We all knew this was going to be bad, but it was orders of magnitude worse than expected no matter what kind of spin anyone tries to put on it.
That was our assessment of Donald Trump’s performance a year ago, when he delivered an orange-faced populist rant in a stunning address to the U.N. General Assembly.
During that spectacle, Trump name dropped “rocket man”, threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, called the Iranian government a “murderous, corrupt dictatorship” and just generally railed against globalism in a truly absurd nationalist tirade that very nearly upstaged Muammar Gaddafi’s infamous 2009 diatribe.
Let’s just relive one of the more egregious highlights from Trump’s 2017 speech (and do note how uncomfortable Nikki Haley and Rex Tillerson clearly were):
Since then, relations between Trump and “rocket man” have thawed. Thanks to a truly surreal June summit in Singapore that featured, among other things, a sobbing Dennis Rodman declaring a new era of global peace while sporting a red MAGA hat and a “Potcoin.com” t-shirt, Trump wasn’t forced to annihilate the North Korean people.
But four months after pulling the U.S. out of the nuclear deal, tensions with Tehran are running higher than ever. Trump’s decision to exit the landmark deal came over the loud objections of the agreement’s other signatories. That means that when it comes to Iran, Trump is not addressing a friendly crowd on Tuesday.
This year’s speech from Trump was expected to feature Iran and perhaps Venezuela and generally speaking, most observers were anticipating a similarly antagonistic line with regard to globalization and multilateralism.
Trump previewed his speech in a Tuesday morning tweet as follows:
Will be speaking at the United Nations this morning. Our country is much stronger and much richer than it was when I took office less than two years ago. We are also MUCH safer!
As he arrived at the General Assembly, he told reporters that the situation in Venezuela is a “human tragedy” and although he said he “looks forward to a great relationship” with Iran, he made clear that it “can’t happen now”.
Just moments before his address, the U.S. blacklisted Nicolas Maduro’s inner circle, including the Venezuelan leader’s wife.
Given all of the above, the bar was set pretty high (or pretty “low”, depending on how you want to look at things), and you’ll have to draw your own conclusions as to whether the President cleared it.
Trump began his speech by touting the U.S. stock market, record low unemployment, the tax cuts and, amusingly, his border wall.
“Our military will soon be stronger than it ever has before”, Trump continued, before explaining that all of his accomplishments are good not only for Americans, but for “peace-loving people everywhere.”
He moved on to explicitly push a nationalist message, although in less inflammatory terms than he used in 2017.
Trump criticized “global governance and domination” and praised the preservation of local culture. “The U.S. will not tell you how to live and work and worship”, Trump said, adding that “we only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return.”
Predictably, Trump bragged about his relationship with Kim Jong-Un, noting that “the missiles have stopped flying”. Trump thanked Kim for what he called “courage”.
On the Mideast, Trump praised America’s Sunni allies for their efforts to “fight terrorism and extremism”. As ever, the effort to paint the Sunni powers as an ally in the fight against terrorism while simultaneously branding Iran as the world’s foremost “sponsor of terror” is absurdly ironic. ISIS, al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremists espouse the same ideology as that which is institutionalized in the Saudi monarchy. Simply put: It’s not Shia Muslims who are attacking Western capitals.
Trump again attacked Iran as a “brutal dictatorship” that “spreads terror and death” in the region. “Iran’s neighbors have paid a heavy toll for Iran’s regional ambitions”, Trump said, before asserting that the Iran nuclear deal “was a windfall for Iran.” He also claimed funds freed up by the JCPOA helped Iran “slaughter” people in Syria and Yemen.
The President touted his efforts to choke off Iran’s oil revenue and again insisted that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, even as there is zero evidence to support the claim that Tehran has violated the agreement to which America is no longer a party.
On Israel, Trump claimed that “so-called experts” have been wrong time and again and implicitly suggested that his approach to peace in the Mideast is preferable.
On trade, Trump defended his protectionist push, decrying America’s deficit and accusing the country’s trade partners of currency manipulation. The President touted his trade deal with Mexico and championed his newly-inked deal with South Korea.
“The world trade system is in dire need of change”, Trump said, before claiming that China “has violated every principle on which the WTO is based”. China, Trump said, “engages is dumping, forced technology transfer and the theft of intellectual property.”
He went on to blast Beijing further. “We will no longer tolerate abuse and we will not allow our workers to be cheated and our wealth to be plundered”, Trump warned. “China’s market distortions and the way they deal cannot be tolerated,” he continued, after again insisting that he and Xi Jinping are still friends.
Notably, Trump blasted the ICC, calling it “an unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy” and, in perhaps the most inflammatory comment of his speech, the President said this:
We reject the ideology of globalism.
Trump had harsh words for OPEC. Over the weekend, the cartel refused to heed the President’s call for lower oil prices and they paid for their recalcitrance on Tuesday. Specifically, Trump accused OPEC of “ripping off the world” and again demanded prices bow to his domestic political agenda.
The President went on to equate immigration in Latin America with “vicious, criminal gangs” and drug smuggling. He also refused to recognize the legitimacy of any global initiative to address migration crises.
On Venezuela, he blamed socialism for the country’s ills. “Virtually everywhere socialism has been tried it has produced poverty and decay”, Trump said, adding that “all nations should resist socialism and the misery it brings.”
Finally, Trump said this in terms of allocating American resources:
Moving forward, we’re only giving foreign aid to our friends.
Which speeches like this one, America might not have any before long.
And do you know what? Maybe that’s the point.