Critic's Notebook: Trump Show Gets Surreal in Bellicose United Nations Speech

President Donald Trump

In his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly, the president said, "We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea."

President Donald Trump delivered his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly, and to say it was dark is an understatement. It made his inauguration address seem like Mister Rogers singing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” in comparison. I don’t want to alarm anybody, but we might want to think about dusting off those ‘50s-era “Duck and Cover” films and showing them in schools again.

Just one day earlier, Trump had given remarks at the U.N. that seemed to signify a softer, more conciliatory tone. That was thoroughly absent from this address, which clearly bore the stamp of Stephen Miller, Trump’s bellicose policy adviser, who surely must have been the last to be picked for sports teams when he was a youth.

Speaking before an organization devoted to international cooperation and peacekeeping, Trump declared war. And there were plenty of targets to choose from, though North Korea was the biggest. Calling it a “depraved regime,” he announced, “We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

After that casual threat of nuclear annihilation, and using the same mature, thoughtful language that he displays in his tweets, he added, “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime.” Elton John should be suing for copyright infringement.

President Trump was only getting warmed up. He proceeded to verbally attack Iran, saying that its government “masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy … an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed and chaos.” Referring to the nuclear deal, he added, “Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.” (Cut to Bibi Netanyahu, looking pleased.)

Venezuela was also caught in Trump’s crosshairs. “The situation is completely unacceptable, and we cannot stand by and watch,” he declared. “The United States has taken important steps to hold the regime accountable. We are prepared to take further action if the government of Venezuela persists on its path.” Not wanting to neglect anybody, the president went on to lambaste Cuba and Syria, and seemed to be looking around the room for other nations to confront.

It was early in the morning, but you could tell all the diplomats and world leaders listening were already in need of a stiff drink. Unlike at Trump’s campaign rallies, where this typical “America First” speech could easily have been given, he was mainly greeted with stony silence that was only occasionally alleviated with tepid applause. The biggest reaction came when Trump seemed to embrace his inner Ronald Reagan.

“The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented,” he opined as the audience began tittering.

Yes, this was a tough room. But that didn’t seem to matter to Trump, who must have thought he was receiving royalties every time he uttered the words “sovereign” and “sovereignty.” He also repeated his mantra of being guided by “principled realism,” although no one in his administration has been able to explain exactly what the hell that means. Sounds good, though.  

According to the president, things in the U.S. are going swimmingly, and it’s all thanks to him, of course. Just look at the stock market, he told the General Assembly, the members of which were probably waiting for the speech to end so they could contact their portfolio managers. Trump also announced, “Our military will soon be the strongest it has ever been,” a boast which inevitably came out sounding like a threat.

As for the rest of the world, it’s apparently going to hell in a handbasket. It has fallen into a “valley of disrepair,” Trump declared, making it sound like it was badly in need of spare parts. “Major portions of the world are in conflict, and some, in fact, are going to hell,” he added.

This wasn’t a foreign policy speech. It was a fire-and-brimstone sermon delivered by a false prophet who is not only expecting the end of days but is fully prepared to bring it about.