If President Donald Trump’s grievance-filled video rant to the UN General Assembly proved anything, it’s that he doesn’t really have a foreign policy.
Trump lashed out at China and critics of his climate-change-denying environmental record, celebrated sparse diplomatic achievements and lied about the US fight against the pandemic. His speech encapsulated how he wields power abroad — in service of domestic and personal political goals, rather than based on a traditional calculation of wider US interests.
All Trump’s foreign moves are expected to pull their political weight at home. When he wanted a trade deal with Beijing, Trump was Chinese President Xi Jinping’s best friend — offering unwarranted praise over his pandemic leadership. But when his own disastrous handling of the virus threatened hopes of a second term, he chose China as a scapegoat even at the expense of triggering a new Cold War. The US pullout from the Iran nuclear deal left Tehran closer to a bomb, but it sure helped destroy Barack Obama’s legacy. US-backed normalization deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain also aimed to please evangelicals in the US. And while the President’s love fest with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did nothing to dismantle his nukes, it yielded great photo ops.
“Only when you take care of your own citizens will you find a true basis for cooperation,” Trump told the General Assembly, encapsulating his “America First” creed, which upends 80 years of US global leadership. If he loses the election in six weeks, his speech will be remembered as a defiant, valedictory swipe. And if Joe Biden takes Trump’s place at the UN next year, he’ll face a world grown skeptical of America’s staying power — and foes who made hay in its absence.
‘Our own 1945 moment’
Opening the day of leaders’ speeches on Tuesday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stuck a dark tone, calling the coronavirus pandemic and its effects “our own 1945 moment” — a reference to the destruction of WWII. He also warned against the emerging US-China cold war, saying, “Our world cannot afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe in a Great Fracture — each with its own trade and financial rules and internet and artificial intelligence capacities.”
Monday Night Politics
The NFL is hardly the most progressive organization in America. Yet the all-mighty football league has struck out in exactly the opposite direction to Trump on the pandemic and race — suggesting that it thinks it understands something about the national moment that the President doesn’t.
Pigskin bosses just handed out $100,000 fines to three coaches for not wearing face masks on the sidelines. They also fined their teams, who are playing mostly without crowds — unlike Trump in his campaign rallies. After shutting out Colin Kaepernick, who started a global movement by becoming the first player to take a knee to protest police brutality, the league has now taken a more accommodating view toward racial justice activism by players. One of the more reactionary teams, in Washington, has finally agreed that its previous Redskins branding is racially offensive.
With teams in more conservative areas, the NFL is sometimes caught between its players, who are disproportionately Black, and its fan base. Some of the few spectators allowed into games booed their own players over their demonstrations. Trump, meanwhile, is celebrating a dip in NFL ratings as proof that political correctness is ruining the country’s most popular sport.
Many of the teams’ billionaire owners are conservative — but if the league as a whole has any belief system, it’s that they have an inalienable right to pile up billions of dollars in profits. The NFL, following the more inclusive NBA, NASCAR racing and other pro leagues, appears to have decided that its long-term business interests depend on being seen as open to the national reckoning on race. And if teams want to keep playing amid the pandemic, they can’t skip protocols like social distancing and masks.
Trump and the NFL have both shown an uncanny ability to read the public’s mood. We’ll soon see who was right.
Who said it?
Every quote below was spoken by a different head of state at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your guess for each.
- “We should see each other as members of the same big family, pursue win-win cooperation, and rise above ideological disputes and do not fall into the trap of ‘clash of civilizations.’ More importantly, we should respect a country’s independent choice of development path and model.”
- “The footage broadcast to the world concerning the treatment of an African American by the US police is reminiscent of our own experience. We instantly recognize that foot kneeling on the neck as the foot of arrogance on the neck of independent nations.”
- “here is no blood in the sand. Those days are hopefully over.”
- “Geopolitical tensions continue to rise. Escalating tensions benefit no one. The new flashpoints heighten fears and tend to tear peoples apart. When elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled flat.”