September 24th, 2019 was a momentous day at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City as the 74th session of the General Assembly took place. US President Trump was one of the opening speakers, who opened with much less of a bang than in his previous years. Known for making headlines, such as his “Rocket-man” speech,” we were met with a much more subdued Trump at this General Assembly session. It could be that his interests are no longer in the UN, or it could be that President Trump decided to take it down a notch as he prepares for his bid at a second term in the impending 2020 elections. Whatever the motivation was for such a monotonous speech, I witnessed people actually leaving the session during his remarks.
Secretary-General Guterres began the session with an interesting opening statement: “The United Nations Charter sends a clear message to us all: put people first.” The UN Chief emphasized the importance of listening to the people – and for the Secretary General this included all people from those with disabilities to the indigenous and women. President Trump’s speech also focused on putting the people first, but his speech took on a very different tone from that of the Secretary-General’s. Whereas the UN Chief pointed to multilateralism as the path to putting the people first, President Trump’s idea of putting Americans first meant sovereignty as the only viable solution to the issues that we face in today’s world.
One of the main points of President Trump’s speech was on the “ambitious campaign” to reform the international trading system into one that is “fair and reciprocal.” According to the President, the system has been “exploited by nations acting in very bad faith,” and has resulted in “4.2 million lost manufacturing jobs and $15 trillion in trade deficits over the last quarter century.” Some of these reforms include replacing NAFTA with a new bipartisan US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a new trade deal with Japan, and a new trade agreement with the UK, as they prepare to Brexit – exit the European Union.
The most important trade reforms addressed in Trump’s speech were those with China. President Trump claimed in his speech that ever since China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, instead of liberalizing their economy, China has done nothing but “embraced an economic model dependent on massive market barriers, heavy state subsidies, currency manipulation, product dumping, forced technology transfers, and the theft of intellectual property and … trade secrets on a grand scale.”
His argument was that “The second-largest economy in the world [China] should not be permitted to declare itself a ‘developing country’ in order to game the system at others’ expense.” As a result, the US has heavily taxed more than $500 billion worth of Chinese-made goods.
Secretary-General Guterres addressed this rift between the US and China in his speech as well. He referred to it as the possibility of becoming the “Great Fracture,” with “the world splitting in two, with the two largest economies on earth creating two separate and competing worlds, each with their own dominant currency, trade and financial rules, their own internet and artificial intelligence capacities, and their own zero sum geopolitical and military strategies.”
President Trump, known for his lack of diplomacy, also spoke of Iran. He referred to the country’s regime as “repressive.” Furthermore, he explained that Iran’s “blood lust” was insatiable as they fueled wars in Syria and Yemen, called for “Death to America,” and spewed Anti-Semitic hate. As a result, the US withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal in 2018 and has inflicted severe economic sanctions on Iran, especially after accusing Iran of bombing Saudi oil fields.
Iran was not the only country President Trump attacked in his speech. As Venezuela and its people continue to suffer under the current regime of President Maduro, President Trump referred to him as a “Cuban puppet.” Trump claimed that Maduro is a tool being used by the Cuban government to sustain communism. Of course, as the US 2020 elections approach, President Trump took the opportunity to take a jab at Democrats, claiming that socialism is “one of the most serious challenges our countries face,” and that it is the “wrecker of nations and destroyer of societies.”
President Bolsonaro of Brazil made very similar points in his speech during the seventy-fourth session, aligned with President Trump’s views. President Bolsonaro also attacked socialism in his speech, claiming that its closeness to socialism has put Brazil “in a situation of generalized corruption, grave economic recession, high criminality rates, and uninterrupted attacks to the family and religious values which make up our traditions.” According to him, “in the 60s, Cuban agents were sent to several countries to collaborate with the implementation of dictatorships,” in an effort to change the regimes from democratic to socialist ones. President Bolsonaro said that Brazil was able to defeat these efforts, but that Venezuela was not so lucky, as “once a strong and democratic country, today it experiences the cruelty of socialism.” In his speech, he said that Brazil continues to be affected by Venezuela’s socialism as more than 4 million people escaping Venezuela make their way to Brazil.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Trump speech if he didn’t touch on immigration. The President stated that, “Mass illegal migration is unfair, unsafe, and unsustainable for everyone involved.” His reasoning was that the immigrants were subject to human smuggling and human trafficking. President Trump thanked President López Obrador of Mexico for his government’s cooperation, and the stationing of 27,000 troops at the border.
However, President Trump did make an effort to show his support of other marginalized groups of people. During his speech, he spoke of standing with the LGBTQ community, championing women’s rights, protecting religious freedoms, and, interestingly enough, protecting the lives of innocents, in which he really meant he was not behind the pro-choice movement.
President Bolsonaro wasn’t the only quasi-Trump leader that opened the seventy-fourth session of the General Assembly. Whether done intentionally or not, the session also opened with populist presidents Abdel Fattah Al Sisi of Egypt and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey. You didn’t have to listen to the other two presidents speak after President Bolsonaro and President Trump to understand that there was a populist agenda being pushed, even from the UN. From President Bolsonaro’s denial of scientists’ claims that the Amazon is the “lungs of the world,” to his claims that the media “lies” (very similar to Trump’s ‘fake news’), their speeches were alarming to say the very least. He even referred to Trump in his speech, saying that he “synthesized very well the spirit that must prevail among UN countries: respect to the freedom and sovereignty of each of us.”
However, it does seem that people have caught on and are fighting to overturn the damage constantly inflicted by President Trump. Not long after the 74th session, it was announced that there would be an attempt at impeachment for President Trump. As elections are on their way, it is so important that we go out and vote so that the tide may turn. As the US leads the world, its leader must reflect the same core values and morals we wish for the rest of the world to adopt. However, so long as this leader remains in power, and others follow his rhetoric, history is doomed to repeat itself.