UNITED NATIONS—“We reject the ideology of globalism” in favor of the “ideology of patriotism.” So spoke the American president from the pulpit, in the high church of the first ideology, before a congregation nominally convened in a spirit of global cooperation.
Ahead of his address at the annual gathering of the United Nations General Assembly, the buzz around the building was not about whether the world would witness a confrontational Donald Trump, but rather about who specifically the president would single out for attack. And while Trump lived up to the hype—condemning China for plundering the United States through unfair trade practices, Iran for wreaking havoc at home and abroad, and OPEC oil-producing nations for ripping off the rest of the world, to nervous murmurs and laughter among the dignitaries assembled in the grand hall—his adversaries escaped the kind of wrath he unleashed on North Korea during last year’s UN General Assembly. Instead of once again dubbing Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man” and threatening to “totally destroy North Korea” over its nuclear-weapons development, Trump thanked the North Korean leader for the concessions he has made so far as part of nuclear negotiations. That wholesale reversal served as a reminder that while the president’s harsh words for Tehran and Beijing were stunning, they were also subject to change at any moment.
More than going after a specific leader or country, Trump used this year’s gathering to denounce the international system itself—escalating an argument he outlined in his 2017 speech for sovereign, self-interested nations to collaborate if and when their interests align. “America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control, and domination,” he said. By way of example, he touted his administration’s rejection of the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court and its withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council and Global Compact for Migration as examples of America’s assertion of independence in the face of creeping “globalism.” He vowed: “We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable bureaucracy.”