UN Speech: A Sovereign Worldview
On Tuesday morning, President Trump stood before an assemblage of members of the United Nations for his first address to that international body politic. Speaking from the UN’s headquarters in Manhattan, Trump addressed the countless dignitaries and heads of state with the patois and the coolness of a local boy—a New Yorker at once comfortable in his own skin, yet temperamental if pushed to be so. He was on his own turf, operating on his own terms, and the confidence of one reared beneath those skyscrapers and lofts was manifest. Most of those foreign ministers, plenipotentiaries, and emissaries seated in his presence waited anxiously, while all of them listened curiously, to hear what this novus homo, this new man on the international political scene might say.
Yet while Trump is indeed a new and unknown entity on this particular stage, the gist of his song remained largely the same. With the world’s eyes and ears upon him, he simply echoed the familiar chorus of what hitherto he’s been known to say. His invectives were recognizable, but in no way were they debased for having been heard once or twice (or thrice) before. He cast his aspersions at the usual suspects. On the receiving end were the likes of Venezuela, Iran, and North Korea. He castigated them for their instability, their wretchedness, and their importunate threats of war and destruction signaled at the West. His tone changed, though, when addressing the problem children Russia and Saudi Arabia. More sympathetic to them, though ignoring the fact that they’re equally baneful in many ways, Trump treated them with kid gloves. He danced around impugning them overtly, when really he probably should.
The speech was received variously across the globe, but dichotomously here at home. This is nothing to be unexpected. His speech (and probably, and sadly, all of his speeches henceforth) split along traditional party lines its critics; it empurpled the left and enraptured the right. To the latter, it was perfectly well-suited to the classic conservative line. Nothing about it, save for its soft treatment of the former USSR, was unorthodox from a Republican’s point of view. To the former, it was something altogether different. Upon hearing and digesting it, Democrats were aghast. In Trump’s words the alarm bells of a fledgling nationalism and isolationism rang. More daunting than that, though, they heard the unsubtle war-drum beat of Trump’s blind aggression and his jingoism. He continued and perhaps even escalated his rhetoric on North Korea, seeming as though his aim at the end of the day is to goad the irascible regime into lashing out and loosening a missile from its sleeve.
As is his wont, Trump began his remarks by flaunting the stock market’s unprecedented rise. It’s a bullish market that we’ve all enjoyed in recent months. To that pat on the back, we’ve become insensitive, but the economic momentum this county has experienced under his leadership is no small thing. So what if he reminds us of it from time to time?
From our economy, he moved on to the military. He celebrated the invigorated prowess of our armed forces and their re-discovered, awe-inspiring might. Implicit in this celebration was a warning to all of those international leaders in attendance who very well might not read lips, but who certainly won’t fail in their translations to read between lines. America’s military is back, the subtle message cried, and she’s not one to be messed with. Usually a doughty message, no doubt, on this occasion it was undercut unfortunately by the fact that within the span of a few months, America’s Navy had witnessed the loss of two of her vessels (the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain) in the waters of the far East. The galling fact is that neither the Fitzgerald nor the McCain were engaged in combat drills at the time of their sinking. Without having sustained an assault, they sunk. Investigations into the matter are ongoing, but they their capsizing seems to have been a case rather of negligence than of belligerence.
After assuring the UN members of America’s auspicious state of affairs, the president went on to make two things clear: for one, national sovereignty will be the new American policy as forward we march in this age of Trump. For another, the rogue regimes dotting the globe had better begin looking out and getting their rooms in order. Their destabilizing and insidious activities will be tolerated no more.
This concept of “sovereignty” that Trump expressed struck many like a discordant tune. It’s become an unconventional ideal in this increasingly globalized age. The UN, after all, or at least ostensibly is an organization built on inclusivity, mutual regard, and good will. It champions comity and warm relations above all else. The idea of sovereignty, rightly understood, bristles against that admirable ethos. Sovereignty intimates a sort of “go at it alone” mentality, quite at odds with the founding principles of its creed.
Convening in 1945, the “Four Policeman” (who included FDR of our own great land, Winston Churchill of the British Empire, Maxim Litvinov of the USSR and T.V. Soong of the then as is now ironically named People’s Republic of China) gathered to chart a course in the immediate post-war years. Seeking peace, or at least a breathing spell for war, each man pledged his respective country’s allegiance to a newly conceived alliance that would aim toward the world’s benefit. Within days of their commitment to this end, twenty-five more nations signed on to the initiative as well. As the years passed, still more countries joined the club. Membership in what became the UN accreted until today it boasts one hundred and ninety-three member states. It’s become the world’s largest intergovernmental association—something quite near Immanuel Kant’s precocious concept of an international federation of peace.
Listening to President Trump, however, one might be led to ask just why it is the UN is needed at all? He’s looking ever more inward, as many other nations do the same. Is the UN antiquated, obsolete, an impotent post-bellum remnant of our past?
It’s important here to bear to mind exactly what it is the UN does. Under its aegis, negotiations between countries that might not have otherwise come to the table have been possible and in some cases, lasting and successful. What’s more, by the UN’s doing, numerous cooperative peace projects have had profound effects in war-torn countries from Africa to the Middle East. At the height of its existence and in its glory days, the UN had an immeasurable hand in making poliomyelitis obsolete, in promoting gender equality in benighted states, in combatting HIV and AIDS, and in increasing literacy rates in both children and adults. Are further medical, societal, and financial gains of this type to be squandered under this heading of national sovereignty and with the subtitle that reads “America First”? It’s this that’s provoked many liberals’ disquiet.
New on the international stage, though consistently true to his old form, President Trump laid out before the eager world his worldview. In brief, it reads as follows. America is looking inward, and the world (particularly its less savory actors) would do well to look out.
Venezuela’s been put on alert, as President Maduro destroys a nation once prosperous and pregnant with natural resources, history, vivacity, and life. Its Caribbean neighbor, Cuba, will no longer be countenanced in the US and erstwhile trade embargoes will be again imposed. Iran is skating in the arid deserts of Tehran on thin ice, and a resumption of its nuclear deal is unlikely to persist beyond the fall. North Korea is positively begging for war and it already has one foot off the edge of that cliff. Trump made clear to Kim that if he so chooses that path, it will be a long fall to the bottom. The speech was unconventional, but it was positively and expectedly Trump. Bellicose and brazen, frank and sincere, it was his earnest New York weltanschauung in plain view.