You don’t think President Donald Trump knows the United Nations? Oh, he knows the United Nations.
“I am a big fan,” said Trump back in the summer of 2005. It was at a Senate hearing about repairs to the Manhattan-based United Nations building, asbestos-laden and in need of care. There was one man to do the job: Donald Trump.
“The concept of the United Nations, and the fact that the United Nations is in New York, is very important to me,” Trump said in Senate testimony, “and very important to the world, as far as I am concerned.”
He said that he’d do the billion-plus dollar job for a fraction of the price. Or he’d move the United Nations to the World Trade Center, one or the other. “Congratulations. You’ve got yourself a mess on your hands,” he finished. Trump didn’t get the job.
Trump has been the U.N.’s uneasy neighbor for decades, since the late 90s when he overcame a mountain of well-funded neighborhood opposition to build what he said was the tallest residential tower in the world across the street from the stately 39-story Secretariat Building. Too tall, said his opponents who included nearby resident CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, billionaire tycoon and philanthropist David Koch, civic associations and the Municipal Art Society of NYC.
Their efforts did not succeed, and the 72-floor Trump World Tower got built.
“It’s a building for the new millennium!” Trump said at the time, shooting a five-minute sales video from his own helicopter which described the site’s luxury and great views. People bit and bought, including Derek Jeter, who once lived there.
You think Trump doesn’t know the value of the United Nations?
“We have great security, and we get it for nothing,” Trump told New York Newsday in 2002. He was talking about his building, of course. By the fall of that year, though, he had come to his building’s defense in court because he said the property taxes were too high for the location. In doing so he noted other similar buildings that were assessed less than Trump World Tower. “My building is much more beautiful,” he said, according to the New York Times.
You think Trump didn’t tweet about the United Nations before becoming president? No, he had his eye on the ball. In 2012, he still had some leftover renovation considerations: “The cheap 12 inch sq. marble tiles behind speaker at UN always bothered me. I will replace with beautiful large marble slabs if they ask me,” he wrote on the social media site.
As an “America First” candidate and president he has been a critic of the international body as slow, bureaucratic, and not paying its fair share. On Monday he continued the theme of a United Nations rife with waste, so that his political positions have now come in line with his thoughts on NYC construction. Complain about complications. Sell one’s services, and offer more for less. Be eye-catching about it. Always be ready with a soundbite or two. (A tweet as president-elect: “The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!”)
What will happen when Trump takes the stage?
On Tuesday, Trump addresses the storied General Assembly for the first time as a world leader — no longer on the edges, no longer on the outside of the room casting shadows or lobbing rhetorical bombs.
Addresses to the United Nations tend not to be enormously revelatory. Plenty of jockeying, as opposed to unveilings of bold new positions. “These speeches are designed mainly for home consumption,” says Thomas Weiss, a professor of political science at the CUNY Graduate Center who has studied the United Nations. Think of the chest-thumping from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who called President George W. Bush “the devil” in 2006, for example.
Trump will now have his own chance on a familiar stage.
“This is one of the world’s most visible theaters,” says Weiss, “and we have one of the world’s most infamous performers.”