It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry at Trump’s speech to the UNGA which saw him laughed at. He was clearly shocked that the unwashed masses didn’t understand that patriotism was superior to globalism whatever Dr Johnson might say about patriotism. And how could they fail to appreciate the achievements of the Messiah? And the Trumpet shall sound, and we shall be raised! He may be despised and rejected of the rest of the world but they love him in the rust belt. And anyway we are told the whole world loves a clown, right? Perhaps the General Assembly should pass a resolution expressing sympathy to all those decent Americans who did not vote for The Donald?
Donald Trump’s oration to the UN General Assembly brought tears to the eyes of all: some of fear and most of laughter. It was Muhammed Ali (aka Cassius Clay) who claimed to be the greatest because he could knock out any other fighter and Trump seems to be taking a leaf out of his book. He is going to make America great again but it is not necessary to make Trump great again because he already is the greatest. Eat your hearts out Presidents Washington, Lincoln and Kennedy!
But seriously folks, the speech brings out some serious concerns.
- That Trump could make a claim like that to an audience like that shows he has no idea about how he is seen outside his narrow court. For the US President to be mocked publicly by so many people is embarrassing for Americans. Of course, it is possible he will bounce back domestically by telling the faithful that this just proves everything he says about the UN is right and he may even have done it deliberately. I am never quite sure whether he is as cunning as the proverbial outhouse rodent or whether his intelligence is in inverse proportion to his ego.
- Later in the speech he stated quite clearly that he was opposed to globalism and favoured patriotism instead. Again, this must have been for the folks back home but it is probably true and therefore worrying. This fits in with his demand that the rest of the world obey US laws which require them to buy goods only from countries the US approves of. Anyone who breaks the US unilaterally imposed sanctions on Iran or Russia will be punished. One is reminded of the Lord Chancellor’s song from Iolanthe: “The law is the perfect example of everything that’s excellent. It has no fault, it has no flaw and I my lords embody the law”. Who is going to tell the king he has no clothes?The Chinese and the Europeans have rightly condemned this arrogant breach of the rules based international system but so far Australia has been quiet. The wider implications for this policy are staggering.
There is of course nothing new in American exceptionalism but it is seldom put as blatantly as this. Nor is there anything new in the use of economic or military force by the US to pursue its interests. As former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it: “If we have to use force, it is because we are America: we are the indispensable nation.”. Nor is there anything new in the USA taking military action on the basis of flawed understanding of the implications of what it is doing. Macarthur’s push to the Yalu in the Korean War, Vietnam and the invasion of Iraq are examples. However, in the past there have always been wiser counsels which drew the line at nuclear weapons and which worked for peaceful solutions to problems. The assumption that the US has the right to force other countries to do what America tells them to do on trade issues or face punishment is also something new. To be fair on Trump, he has shown signs of moderation on some issues and an ability to change. Little Rocket Man is now his best friend although only if he does as he is told. His naïve and clumsy friendship with Putin took the view that love him or hate him you had to find a way to live with a nuclear power of that strength. However, government by slogans has its limits and a great power which has lost its way is not a reassuring prospect. Now the US is no longer the undisputed master of the universe and a wounded tiger is always dangerous. As always, there are Americans who are as appalled as the rest of the world by those who betray the noble ideals of their country but they are not running it.
So far as American soft power is concerned I suspect people do not respect a country whose ringmaster turns out to be the clown.
Cavan Hogue is a former Australian Ambassador in Moscow and other places.