Greta Thunberg spent 15 days on a boat to get to the United Nations headquarters in New York. The teenage climate activist seized headlines with an impassioned speech Monday scolding the world’s adults for their failure to address climate change. Then Donald Trump stepped into the frame.
By the time the U.S. president arrived at the UN on Tuesday, the impeachment drama was gathering steam in D.C., building on an intelligence official’s whistle-blower complaint suggesting Trump had improperly solicited a foreign leader’s help investigating a political rival. Trump extolled sovereignty and vowed to hold Iran accountable at the General Assembly on Tuesday, the same day House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed a formal impeachment inquiry in response to the complaint. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani excoriated the U.S. on Wednesday, right around when the White House released a reconstructed transcript of a phone conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump asked him to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat challenging him for the presidency. Trump addressed members of the U.S. mission to the UN on Thursday, the day the whistle-blower complaint itself became public, musing about what used to happen to “spies” in the old days.
Throughout, the UN delegates met, the heads of state spoke, the protesters demonstrated; Trump himself told the press he was working hard with his counterparts in New York, with a schedule full of events and meetings, and noted his signing of a U.S.-Japan trade deal. Yet the whistle-blower story was unavoidable at the UN, not least because Trump kept bringing it up in public appearances with other world leaders. The General Assembly went on, but Trump’s mind was clearly elsewhere.