump can pass without him complaining about something. This time, it was the fact that America pays more into the UN than most, much like his similar complaints about NATO and that the global economy left the American middle class behind. Such might well be the case, but much like the controversy over Britain’s contributions to the European Union, haggling over money in a public forum is hardly helpful to the image of America.

Speaking of Britain, I take slight offence to Trump’s calling the American Consitution the oldest in the world. It’s not an outright lie but it obscures a great many facts. Technically, yes, it’s the oldest written constitution but San Marino’s Constitution clocks an impressive 400 years, created in 1600. Britain’s Magna Carta is considered to be the bedrock of its own, mostly unwritten constitution. A minor point on technicality perhaps, but the details do matter. They especially matter when you’re talking to many sovereign nations who should look to their own interests…except when the USA tells them to do something.

Trump attacking Iran and Cuba is an extension to his attacks on Obama which might cheer his Republican base but also reflect the inherent contradictions in his statement that great nations should seek friends, not enemies. Pushing the plight of the American middle class and promising to help them rings hollow when Trump’s own legislative policies seek to hurt them rather than help them. His call for unity leaves much to be desired, judging from his previous rhetoric while his promise to ‘change the rules of engagement’ in Afghanistan is as vague as it is potentially dangerous.

But it was his childish insults of ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘loser terrorist’ that had me burying my face in my hands. How can he get away with slinging childish insults on the floor of the UN General Assembly? Bringing his Tweets to the UN and provoking war on the global stage doesn’t immediately strike me as good leadership. Then again, complaining that America has always gotten a raw deal from every trade agreement isn’t very helpful to anybody, especially when you’ve just praised the deep trade connections you have with other nations.

Above all else, Trump’s criticism of Venezuela’s erosion of democratic systems is justifiable but I’m surprised no one burst out laughing at that point. Maybe there was a giggle or two when Trump claimed he was elected by the people and for the people. One only has to look at his entire conduct during the Presidental campaign and his actions in office soon after to see that Trump does not respect the very democracy that he was elected by. It smacks of hypocrisy for a man who refused to say that he would accept the result if he lost the race.

However, one thing that rings out clear is what he didn’t say. No criticism of Russia’s aggressive advances (though he also failed to mention Russia’s sacrifice in WWII despite mentioning Poland, France and Britain), no mention of the threat of climate change, not a word on the crisis in Myanmar or the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Granted, no one wants to bore others to death but the fact that certain topics weren’t raised and that others were says a great deal about the person making the speech.

All in all, Trump’s speech was riddled with contradictory ideas and lacked any sense of gravitas. It talked tough but was light on offering solutions and seemed to highlight Trump’s long-term ignorance on important foreign affairs. Much like G20, Trump is once again isolating the US from its allies and taking positions why he will find no global support, just as his domestic policies will find fewer cheerleaders to push them.

Perhaps what we are witnessing is indeed Trump formally taking the USA off the world stage. If it is, then God help us all.

I'm a historian based in the UK who likes jumping from one thought to next. I love to learn new things and explore other ideas.

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