Donald Trump appeared before the UN on Tuesday morning to inform the world that the US regards all forms of international cooperation as evil, socialism as both a failed experiment and an unfair advantage, and is only going to provide aid to countries that give us presents.
Trump’s speech opened with a claim that his two years in office had accomplished more than any other US administration—a statement that brought the world a shared moment of laughter. Then he went on to systematically hammer every possible form of international cooperation as well as to redefine US foreign aid as a transactional arrangement where America gives to countries based on “what they give us.”
Trump: We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.
Throughout the speech, Trump assailed anything that he defined as “globalism.” It was the defining statement of the speech, and one that’s likely to be repeated most in the future. But the real impact here is that Trump was redefining the meaning of both “globalism” and “patriotism.” His attack on what he called globalism covered every form of international agreement. That includes the International Criminal Court, where Trump said “As far as America is concerned the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority.” It includes the United Nation Human Rights Commission. It even includes economic alliances such as OPEC which Trump called unfair and declared “I do not like them.”
This alarming case for selfish isolationism may reached its nadir in two points: Migration and foreign aid. Trump, unbelievably, declared that “migration should not be governed by an international body” and insisted that it was a problem that had to be dealt with internally by every country. He insisted that the US would not sign onto, or support, UN agreements to address mass migration and dislocations due to war.
On foreign aid, Trump’s statement was even more bleak. Trump maintained that the US was “by far” the biggest source of foreign aid—though the truth is that most of that aid is military aid aimed at a very few nations. But Trump insisted that while the US gives much to many “Few give anything to us. That is why we are taking a hard look at US foreign assistance.” Trump announced that he was going to have Pompeo look through the whole mechanism of foreign assistance, with a requirement that “We are only going to give foreign aid to those who respect us and, are frankly, our friends.”
Trump’s position completely upends understandings of both trade and aid that have been in place since the Marshall Plan. The United States has long held the view that trade and assistance are both part of supporting governments that are promoting democracy—whether or not they are promoting the United States. Trump doesn’t have that understanding. He views foreign assistance not as a investment, but as an exchange.
Throughout the speech, Trump was insistent that nations had to address their own problems, and that any international organization even those working to address human smuggling (or, as Trump said, “human struggling”) was suspect. There has not been a more adamant call to either isolation or greed in any speech delivered following World War II. Trump’s speech was, in fact, a clarion call to renew exactly those forces—nationalism, selfishness, and xenophobia—which brought on that conflict.
On socialism, Trump very much tried to have it both ways. When discussing Venezuela, Trump was fast to blame socialism for the failure of what had been a prosperous state. When discussing China, he complained that “state owned businesses” and “central state planning” gave China an unfair advantage on the world stage … though he did not mention the S-word in making these statements.
Trump did have a villain in his speech other than the economic manipulations of China. After bragging that he brought down ISIS, Trump announced that there was a despotic, belligerent autocracy behind the tragedy in Syria. And that dark force is … Iran. Trump saddled Iran with 100 percent of the blame, never mentioning either Bashar Assad or Russia. In fact, the one time that Trump did mention Russia in his speech was when he claimed that Germany would soon get all of its power from Russia—which is a lie.
A speech that opened with the world laughing at Trump’s pretentiousness may seem like yet another in a series of throwaway, lightweight speeches from someone who spent much of the speech mangling phrases and having a lot of trouble with the letter “s.” But this was a much darker, much more important speech than the chuckling or the denture slips suggest.
In this speech, which was surely authored by Stephen Miller, Trump pounded the neo-fascist themes that define his philosophy. This speech wasn’t just gloomy. It’s a gathering storm.