In sleep-inducing cadence, and amidst the usual banalities — “it is entirely up to us whether we lift the world to new heights or let it fall into a valley of disrepair” — Trump outlined a dangerous, warmongering agenda to the General Assembly session Tuesday in New York. In Trump’s rhetorical crosshairs were North Korea and Iran, the two remaining states in George W. Bush and David Frum’s infamous “Axis of Evil.”
Contradictory as ever, Trump invoked the values of the UN to argue the exact opposite: that the Iran nuclear deal — agreed upon by his predecessor and all the major powers of the world after years of painstaking diplomacy and negotiations, and which is almost universally praised for halting further nuclearization in a sensitive part of the world through peaceful means — was an “embarrassment.”
Frankly, what’s embarassing is to question in this manner one of the most successful resolutions of conflict between nations in recent history. The American U-turn on the Iran deal is just one demonstration of how low the American presidency has fallen. Trump didn’t reaffirm the ideals of the United Nations by ridiculing the Iran deal; instead, he reaffirmed the worst type of projection of U.S. power, which comes in the form of complete disregard for international norms, disrespect toward smaller countries, and a penchant for arrogance and reckless actions.
Staying true to America’s propensity for violence, Trump warned North Korea they could face total destruction and referred to the country’s leader Kim Jong-un as “rocket man.” The list of North Korea’s human rights abuses and crimes enumerated by Trump have of course been committed by the regime in Pyongyang, but his brazen threat to that country and its people hardly makes the case that the U.S. president actually knows or cares about solving human rights issues. The Swedish representative at the UN crossed her arms when Trump talked about North Korea, while another member covered his face with his palms.
For historical accuracy, Trump’s words should be reported as the U.S. threatening to once again totally destroy the northern half of Korea. As bizarre, brutal and authoritarian as North Korea’s regime is, it comes by its fear of annihilation honestly. The U.S. bombed the country to rubble in the early 1950s before the armistice was signed.
What remaining legitimacy the sclerotic family dynasty has today stems entirely from portraying itself as acting in self-defense against U.S. imperialism. The most simplistic and crude North Korean propagandist could not have drawn a more over-the-top caricature of U.S. belligerence and ignorance than Trump.
U.S. capitalism’s failure
For good measure, Trump attacked socialism as an ideology in his UN speech, saying it had only ever brought “anguish and devastation and failure." This is unlikely to convince many.
Trump is a personification of capitalism’s decadence and failure, and few of the young people in the U.S. and worldwide who are increasingly turning to socialist ideas take seriously the old Cold War mantra that any shift towards a more collective society inevitably leads to the serfdom endured by citizens of a dictatorship like North Korea’s. U.S. capitalism has failed to provide jobs to its own middle and working classes, has eroded democracy through pay-for-play elections at all levels, and has created untold anguish by failing to provide even the basic human right to health care.
The “rocket man on a suicide mission” is Trump. As dangerous as his sabre-rattling against Iran and North Korea are, ultimately Trump’s speech reflects and accelerates the decline of U.S. influence in the world. It was always an obnoxious idea, but who can possibly take American exceptionalism seriously anymore?
The physical manifestation of a declining empire in which the most myopic and uncultured figures can rise to power, Trump’s UN speech reminds us that there will not be another American Century.