Trump at the UN – a Dramatist Seizes an Opportunity

James Paul is former Executive Director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum and author of the recently-released “Of Foxes and Chickens: Oligarchy & Global Power in the UN Security Council”

By James Paul
NEW YORK, Sep 13 2018 (IPS)

Donald Trump, as we know, is first and foremost a showman. He is a person who loves theatrics and tries always to stay in the spotlight. In his habitual theater at the White House, however, the air has become tense, the audience unreliable, his efforts to attract an adoring crowd increasingly frought.

Donald J. Trump. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

So the president has decided to come to New York—on September 25– for a venue always much appreciated by world leaders – the United Nations. Here, he will have the chance to “strut upon the stage” in full view of a global audience.

UN supporters will certainly shake their heads in wonder. They will say: how could he come to the UN when he has already done it so much harm? How can he face this audience of people committed to multilateral cooperation when his signature mantra is “America First!”

At first glance this does seem contradictory. Trump has grievously weakened the UN and multilateralism. Who can forget the withdrawal of the US from the Human Rights Council, the withdrawal from UNESCO, the demanded cuts to the UN’s core budgets, and the diminished US contributions to many of the UN funds and programs.

Also, there is the US rejection of the climate change agreement, the pullout from the Iran nuclear deal, the multiple trade wars, and the plan to destroy the International Criminal Court. John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Advisor, is famous for his hostility to the UN.

But the President comes – as they all come – not out of enthusiasm for the UN and multilateralism but to take advantage of the theatrical opportunity. For Trump in particular, it is a chance to reach for global grandiosity, to rail against foreign enemies, to “disrupt” the status quo and to bask in the limelight of the frenzied news media.

He will arrive, as US presidents always do, with a great show and a lengthy motorcade. At the UN, his receptions and meetings will be the go-to moments.

There will be the premier speech from the podium of the General Assembly. He will command world attention as he makes expectable or unexpected jibes, denounces enemies real or imagined and thunders about a feverishly imagined reality. Nations may shudder at the thought of what he may say.

Media trucks will jam First Avenue to broadcast this and his other doings. From the point of view of the President and his advisors, it will be a morality play – giving the world a much-needed lesson in good conduct.

Above all, there will be the meeting of the UN Security Council at which he is expected to preside. How did the other Council members agree to the inevitable theatrics? The US happens to be president of the Council this month and the US almost always gets its way in Council proceedings.

As theater, it will inevitably recall the meeting in February 2003, when Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, argued for Council action on Iraq. That, too, was pure theater, though with dire consequences.

When Trump calls the Council to order, public attention will be riveted, as it so often is, on this showman. P.T. Barnum, the circus impresario, would endorse the method. We can wonder whether there will be some bellicose announcement: a “final warning” to Syria or Iran, for example.

In between the moments of theater, will Trump slip away to meet privately with other leaders, to do deals out of the spotlight as so many of his predecessors have done? Or will he stick to the theatrics, glad to be in front of the global cameras and to escape for a short while from the difficulties in Washington?

As his New York visit proceeds, will he encounter awkward silences, or a smattering of unenthusiastic applause – insufficient enthusiasm from those who (he might expect) would show honor and the fullest respect?

And what if there is real push-back – if some nations decide that enough is enough and call him out for his outrageous breaches of the peace? Will there be whispered threats? Angry vengeful tweets? Raw power on immediate display?

Finally, thank goodness, the show will be over. Trump will depart for Washington. The media trucks will vanish. Hopefully, the damage will not be too heavy! Maybe the sun will shine.