“In less than two years,” Donald Trump said at the United Nations this morning, “my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.” When I say some in the audience couldn’t contain their laughter, I’m being quite literal.
Other world leaders laughed Tuesday when President Donald Trump began his UN General Assembly address by saying his administration has accomplished more than perhaps any in U.S. history.
Trump smiled wide and looked around the hall as the laughter continued.
“Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s OK,” he said.
The underlying claim is, of course, plainly absurd. American history features a great many accomplished presidents, but Donald Trump isn’t one of them, at least not yet. He secured a package of regressive and unpopular tax breaks, but in terms of meaningful successes of historic significance, the Republican amateur is a merely a legend in his own mind.
But the trouble is, this president genuinely seems to believe in his own greatness, and when he routinely repeats the line at campaign rallies, Trump’s adoring fans tend to cheer, not scoff. He seemed surprised by the laughter at the General Assembly probably because he’s so unaccustomed to speaking to an audience that has no use for his more ridiculous boasts.
From Trump’s perspective, his historic greatness should simply be accepted as if it were self-evidently true, the way sycophantic supporters applaud his every claim at his self-indulgent rallies. United Nations diplomats had the nerve to respond with honest emotion – in this case, laughter – catching the American leader off guard.
I almost feel sorry for the White House officials who’ll have to deal with the aftermath, because Donald Trump has made one thing painfully clear: he has an unhealthy preoccupation with being laughed at.
Last summer, when he explained his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, the president ad-libbed one of his principal concerns: “At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country? … We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore, and they won’t be. They won’t be.”
As we discussed at the time, it’s been a point of near-obsession for Trump for decades. In his mind, being laughed at appears to be the single worst reaction a person or a country can experience, and so he seems to evaluate decisions based less on merit and more on whether they’ll generate laughter from others.
In the Reagan era, Trump insisted that “bad guys” were “laughing at” the United States. In 2011, The Atlantic ran a piece noting Trump making the same argument about international laughter, at Americans’ expense, during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama eras.
“Everyone is always pointing and laughing at America, in Trump’s view,” The Atlantic piece noted. “A psychologist might have a field day with this.”
Stop by the Trump Twitter Archive and search for example of the president writing missives about people laughing at us. It’s not a short list.
Traditionally, this has made Trump appear vaguely paranoid about ridicule that didn’t really exist, responding to laughter that only he could hear. This morning, however, was an altogether different dynamic: at the United Nations, the world laughed at Trump.
It wasn’t just brutal, it was a reaction no modern American leader has confronted in such a setting.