If one could get a candid read-out from the delegates who had to sit through Donald Trump’s address to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, many of those who, unlike his Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, managed to stay awake would surely say they had wondered whether the president was well.
His eyes were narrow, white-rimmed slits as he moved his head mechanically between teleprompter screens. It was as if he was straining to decipher the nationalist screed written for him by his pet Goebbels, Stephen Miller. His delivery was numbing — emotionless, slow, almost robotic. He sniffed a lot, as is his wont. By the end he was sweating visibly. Whenever the camera cut away to them, Melania, Donald Jr, Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner looked tense.
The highly litigious Trump has yet to sue Noel Casler, a comedian who worked with him on Celebrity Apprentice and says it was common knowledge on set that he habitually snorted Adderall, an amphetamine prescribed for attention deficit disorder and the dyslexia that often accompanies it.
Might this have been Trump’s last UNGA?
In the afternoon the Senate did something that hinted the president might at last be vulnerable not just to impeachment by the Democratic House, but to conviction and removal by the Republican-controlled upper chamber. Without Republican objection, the Senate resolved that the White House should comply with the law and hand over a whistleblower’s report, deemed of “urgent concern” by an independent inspector general, which said that Trump had made improper undertakings in a phone call with a foreign leader.
Then came a bigger bombshell. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced what she had long been resisting, an official impeachment inquiry. The trigger was an allegation, partially confirmed from both his own and his lawyer’s oddly loose lips, that he had pressured the new president of Ukraine, comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, to dig up — fabricate might be more accurate — dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic frontrunner for his job.
It was suggested that Trump had suspended arms sales to Ukraine to assist its fight against Russian-backed revanchanists, then insinuated to Zelensky, Mafia-style , that the arms would flow again if Kiev would do him a small favour: say that, as vice president, Biden had intervened on behalf of a corrupt Ukrainian gas company of which his son was a board member.
Pelosi is a shrewd operator and her earlier caution had merit. She could see House Democrats adopting articles of impeachment on a straight partisan vote, Senate Republicans refusing to convict, and Trump then eking out re-election, boasting to his base that he had yet again thwarted an attempted coup.
Does Pelosi think the risk of that happening has now receded? Or was she bowing the demands of a growing majority of her caucus? One hopes the former because, one way or another, the fight is going to get very ugly.
Trump, as of late Tuesday, had agreed to hand over a transcript of his conversation with Zelensky and the White House was reportedly negotiating a deal that would let the whistleblower talk to congressional investigators. Look for the transcript to be spun preemptively, or tampered with, and the whistleblower to be viciously smeared.
Trump told us how he is going to play this in his UN speech: dark anti-democratic forces are out to get him.
“Even in free nations we see alarming challenges to liberty. The small number of social media platforms are acquiring immense power over what we can see and what we are allowed to say. A permanent political class is openly disdainful, dismissive and defiant of the will of the people. A faceless bureaucracy operates in secret and weakens democratic rule. Media and academic institutions push flat out assaults on our histories, traditions and values.”