On Tuesday, Sept. 25, President Donald Trump addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. Leading up to his speech, National Security Adviser John Bolton reported that his speech would “talk a lot about American sovereignty [and] how that fits into America's place in the world as a whole.” For unknown reasons, Trump arrived late to the assembly, which forced Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno Garcés to speak second in his place. At face value, some of Trump’s comments were in line with what would have come from previous presidents. He reaffirmed the United States’ opposition to the International Criminal Court (ICC), stating that an “unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy” will never violate “principles of justice, fairness and due process.”
The similarities with past presidents ended there however. While President Barack Obama’s last United Nations speech promised an age of “international cooperation,” Trump stated, “We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.” Many of Trump’s comments mirrored this stance, calling out Iran as the world’s “leading sponsor of terrorism,” expressing disapproval of the civil wars in Syria and Yemen and announcing his policy to reduce U.S. trade deficits in the pursuit of “fair and reciprocal” trade. Trump specifically targeted China for causing the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs, “relentless product dumping, forced technology transfer and the theft of intellectual property.”
President Trump also touched on the United States’ decision to leave the Human Rights Council, which he stated had become an embarrassment by “shielding egregious human rights abusers while bashing America and its many friends.” When justifying the decision further, he stated that the United States’ agenda for reforming the council had been ignored and withdrawal was the only option until the other countries enacted real reform of their own. Trump was also similarly critical of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and supposedly oil-reliant countries, such as Germany, stating that it will “become totally dependent on Russian energy if it does not immediately change course,” referring to the controversial Nord Stream Russia-Germany oil pipeline.
Overall, Trump’s speech was much more subdued than last year when he threatened to “totally destroy North Korea” if they refused to accept future denuclearization. However, some of his comments such as the previous one about German oil dependence or his boasting about his electoral victory drew laughter from the congregated delegates. Later, a Latin American delegate commented, “Sometimes, when we see a behavior or listen to arguments or notions that seem so far-fetched, unreasonable, or insane, there is almost natural reaction of laughing.” United States UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, however, stated in a Fox News interview that the laughter was due to the fact that the “world leaders in the crowd ‘loved his honesty’ and ‘respect’ him.”
Drew student Ajit Joyosumarto (’20), a participant in the New York UN semester, voiced his belief, “It is a given that the governments of each country put their national interest above everything else, but everything Trump said along with his statement against global governance clearly shows that he wants to return America to an isolationist stance.” Another UN semester participant, Chezeki Boudreau (’20), echoed his comments, stating, “He was more subdued than usual; it seemed like he was following a script. Overall, his speech was very nationalist in stating that other countries don’t contribute as much as the U.S. does to the global good.” Trump’s comments to the UN certainly reflect his campaign rhetoric and emphasize his “America first” attitude that continues to keep him so popular with his voter base.