21 September 2017
By Mich Nnanna
If it is about oratory, even the fiercest media critics of President Donald Trump would have a tall task looking for a basis to fault his first ever speech to the UN Assembly, Tuesday. Trump arguably matched his predecessor, Barack Obama, on any known standard of oratory. Obama is mentioned because he is known for moving even a tree with the gift of the gab. Trump stood, characteristically gesticulating with a raised arm, folded thumb, and a tweaking finger, which always portray more of a sparkling right palm than a habit.
He stood for 45 minutes speaking extempore, flawlessly, articulately, and highly intelligently on wide range of issues. He called names, recalled events, alluded to actions, and recited quotes with computer-like ease. For his passion and preparation to berate some nations, he almost sounded bellicose. Yet, it would take his harshest critics to fault his eloquence, delivery, presidentialness and composure. These have been enduring attributes of many American presidents. Obama, in fact, was an epitome of the above attributes and much more. But for Trump, it would not have been news if he had goofed with the speech given his antecedents, or so some people have made it seem. Therefore, not many could have imagined that Trump could conjure such speech prowess after the gale of tongue lashes he has received as the most derisive, most unpresidential and crudest president in American history, who would stay up at 2am tweeting to reply to everything anyone says about him in the most unpolished language.
So, Tuesday was a turning point in New York. Perhaps a new Trump will mark the post 72nd UN General Assembly. Possibly, Trump was radicalised by the hostility, which marked the Republican primaries and the whole American campaign trial he witnessed in 2015-2016. With a system so dominated by Democrat loyalists from the media to the intelligence agencies, through Congress to the courts, it was difficult for a certain non-establishment Trump to rear his political head without sounding weird. And in trying to use every bit of Trump’s crudity against him, the media was said to have inadvertently given Trump over $2 billion in free TV coverage, making him far more popular, if not advantageously notorious, worldwide, especially among Americans. It was however said that Americans may not have watched all the concoctions sold to the world about a certain Trump that posed a threat to America’s integrity, nuclear codes and international image.
In fact, Trump’s weirdness tended to work, because he knew how to marry that crankiness with the message Americans wanted to hear at that time. He knew how to muster victory from an unfavourable electoral climate where he still won having lost in individual/popular vote count. He had won after some reputed world media and veteran election analysts gave him less than 2 per cent chance. Afterwards, he still saw he needed to apply his campaign tricks to survive a desperate media war that trailed his electoral victory. And that accounted for his many supposed gaffes during the early days of his presidency.
But none of those marked Trump’s outing at the UN where he began by remembering the recent extreme weather events that hit the US. While thanking the countries and organisations, which helped with aid and relief efforts, he assured of the resilience of the American people who he said would emerge stronger from the effects of the hurricanes of late August to early September. He gave credit to his administration, which after just eight months has recorded great successes in jobs and military spending.
Like the Obama era, Trump’s Tuesday speech was intermitted with applause from the House which though was at times bemused at the words he used, not for crankiness, but for over frankness. That was the major area that tended to douse what would have been one of the most flawless speech renditions ever by a president. At times, some hands were held up, put together, but had faces that appeared too ill-at-lease to trigger a clapping effect. At a point, Trump would pause to usher in some applause, but was greeted by a cringing sea of pale faces.
Great speech; but Trump did not disappoint on harsh words for North Korea and Iran, two nations expected to feature prominently in his speech. Trump called North Korea leader Kim Jong-un, “Rocket Man,” who was on “a suicide mission for himself and his regime.” Trump was clearly referring to North Korea’s perennial nuclear missile tests, which the US has denounced and for which Trump once threatened to respond to with unprecedented fire and fury. Again on Tuesday, Trump repeated his stance in very similar tones. He said: “The United States has ‘great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” Trump added that America was “ready, willing, and able.” He however quickly tempered the ferocity of his words by saying: “hopefully, this will not be necessary,” also alluding to hopes that Pyongyang would embrace the many options for negotiations given to it if only for sanctions that have started to bite.
Iran took its own verbal missiles from Trump by being accused of wasting its huge oil profits on a weapons programme that sees the country exporting terrorism and sponsoring murderous Hezbollah and other terrorists, which have killed more Muslims, terrorised other Arab and Israeli neighbours and brought anguish to the Iranian people whom Trump said were the greatest sufferers of the despotism of the Iranian regime. He said: “The Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the guise of a democracy. It has turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed and chaos.” Trump cited Syria and Yemen as some of the places where Iran exports terror.
Some analysts expressed surprise that some of the words Trump had used in ordinary speeches were still brought to UN General Assembly. The analysts however remembered how George Bush jnr. in his State of the Union address in 2002 had used the expression ‘axis of evil’ for the same nations referred to by Trump (Iran, Iraq, North Korea), thus absolving Trump of being a trail blazer in such expressions.
Trump did not indicate directly whether he was going to work with the Iranian nuclear deal, which, at the campaigns for president, he had called the worst deal ever to be negotiated in American history. At Tuesday’s speech, Trump called the speech an “embarrassment to the United States,” “the worst and most one-sided transaction the US ever entered into.” He tended to nail the coffin when he said: “… and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.” The statement made a BBC international correspondent to say that it was hard to see how Trump would continue with such a deal after so describing it. Trump even hinted at a possible commencement of fresh rounds of US-Iran row over Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, which, unlike North Korea, Iran has always denied. He also hinted at a looming fresh confrontation with terrorism hubs, and the sponsors of Al Qaida, Hezbollah and the Taliban, while vowing to stamp out Islamic terrorism from the US and its allies. Trump announced tougher stance on Cuba and Venezuela, whom he accused of resorting to outdated socialist/communist economy, which has devastated the countries for being so well practiced rather than otherwise.
Trump, as expected, also projected his ‘America first’ message to the UN general Assembly, but couched it more in an international way by asking other leaders in the room to also put their countries first. He urged them to help in putting to an end most of the conflicts in the world. Trump says that the UN will have done well, and indeed deemed to be working if it can do this. He tended to indicate America’s readiness to reduce its huge funding of the UN. Trump said that America is only one of the 193-member countries of the UN, yet contributes a mammoth 22 per cent of its funding. He called on other nations to get ready to do more, because it is well worth it for them to assume more responsibilities. He called for reforms at the UN. By implication, Trump was voicing frustration that other big nations had equal powers to veto resolutions, yet did not contribute as much as America, which has so far failed to have its way with North Korea and Iran sanctions. He may well be referring to China and Russia.
World lenders tended to cringe when Trump decried the large scale of conflicts in the world, and absolved America of having a hand in causing wars in other countries. By this Trump uneasily tried to say that America had no ulterior motive in Syria and other conflicts elsewhere. One then wonders if there is need for even any analysis to prove the role America has played in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. Trump praised America’s involvement in these wars as wars to liberate the world from despotic rulers and to build institutions such as the UN to defend the sovereignty, security and prosperity for all. He says that America’s interest in other areas such as Ukraine and the South China Sea are for the defence of the threat to the interest of the citizens of other nations. Compare that with the ‘America first message.’
He also said that America was not seeking to impose its way of life on others. Yet, from computing to weaponry, from the global media industries to advertising and music distribution chains, from oil to gold, from world currencies to forex trading, American standards are global standards. There are even sports competitions such as wrestling and hockey where only American teams play inside America, yet the champions in respective tournaments are called world champions.
Trump said that some countries have become so enmeshed in wars that some of them are ‘going to hell.’ This again was hard language to some of the countries. He called on the righteous countries to stand up against the evil nations, without which evil will prevail. “If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph,” he admonished. The evil few may well refer to North Korea’s allies because Trump wondered that some nations were tolerating, arming and trading with a depraved a nation that ‘imperils the world with nuclear conflict” and indeed a regime killing its own people. The implication is that America, and perhaps some countries of the western hemisphere are the righteous many. Trump ended with a barrage of questions and what looked like giddy optimism that the world would survive its dangers and threats. The answer to the questions will be answered in the coming months and years of his presidency. Some of those answers are already showing themselves in the midst of so passionate and perfectly rendered a speech that said nothing about climate change, the biggest single threat to all of humanity.