text by Sarah Kay
It is the first time I am not attending the United Nations’ General Assembly in 12 years or more. It seems what I am missing is a memorable circus of incompetence and a nightmare of public relations. Or was it? Trump addressing the annual gathering of international diplomats and experts in their opening sessions was a guaranteed failure. Yet it was the focus of such attention I couldn’t avert my eyes. One climbs the mountain of conflict more or less rhetorically, and suddenly, just like Trump’s misshapen hair and debilitating posture behind an otherwise respectful lectern, it is very, very real.
Being part of the opening speeches in the month of September means to introduce newly elected or imposed world leaders on the stage, before the delegates and representatives of a large portion of the world, and hear about commitments to peace, security, development, democratic values, and the rule of international law as a whole. It is part campaign speech and part verbally issued commitment. Whatever one thinks of the role of the Security Council in the conduct of its mandate to preserve peace and security, or the influence of the Human Rights Council in investigations and accountability for crimes, the General Assembly requires participants to be more than room meat. Then Donald Trump showed up, and despite the indisputable fact that UN HQ is hosted in the very city of New York, where he lived before being elected into office, he seemed utterly confused as to where he was.
Trump spoke as if he addressed not diplomats and experts in international relations, but his own voters at a rally in, say, Lima, Ohio. His speech, allegedly written by alt-right favorite Stephen Miller, who looks like the kid from The Omen, was beyond the concept of grandstanding. It was chaotic and self-absorbed, ignorant and blind, impossible and arrogant. Most legitimately, focus on Trump’s declaration of intent to annihilate 25 million North Koreans before their dictator Kim Jung-Un has the possibility to do so beyond starvation and lack of medical care. Remember: he is doing so before the General Assembly. The current White House resident has also bragged about having “entirely changed the rules of engagement” in Afghanistan, the longest running war for the US, currently under preliminary examination at the International Criminal Court, and this before the United Nations General Assembly, which body has the power to refer and override Security Council decisions. Finally, reaching across the audience like an alt right Julie Andrews, he claimed to be present for cooperation in the name of peace and stability. No one knows whether to clap or reach for the emergency exit. Attendees were trapped inside the room, wondering if they were being tortured.
We can decidedly follow in Matt Taibbi’s footsteps and declare him mad; he is for sure unfit for office and his 25th Amendment would frankly be in the post. But Trump is an armchair president; he is only leading in name; he has never passed a single bill nor has he never extended or facilitated relations on the international stage. It remains that he is wielding considerable (fire)power with little to no congressional oversight and the General Assembly can’t possibly supplant the democratic will of the American people. What happens in Washington does not stay in Washington, and in New York, it has become abundantly clear that Trump is a threat to international peace and security.