President Donald Trump gave a Tuesday campaign speech that blasted Beijing’s COVID-19 culpability, lauded his administration’s response to the pandemic, and celebrated America’s abdication of the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal.
No, Trump wasn’t rallying supporters in a swing state. His address, delivered remotely, was to the United Nations General Assembly. But to both ally and adversary alike, it was clear that Trump’s rhetoric was for domestic political purposes rather than diplomatic outreach.
Trump began in the U.N. spirit when he said, “We are once again engaged in a great global struggle.” Yet any hope of rallying a “we” was likely lost when he then called COVID the “China virus” and later urged the U.N. to “hold China accountable for their actions.”
That suggestion was rejected in a subsequent address by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who said, “facing the virus, we should enhance solidarity and get the world together.”
China did indeed lie about the severity of the initial Wuhan outbreak. But the cooperation necessary to coordinate an effective global response is compromised when the president of the United States is fixated on blame instead of leading the world toward a solution.
Not that many worldwide would follow. According to a new Pew Research Center poll of citizens in 13 allied nations, only 15% of respondents said that the U.S. “has done a good job dealing with the coronavirus outbreak,” while 37% said so about China, 57% the European Union, and 64% the World Health Organization — an international institution Trump also criticized in his Tuesday address.
While demonizing Beijing’s response, Trump lauded Washington’s, saying that “we launched the most aggressive mobilization since the Second World War” — a claim that came on the day the U.S. hit the grim milestone of 200,000 COVID deaths.
That catastrophe could have been far less severe if the full might of America had actually been rapidly deployed to mitigate the impact. Instead, Trump politicized the response. At a Monday campaign rally, he said the virus “affects virtually nobody.”
The president also charged China with plastic pollution, high carbon emissions and overfishing, among other environmental transgressions. He’s right that Beijing needs to clean up its act on the environment. But China can at least claim that it’s still a party to the Paris accord, a pact that Trump called “one-sided” as he defended his administration’s record.
Again, just as with pandemics and other borderless threats, climate change is the textbook definition of a global challenge that will not be solved unless the world collectively addresses it. Abdication of a treaty meant to mitigate climate change, let alone rolling back scores of environmental regulations, will only make the problem worse.
Trump was right to say, “If the United Nations is to be an effective organization, it must focus on the real problems of the world. This includes terrorism, the oppression of women, forced labor, drug trafficking, human and sex trafficking, religious persecution, and the ethnic cleansing of religious minorities.”
Yet the reality is that the U.N. is in fact focusing on these issues. And just like COVID and climate change, these transnational challenges require global cooperation — including from America — to solve.
Trump concluded his address by trashing “the terrible Iran nuclear deal” — an accord he also abdicated, leaving Washington as internationally isolated as Tehran. He also spoke of recent peace deals his administration helped foster between Serbia and Kosovo, as well as between Israel and two Arab nations. But the focus on these laudable accomplishments was eclipsed by his conclusion, in which he mentioned the U.S. having weapons “at an advanced level like we’ve never had before.”
Maybe so. But the purpose of his speech should have been to foster peace and unity in addressing the transnational challenges that the U.N., however imperfectly, strives to solve.