In his first speech to the world’s leaders, President Donald Trump delivered the message of the voters who elected him.
“The United States will forever be a great friend to the world, and especially to its allies,” Trump said Tuesday. “But we can no longer be taken advantage of or enter into a one-sided deal where the United States gets nothing in return.”
It was a blistering call to action, as Trump urged other nations to do more, much more, to confront what he called the “wicked few” — the “band of criminals” in North Korea, the “murderous regime” of Iran and the “loser terrorists,” among others.
There was no talk of nation-building or deploying the U.S. military to create and sustain democracies.
“In America, we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone but, rather, to let it shine as an example for everyone to watch,” he said.
Trump dubbed his philosophy “principled realism” but for those who elected him it was the essence of “America First,” the same nationalist theme he espoused on the campaign trail that led to his victory.
Richard Viguerie, a longtime leader in the conservative movement and a self-described Trumper, said he had worried that Trump would change after some aides who guided Trump’s rhetoric on foreign affairs, including top strategist Steve Bannon and policy adviser Sebastian Gorka, departed the White House. But on Tuesday, he said he realized he had nothing to worry about. “He’s still very much consistent with his campaign,” Viguerie said. “He’s still singing that song.”
Michael Glassner, executive director of Trump’s re-election campaign, quickly sought to use the speech to rally Trump’s base through an email. “Trump supporters around the country should take pride in President Trump’s strong and principled speech before the world’s leaders at the United Nations today where he expressed profound and unwavering America First principles,” he said.
Trump called for “a great reawakening” where nations put their own citizens first as they work to create a coalition of independent and sovereign nations to confront shared dangers. To underscore his point, he used the word sovereign or sovereignty 21 times.
“As president of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always and should always put your countries first,” he said.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump supporter, urged every American to read Trump’s speech. “Pres Trump in UN speech put intellectual clarity on his principle that the American President should represent America not global system,” he tweeted.
In his 40-minute address to the United Nations General Assembly, Trump employed his now famously bombastic rhetoric, primarily against the two nations he suspects are developing nuclear weapons — North Korea and Iran — and the countries he accuses of enabling them, including China.
“Terrorists and extremists have gathered strength and spread to every region of the planet,” Trump said. “Rogue regimes represented in this body not only support terrorists but threaten other nations and their own people with the most destructive weapons known to humanity.”
In his most dramatic comments, he called out “the depraved regime in North Korea,” which he said was behind the deaths, imprisonment and torture of millions of North Koreans as well as the death of American college student Otto Warmbier.
He warned that the United States “will have no choice but to totally destroy” North Korea if threatened, and reprised his nickname for leader Kim Jong-un. “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself,” Trump declared, and Twitter erupted.
President Donald Trump is attending the United Nations General Assembly through Thursday
Trump was almost equally critical of Iran, the focus of a 2015 deal designed to allow Tehran to pursue a nuclear energy program but prevent it from producing a nuclear weapon. He must decide by Oct. 15 whether to again certify that Iran is complying the deal that he called “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the U.S. has ever entered into.”
Trump faced criticism from many who accused him of isolating the United States and closing the door on diplomacy, particularly in North Korea.
“That deal is an embarrassment to the U.S. and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me,” he said.
It wasn’t just that Trump’s most ardent supporters wanted to hear him deliver his tough talk. They also wanted him to urge the rest of the global community to act too.
“It is entirely up to us whether we lift the world to new heights or let it fall into a valley of disrepair,” he said. “We have it in our power, should we so choose, to lift millions from poverty, to help our citizens realize their dreams and to ensure that new generations of children are raised free from violence, hatred and fear.”
John Bolton, a Trump voter and United Nations ambassador under former President George W. Bush, said Trump’s speech stood out from those of his predecessors. “I think it's safe to say, in the entire history of the United Nations, there has never been a more straightforward criticism of the behavior, the unacceptable behavior, of other member states,” Bolton said on FOX News, where he is a contributor.
Yet even as Trump asked for help confronting those nations — as well as Venezuela dictator Nicolas Maduro and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — he criticized the United Nations as inefficient and inconsequential. His focus on sovereignty seemed to undercut international groups he has criticized, such as the U.N. and NATO.
Brent Bozell, a Trump supporter and longtime conservative activist who founded the Media Research Center, said he thinks Trump’s speech will win him more supporters because it will bolster his image and his brand.
“America has been looking for a president to stand up to the U.N.,” he said. “America is sick and tired of the international community lecturing us.”
Trump is known to veer off script, sometimes contradicting himself and what he stood for on the campaign trail. Not Tuesday, when he delivered the speech his supporters were looking for. “I was elected not to take power, but to give power to the American people where it belongs,” he said.
The speech was written, at least in part, by policy adviser Stephen Miller, who is responsible for some contentious policies, including implementing a ban on traveling to the United States from some Muslim-majority countries and ending the Obama-era program to protect young people known as Dreamers from deportation.