Laughter and disbelief as Trump speaks at the UN

  • Elis Gjevori
  • 26 Sep 2018

'America First,' war and nationalism was the message that US President Trump delivered at the United Nations.

( Reuters )

Trump delivered his second speech to the United Nations to thunderous laughter. 

The Trump speech could be summed up in numbers: Israel is mentioned 4 times, Palestine 0, Iran 15, China 4, Trade 10, Patriotism 9, Military 7, globalism/global bureaucracy 7. Human rights mentioned outside of attacking them? Zero. 

But that's not enough

As the United Nations gathered for its 73rd annual session, with more than 193 countries in attendance, the world watched as Trump doubled down on his "America First" platform.

It's widely accepted that the current liberal world order was ushered in through the creation of the UN in the 1940s. Now, under Trump, is the US advocating a new, illiberal, world order?

Earlier this year the US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell in an exclusive interview to the right-wing outlet Breitbart News Network outlined his vision of “empowering” right wing forces throughout Europe.   

Across Europe, right-wing forces have the wind in their sails and have even found support from the US government as many of them view the US president as an ally of sorts. 

Is the most powerful country on earth, which once moulded the world in its image, seeking to rebuild the world by empowering long dormant, and underlying currents of nationalism and right-wing populism? 

Rejection of 'globalism'

The idea that there is a global network of transnational business people, policy makers, politicians and UN bureaucrats aiming to unite the world under one set of values has been a strong theme amongst American conservatives. But also among conservatives across the world. 

Trump took aim at these forces in his address to the UN. 

“We reject the ideology of globalism and accept the doctrine of patriotism,” Trump thundered to a silent UN gathering. 

America will "not be held hostage to old dogmas, discredited ideologies and so-called experts who have been proven wrong."

Many of these ideas that Trump was disparaging have largely emerged from the US itself and spread through the UN. Moreover, it is these ideas that have entrenched American power globally.

The fact is that American ideas, for better or worse, have shaped the world most of the UN attendees find themselves in. 

The danger of human rights

The Human Rights Council, the body tasked with bringing to light human rights abuses around the world, has been frequently targeted since the George W Bush administration, since it was set up in 2006.

From the American perspective, the human rights body has shone a light on Israeli abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories. 

The Trump administration's strategy has so far been to disengage from the UN body, preferring total absence as opposed to engaging it, a founding principle of the UN.  

Trump went on to target another UN body, the International Criminal Court. 

"The ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority," Trump said lambasting the body for even considering to prosecute US servicemen who are alleged to have committed abuses in occupied Afghanistan. 

The court has its critics, principally it has often been perceived as a body that only targets Africa. 

That the court chose to investigate the US and was threatened with sanctions by John Bolton, a move that suggests there is one law for the powerful and one law for the weak, undermines the judicial independence of the court. 


For too long the US had been taken advantage off, Trump railed.

China, a country Trump has consistently blamed for America's problems, was blamed for the loss of US jobs and the de-industrialisation that has afflicted America. 

He alleged that unfair trading practices and the use of "government-run industrial planning and state-owned enterprises" had skewed the global capitalist system in a not so veiled swipe at China. 

While others have suggested that China, still an officially communist country, maybe does capitalism better than the US. 

"Virtually everywhere socialism or communism has been tried, it has produced suffering," the Swedish delegation, representing a Nordic social democracy, looked on amused. 

Trade deals that no longer work for the United States, will be systematically renegotiated Trump went on to say.

The world-view that the Trump administration is advocating is one in which bilateral negations are better at protecting sovereignty. 

On peace and praise

Praise was heaped on Saudi Arabia. While the brutality of the Yemen war was decried, there was no blame for the perpetrators of that war, mainly Saudi Arabia and the UAE - and the Western countries that supply the weapons for that war, and most significantly, the US.

Trump a keen supporter of sovereignty, went on to say, "In recognition of every sovereign state to determine its own capital, I moved the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem."    

There was no mention that Palestinians might also have a sovereign claim to the land – and according to an international consensus and many UN resolutions, a strong claim. 

So why is Israeli sovereignty respected while that of the Palestinians denigrated?

By claiming as Trump did that the United States has a principal aim of promoting peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, while giving Israel concession after concession was another poignant moment in his speech.

Donald Trump reserved his praise for countries that are currently experiencing a wave of xenophobia, Islamophobia, and bigoted strains of populism like India and Poland. 

He also reserved an honourable mention for the repressive dictator of North Korea. 

The return of the Monroe Doctrine?

Trump made a reference to a doctrine that will fill most in Latin America with dread. 

The 19th century doctrine, introduced by then US President James Monroe, ostensibly opposed European colonialism and later became a tool ensuring American primacy over the Americas. 

Trump's public reinforcement of this could mean that America takes an even more active role in the politics of its South American neighbours, as he already has in Venezuela, and is likely only set to increase as Russia and China make inroads in that region.


Threats to sovereignty were strangely mixed with total respect for sovereignty. In fact, sovereignty was mentioned a total of 12 times in his speech.

Mentioned 15 times in Trump's speech, Iran, was not offered the same respect to its sovereignty that was offered to Israel. 

In a further ratcheting up of tensions, Donald Trump announced that America will impose additional sanctions starting November 5, with significant pressure on countries importing Iranian crude. 

"The United States is committed to a future of peace and stability in the region," Trump claimed. 

Who was Trump speaking to?

A speech at the UN General Assembly is an opportunity to address world leaders. Many elements of Donald Trump's speech bore similarities to those he makes to his own political base at rallies, and it resonated with conservatives in the US.

Ever the businessman, Donald Trump has already determined, as was evident in his speech, that the UN has little to no value to him – and seemed to be making a speech for those that can ensure his place at the head of the table: his US voter base.