by Roger Kimball
Sept. 26, 2018
President Trump’s speech at the United Nations on Tuesday (9/25) is one of the greatest political speeches ever delivered in peacetime.
Maybe you are like those members of the audience seated in the General Assembly who tittered when the President began his speech noting that, “In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.”
The bureaucrats shifting upon their glutei maximi upon the plush receptacles provided by the custodians of the United Nations may have found the President’s frank statement risible. But their hilarity detracts not one iota from the truth of his observation.
What President Trump said was not braggadocio. It was the unvarnished truth.
What Were They Laughing About Again?
In less than two years, the United States has added some $10 trillion in wealth to its economy. Four million new jobs have been created, and unemployment has plummeted to historic lows. Consumer confidence has soared, while tax reform has put more money in the pockets of average Americans and turbocharged American businesses.
Meanwhile, the President’s attention to the United States military has reversed the decay orchestrated by the Obama Administration, upping military spending to $700 billion this year, $716 billion next year. In short, “the United States is stronger, safer, and a richer country than it was when I assumed office less than two years ago.”
Giggle away, ye bureaucrats, giggle away.
So it is with the President’s speech. Barack Obama is reputed to be an impressive orator. But he never gave a speech that, in substance, could hold a candle to President Trump’s speeches at Warsaw, at Riyadh, before the joint session of Congress last year, or indeed his “rocket man” speech at the United Nations.
And this topped them all for forcefulness, clarity, and wisdom.
The forcefulness and clarity, I believe, are acknowledged by everyone, even the President’s opponents.
Emblematic passages include his description of ISIS “bloodthirsty killers,” his characterization of Iran as a “brutal regime,” the “world’s leading sponsor of terrorism,” whose leaders “sow chaos, death, and destruction” and “plunder the nation’s resources to enrich themselves and to spread mayhem across the Middle East and far beyond.”
All this is patently true, but one is not supposed to utter such things on the floor of the General Assembly.
This is not the usual language of diplomacy. It is the frank argot of truth: a tongue rarely heard in the echo-chambers of the United Nations with its squadrons of translators who translate clichés from one language into another swiftly, accurately, and inconsequentially.
How refreshing—though admittedly, how startling it must have been to hear someone deliver an entire speech without lying.
Sovereignty Is Key
But I spoke of “wisdom,” too. Again, you may think that the conjunction of the name “Trump” and the virtue of wisdom is odd. But think about it. What, in the end, was this speech about? It was an elaboration of Trump’s chief foreign policy idea, “principled realism.”
“Realism” connotes an accurate and unsentimental appreciation of the metabolism of power. The “principles” in question involve an affirmation of who we are as a people, which turns on our affirmation of national sovereignty.
The President’s articulation of this simple, yet deep, idea is what lifted his speech out of the realm of pedestrian blather and marked it for the history books.
No one who has listened to President Trump talk about his “America First” agenda will have been surprised when he said, “America will always act in [its] national interest,” or “We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy,” or “Moving forward, we are only going to give foreign aid to those who respect us and, frankly, are our friends.”
President Trump has made those points before, though perhaps not always so bluntly.
What was new was his meditation on the importance of sovereignty.
He was right, and in the halls of the United Nations, nearly unique, in pointing out that “responsible nations must defend against threats to sovereignty not just from global governance, but also from other, new forms of coercion and domination.” More can be said—and I trust will be said—about those novel forms of coercion and domination.
For now, however, we should pay attention to these key phrases in the President’s speech.
On moving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and our moving our Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. The aim of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is “advanced, not harmed, by acknowledging the obvious facts,” to wit, the fact that Israel is a sovereign state and, as such, has the right to determine where its capital city should be.
On the immediate implications of a policy of “principled realism,”which means that “we will not be held hostage to old dogmas, discredited ideologies, and so-called experts who have been proven wrong over the years, time and time again. This is true not only in matters of peace, but in matters of prosperity.”
Translation of that last bit: “free trade” is a great desideratum, but trade that is not fair is not free. Henceforth, those who wish to trade with the United States, the world’s largest economy, must abide by the principle that “trade must be fair and reciprocal.”
The Long-Term Solution to the Migration Crisis
Let me touch briefly on one additional theme, migration (which subsumes immigration). “Uncontrolled migration,” President Trump observed, is a direct threat to national sovereignty and hence will not be countenanced by the United States.
How stinging to the ears of the assembled bureaucrats must his words have been. “Migration should not be governed by an international body unaccountable to our own citizens.” Quite right, and worth the price of admission.
The President was also right that, “Ultimately, the only long-term solution to the migration crisis is to help people build more hopeful futures in their home countries. Make their countries great again.”
For those with ears to hear, this speech reminds one why—improbable though it may have seemed—Donald Trump is shaping up to be not just a good but a great President.
Few people, least of all me, would have predicted it. But so it is. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the American people like the free, open, unapologetic taste of American success.
We are the richest, most generous country on earth. But we are not, despite the efforts of transnational progressives like Barack Obama, the world’s patsy.
Donald Trump understands this. That is why he was elected. It is also why he will go down as one of the most extraordinary leaders this blessed country has ever been vouchsafed.