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Trumping world peace

At the U.N General Assembly on Monday, President Trump ushered in a new era of American foreign policy with a bellicose speech that, among many other things, openly mocked North Korea and called for an American prioritization within international relations. In the days leading up to the UN meeting, many within the media had speculated the political impact of Trump’s speech, which was part of an annual address given by the U.S President to welcome world leaders. Nonetheless, the impact of such belligerent language used by Trump in his speech—including a pledge to “destroy North Korea”— has been greeted with disbelief around the world. Trump’s behavior at the UN, clearly borne out of the belligerent, nationalist sentiments of his paradoxical domestic policy, represents an unprecedented moment within contemporary international relations that threatens the already strained political state of the post-Cold War era. 

Within the history of international relations, there have been numerous high-profile incidents by world leaders breaking the customs of international etiquette through unbecoming behavior. Nikhita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union from 1953-1964, famously banged his shoe at a 1960 U.N meeting during a speech in which he denounced the “toady of American imperialism.” Likewise, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, then the leader of Libya, turned heads at a 2009 U.N meeting when he publicly tore up a copy of the U.N charter during a 90 minute diatribe against the international organization. Even President Bush received criticism for his public denunciation of “The Axis of Evil,” an arbitrary political construct that many saw as “othering” America’s so-called-enemies. Nonetheless, coming from the leader of the United States, popularly hailed by many to be “the leader of the free world,” Trump’s vehement polemic against international stability remains unprecedented. 

Shifting focus from the past to the imminent and distant future, this speech’s possible implications for relations with international leaders is troublingly unclear. While President Trump enjoyed relatively little repercussions on the campaign trail when he made sweeping foreign policy declarations to crowds of cheering supporters, it is already clear that the UN General Assembly will not be as forgiving. Some international community leaders have already responded to Trump’s performance with frustration and criticism. His tonal and directional change is clearly a strong contrast to the Obama era modes of operation; where Trump has already begun to stir up animosity and aggression even among allies, the previous administration made concerted efforts to focus on cooperation between states. This disregard of bonds and trust built up over decades is slowly eroding at commonly accepted methods of communication and political courtesies that are so crucial for negotiations. His strongly-worded attacks on Venezuela and eagerness to wage a nuclear war further prove to the world that he is not to be trusted. 

The United States, along with the rest of the world, now finds itself in a political moment where uncertainty is the new norm. Global citizens are living their lives on the edge of their seats, waiting for the next domestic policy blunder or foreign policy announcement that could jeopardize the lives of millions. In the relatively short life of Trump’s administration so far, there has never been a time where he felt presidential or competent for the office, but his speech in from the the rest of the world where he flippantly threatened to decimate entire nations and denigrated other world leaders was the culmination of some of the worst fears of political theorists and humanitarians alike coming to life. In such a time of international uncertainty, we can only hope that above all else, the human commitment to world peace will prevail despite such vehement language expressed by those in power. 

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