Here is the part of Trump’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly that has received the most attention.
No nation on Earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals arm itself with nuclear weapons and missiles. The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing, and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary. That’s what the United Nations is all about. That’s what the United Nations is for. Let’s see how they do.
The president of the United States just threatened to destroy a nation of 25 million people. He also taunted their leader with one of his ubiquitous nicknames: rocket man. That is exactly the kind of alpha male approach we’ve come to expect from Trump. It also plays right into the hands of the other alpha male he is dealing with.
We are becoming the existential threat Kim Jong Un told his people we were to justify their oppression.
— John Cho (@JohnTheCho) September 19, 2017
Of course, the same could be said for the president’s remarks yesterday about Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela. That is why this tweet struck me as the best summary of the entire speech.
Hard to overstate how much work Trump is doing here to isolate the US instead of our adversaries.
— Matt Duss (@mattduss) September 19, 2017
When it comes to isolating the United States, there is another very telling statement in the quote up above. After threatening to destroy North Korea, Trump put the burden on the United Nations to stop that from happening and suggested that is what the coalition is all about. Then he said, “Let’s see how they do.” Notice that he didn’t say, “Let’s see how we do.” In other words, he is creating rhetorical distance between the United Nations and the United States.
We’ve seen Trump do this kind of thing before. For example, he has sometimes referred to Republicans (especially during the debate over Obamacare repeal) as “they”—giving the impression that he is not the putative leader of the party. He has also used a third person pronoun when talking about this country’s intelligence services, as if he isn’t the leader of the entire federal bureaucracy.
Trump’s tendency to do this signals that he is cognizant of the fact that failure is likely. In preparation, he distances himself from the group that he plans to blame as a way to avoid taking any personal responsibility. When it comes to what happens next with North Korea, that is a chilling prospect.