UNITED NATIONS (CN) — Met with shock by world leaders at his first visit and derision in the second, President Donald Trump emerged largely gaffe-free Tuesday at his third appearance before the United Nations General Assembly.
Instead, the latest Trump address will be remembered for its relentless attack on the institutions and values that his host institution holds dear.
“The future does not belong to globalists,” Trump said, reading prepared remarks. “The future belongs to patriots.”
By tradition, Brazil kicks off the annual general assembly debate, meaning Jair Bolsonaro delivered the first of today’s speeches. A Trump supporter who expressed open nostalgia for his country’s fallen military regime, Bolsonaro took aim this morning at “media lies and hate” while attacking the media’s portrayal of his policies regarding the Amazon rainforest, where a record number of fires raged in August.
“The Amazon is not being destroyed nor consumed by fire, as the media is falsely portraying,” Bolsonaro said, playing down the 77,000 manmade fires that have been raging through the 2.7 million square-mile rainforest all year.
With the backing of the Brazilian government, loggers and ranchers have been responsible for burning about 90% of the 4.6 million acres of forest lost since January, according to reports.
The United Nations’ recent climate action summit depicted global heating as a planet-threatening emergency. But Trump, who endorsed Bolsonaro’s election and celebrated his inauguration this past New Year’s Day, did not mention the climate crisis at all.
For Trump, the global emergency is not the scientific consensus about how global heating can render the Earth uninhabitable.
“One of our biggest challenges is illegal immigration,” Trump said. “Mass illegal migration is unfair, unsafe and unsustainable for everyone involved: the sending countries and the depleted countries.”
The United States and Hungary are the only U.N. member states to have spurned a global contract in migration, and Trump today used the word evil to describe the nongovernmental groups working on that vision.
Even that rhetoric dialed back the tone from previous years when Trump threatened a member state with annihilation on the world stage. Today world leaders assembled in the room maintained relative silence during Trump’s speech and respectfully applauded when he finished.
On foreign policy, Trump took his usual swipes at Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, adopting Red Scare-imagery warning of a supposedly rising threat.
“One of the most serious challenges our country faces is the specter of socialism,” Trump said, in phrasing that perhaps unintentionally invoked Karl Marx.
Having pulled out of the nuclear deal, Trump threatened to ratchet up his new sanctions against Iran but, bemoaning “endless wars,” he declined to escalate militarily after Saudi Arabia blamed the Islamic Republic for its damaged oil tankers.
Lashing out at China meanwhile, Trump criticized the World Trade Organization’s classification of the world’s second-largest economy as a “developing” country. He had only a few words, however, for the millions of pro-democracy protesters on the streets of Hong Kong, affirming only that he was “monitoring” the situation.
“We are all counting on President Xi as a great leader,” Trump said later.
Uncharacteristically for his administration, Trump said: “We stand in solidarity with LGBT people,” two years after reinstating the U.S. military’s ban on transgender enlistment.
Trump, who ran on a platform of banning Muslims from entering the United States, skipped most of the climate summit on Monday to deliver a speech on religious freedom. The president returned the topic today to urge U.N. member states from endorsing efforts to promote abortion access internationally.
“Every child born and unborn is a sacred gift from God,” Trump said.
Third to the podium was Egyptian autocrat Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who left his country with a display of thousands of protesters calling for his ouster, as the viral hashtag #Tahrir_Square hearkened back to the optimism of the early days of the Arab Spring.
New York Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger revealed late Monday that the Trump administration left the paper’s reporter Declan Walsh vulnerable to Sisi’s anti-press crackdown in Egypt. Walsh’s native Ireland sent a diplomatic mission to prevent his arrest, and the U.S. State Department did nothing, according to the Times.
In the day’s fourth speech, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took a swipe at Sisi and indirectly at Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
“The journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was brutally slaughtered last year, and Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, who lost his life in a courtroom in a suspicious way this year, have become symbols of the real need for justice and equity in the region,” Erdoğan said.
The sentiment was undermined by Erdoğan’s years-long record as the world’s leading jailer of journalists. While Erdoğan also enjoys a close relationship with Trump, the Turkish leader has positioned himself as a critic of a U.N. structure that gives outsized power to the five permanent members nations of the Security Council.
“For many years, I have been saying from this rostrum that we cannot leave the fate of humanity to the discretion of a handful of countries,” Erdoğan said. “Today I emphasize once again that the world is bigger than five.”
As Israel’s embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu floats annexation of the occupied West Bank, Erdoğan held up a map of the Jewish state’s changing borders since its 1948 independence.
“How can the Golan Heights and the West Bank settlements be seized, just like other occupied Palestinian territories, before the eyes of the world if they are not within the borders of this state?” Erdoğan asked.
Avoiding any direct criticism of the U.S. president, Erdoğan once attended the ribbon-cutting for Trump Towers Istanbul and found himself similarly at war with what he called the “deep state,” his description of the prosecutors who implicated him and his ruling Justice and Development Party in a 2013 corruption scandal.
That Turkish investigation, and the response to it, echoes scandals that continue to dog Trump months after the close of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Even House Democrats skeptical of opening impeachment proceedings have begun to reconsider in the wake of reports that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate the son of his potential 2020 election opponent, Joe Biden.
As Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi signaled plans to open a formal inquiry on Tuesday, Trump dug into his attacks against those investigating him. “This is nothing more than a continuation of the Greatest and most Destructive Witch Hunt of all time!” the president tweeted.
Denials aside, Trump acknowledged discussing the matter of Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelensky, as has his attorney Rudy Giuliani, who also traveled to Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv for his consulting firm. Insisting his conversation was appropriate, Trump said he would release a “complete, fully declassified and unredacted transcript of my phone conversations” with Zelensky on Wednesday — the same day that the Ukrainian leader is scheduled to address the General Assembly.
According to The Washington Post, a whistleblower said Trump urged Zelensky to probe Biden eight times and ordered a hold on hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to Ukraine. Trump’s critics have labeled the pressure extortion and an open solicitation of foreign election interference.
Trump has not expressed any willingness to release the whistleblower’s complaint. His backlash to the reports has been even more vitriolic than usual for a president who constantly rails against “fake news” and the “enemy of the people.”
“You are crooked as hell,” Trump told reporters inside the United Nations on Monday.
He added in the same speech that a Republican who acted as Biden did in Ukraine would be “getting the electric chair right now.”
In May, Ukrainian’s prosecutor general found no evidence of wrongdoing against Biden or his son, Hunter, over the latter’s involvement in the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma.