Everyone’s got their own recurring nightmare—naked in class, teeth falling out, whatever. For Donald Trump, that nightmare is that the world is laughing at the United States, and on Tuesday at the United Nations General Assembly, the nightmare came true.
The president’s public remarks are littered with warnings that America is, or might be, the butt of the globe’s jokes.
“The world is laughing at us,” Trump said on the stump in October 2016. “We don’t win at the borders. We don’t win with taking care of our vets. We don’t win with anything. We don’t win anymore. We will start winning again like you’ve never seen before.” He’s kept it up since entering office. “At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country?” he asked in June 2017. “The world is laughing at us. The world is laughing at the stupidity of what we have done with immigration,” he said in August.
Dozens of times since 2011, Trump has tweeted the word laughing, and even though that’s a fairly common word, the vast majority of the uses involve foreign countries (or groups like ISIS) laughing at the United States.
More recently, however, Trump has argued that the snickering is over.
“The world respects our country now,” he told a reporter earlier this month, after former President Barack Obama criticized him in a speech. “They didn’t respect our country when he was running it. They were laughing at our country. We’re making great trade deals now and we’re making fair trade deals, but we’re making them good for us. And we didn’t have that.”
Trump has few friends on the international stage, but as his closest foreign confidant, Emmanuel Macron, might say: Au contraire, Monsieur le Président.
“In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any other administration in the history of our country. So true,” Trump told the UNGA on Tuesday morning. It’s a standard Trump line, which he usually delivers in front of two primary audiences: supporters who believe it, and reporters who just scoff and shake their head, knowing it’s not true.
The delegates at the UN were neither so supportive nor so jaded, and they openly laughed at him. Trump rolled with it. “Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s okay,” he said, eliciting another round of chortling. Still, the reaction had to sting. This is, after all, the same man who tweeted about Obama:
We need a President who isn't a laughing stock to the entire World. We need a truly great leader, a genius at strategy and winning. Respect!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 9, 2014
The figurative laughter of 2014 has become the literal laughter of 2018. Perhaps there is a silver lining, though. In an age when the United States is withdrawing from the world stage, allies are saying they cannot rely on Washington’s word, and U.S. soft power is at its lowest ebb in the post–World War II era, the tittering in Turtle Bay is an indication that America can still unite the global community, if only in giggles.