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Trump To Address World Leaders At U.N. General Assembly


The Trump presidency is built on America first - not exactly the most popular message at a place like the United Nations, which is built on multilateralism. So there's your backdrop as President Trump today delivers his third address at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. He hinted yesterday that he's going to talk about Iran, an issue where the U.S. has stood largely alone recently. But yesterday, the U.K., France and Germany joined the U.S. in calling Iran responsible for attacks on Saudi oil facilities.

We have Mary Kate Cary with us. She was a speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush for four years. She now teaches political speech writing at the University of Virginia. Thanks for being here.

MARY KATE CARY: Thanks for having me.

GREENE: So how can President Trump give an effective speech at this venue today?

CARY: Well, he has a tremendous opportunity if he chooses to take it. The thing that I would advise if I was his speechwriter is I would remind him that speeches give you the opportunity to define problems and solutions on your own terms. They allow you to lay out a vision for the future, and they allow you to issue a call to action and help build coalitions, which is very important at the U.N. And I think it'd be great if he outlined some of the overarching principles that his administration said yesterday he'd be hitting and then fill in with examples and stories. Great speeches have great stories, and there's some great stories he could put in this speech today.

GREENE: But isn't there an undeniable tension between a president who says that he wants his country to be first and an institution like the United Nations that works together? Like, how do you even tackle that if there's such a fundamental tension?

CARY: Well, you know, David, this is the third time he's spoken to the U.N. And the first time, you might remember, was very fiery. He called the head of North Korea rocket man. He vowed to totally destroy North Korea. The second time, though, he started moving in the direction you're talking about, where he rejected globalism. But he talked a lot about sovereignty and how every nation should be sort of America first in its own way. And I suspect this year will be much more like the second one, where he'll be tamer. He'll talk about coalition. There's a good chance he could call for a Security Council resolution to condemn Iraq's attack on Saudi. As you were saying, Germany and France are...

GREENE: Iran you're saying, yeah, the...

CARY: I mean - sorry - Iran.


CARY: And so I think, you know, there's ways for him to do that that's still consistent with what he believes.

GREENE: Who is his real audience? I mean, is it other world leaders and diplomats in that room? Is it American voters? Who's he talking to?

CARY: Yeah, I would say, in the short run, his primary audience is in that room. He needs to bring some of those people around and get them in the boat for some of the things he'd like. The secondary audience is actually much bigger, which is that all the people outside the room - to the voters in the United States, the House Republicans, House Democrats who are, you know, in overdrive the last 24 hours. And that's why he's using Twitter and answering reporters' questions.

You know, he gave a speech yesterday on religious freedom that most Republican presidents could have given. But he stuck to his prepared script, but he did tweet on the way into the speech. And I think that's going to be a harbinger for what goes on today. I - my prediction is he'll stick to his prepared speech, but he'll tweet on the way in. He'll take questions as he's going to try and reach that...

GREENE: Is that annoying as a speechwriter?

CARY: You know, it's - with him, I think it's part of the game. I think - I wouldn't bet my bottom dollar on it, but I think he'll probably stay away from climate change in the speech. But he could tweet about it, you know? It's - you just never know with him. That's the joy of Donald Trump.

GREENE: Mary Kate Cary, former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. She is now a professor and teaches political speechwriting at the University of Virginia. Thanks for being here. As always, we appreciate it.

CARY: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.