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Opinion | President Trump Addresses the United Nations (laughter)

Category: Diplomatic Relations,Politics

Donald Trump campaigned for the presidency claiming “the world is laughing at us.” Now it really is laughing — at him.

Apparently mistaking the United Nations General Assembly for a campaign stop on Tuesday, Mr. Trump opened his annual address — usually a somber occasion for a president to assess the state of the world — by boasting that his administration “has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.”

That’s when the other world leaders started chuckling.

“Didn’t expect that reaction,” Mr. Trump said, like a comic in a roomful of hecklers, “but that’s O.K.”

Actually, it’s not O.K. America’s president is now openly derided in the most important international forum.

In last year’s United Nations address, Mr. Trump introduced the themes of American sovereignty and national identity (and vowed to “totally destroy” North Korea). This year, he offered a more ornate statement of his atavistic if still rather incoherent agenda.

“Each of us here today is the emissary of a distinct culture, a rich history and a people bound together by ties of memory, tradition and the values that make our homelands like nowhere else on earth,” the president said. “That is why America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control and domination.”

He added: “The United States will not tell you how to live or work or worship. We only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return.”

Just what the president meant by “global governance” is unclear. But he seemed intent on conjuring up the phony black helicopter vision of international institutions as an “unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy” intent on erasing borders and eliminating national governments.

“We reject the ideology of globalism,” Mr. Trump said, “and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.”

Mr. Trump said the United Nations had some potential for good, and he implicitly recognized that, for all his bluster, the United States could not really hope to go it alone in an era of transnational threats, when he thanked South Korea, China and Japan for working with the United States to reduce the danger of a nuclear North Korea. But he reaffirmed his decisions to withdraw the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council and cut cooperation with the International Criminal Court, castigating it as having “no jurisdiction, no legitimacy and no authority.”

The president seemed to have no understanding that the bodies he criticized, including the World Trade Organization, are part of a post-World War II system established by the United States and its allies and that America still has considerable influence to effect reforms, provided its leaders are committed enough to try.

Mr. Trump was quite explicit in his view of foreign assistance as a reward for good behavior and for personal loyalty. “Moving forward,” he said, “we are only going to give foreign aid to those who respect us and, frankly, are our friends.”

There was no acknowledgment that foreign aid has been used as a strategic tool to protect American security interests by fighting terrorism, advancing democracy, eradicating disease, promoting trade and cultivating allies.

For Mr. Trump, it’s all about the quid pro quo and the political message to his domestic audience.

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