Sunday Times

A sober, if small, voice amid the trum­pet­ing herd

- TONY LEON U.S. News · Politics · Rudy Giuliani · New York City · York City F.C. · Manhattan · United Nations · United Nations General Assembly · Donald Trump · United States of America · Ohio · Venezuela · Iran · New Zealand · Cyril Ramaphosa · Jacob Zuma · Argentina · Trump Tower · Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries · Jamie Metzl

Some years back, one of his ha­rassed em­ploy­ees said of pub­lic­ity-hun­gry Rudy

Gi­u­liani, then mayor of the

Big Ap­ple: “The most dan­ger­ous place to stand in New York City is be­tween Rudy and a mi­cro­phone.”

This week I dis­cov­ered that the most dan­ger­ous place to stand in New York is ba­si­cally any­where on the street when world lead­ers, hang­ers-on, ex­tended fam­i­lies and me­dia mul­ti­tudes de­scend on Man­hat­tan for the four-day talk fest that is the an­nual meet­ing of the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly.

The sheer pres­sure of di­verted traf­fic shunted aside for an ex­tra­or­di­nary 189 mo­tor­cades recorded on Mon­day pushes ev­ery­one onto the streets and causes pedes­tri­ans to curse far more than even the typ­i­cal New Yorker would be­cause half the side­walks are bar­ri­caded any­way.

I had the ad­di­tional mis­for­tune of stay­ing in a ho­tel just across from Don­ald Trump’s lo­cal res­i­dence in Trump Tower. Just to add to the ve­hic­u­lar and pedes­trian mayhem, the cross-street, 5th Av­enue, went into lock­down every time the US pres­i­dent en­tered or left his pent­house.

Both sides of the Trump Tower block and the area around the ho­tel were bar­ri­caded with “dump trucks” that, ac­cord­ing to the New York Times, each weigh 16t and are filled with sand, adding an­other 16t. If I hadn’t seen this ob­sta­cle course with my own eyes I might not have be­lieved it, since the most fa­mous and epony­mous res­i­dent of Trump Tower de­scribes the newspaper in ques­tion as “fail­ing and full of false news”.

And then the heav­ens opened, so, al­ready forced into the streets, block­aded from en­ter­ing one’s ho­tel or des­per­ately late af­ter nav­i­gat­ing these ob­sta­cles, one ar­rived at meet­ings with the sar­to­rial el­e­gance of a drowned rat.

Mean­time, across town on the East River in the some­what crum­bling UN Build­ing, the ob­ject of this in­tense se­cu­rity lock­down was in full trum­pet. If oth­ers judge their au­di­ences and ad­just script to suit oc­ca­sion, Trump sounded off as though speak­ing at one of his rau­cous ral­lies in Ohio.

He ad­dressed world lead­ers, am­bas­sadors and as­sorted oth­ers in tones made fa­mous by his Make Amer­ica Great

Again per­ma­nent cam­paign.

But when he said that he had ac­com­plished more than any other pres­i­dent at this point in of­fice, he re­ceived not a roar of approval, but laugh­ter and tit­ter­ing. For one so fix­ated on af­fir­ma­tion, this was jar­ring.

“I did not ex­pect that re­ac­tion, but that’s OK,” said the most pow­er­ful leader in the world, sound­ing miffed.

Venezuela, Iran, Opec and

Chi­nese trade prac­tices are the cur­rent tar­gets of pres­i­den­tial ire, but his at­ten­tion span lacks the Chi­nese long-game view, so the sub­jects will likely change soon enough.

But pre­cisely be­cause of the mag­netism of Trump, whose every tweet dom­i­nates the news cy­cle, his an­nual ap­pear­ance at the UN is go­ing to suck the oxy­gen out for pretty much ev­ery­one else, bar the peren­nial trou­ble­mak­ers on the world stage or its fes­ter­ing prob­lem ar­eas. Un­less, of course, you are the prime min­is­ter of New Zealand and have just had a baby.

Thus Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech — wor­thy but dull — was never go­ing to break through and in­deed few might have heard of it, out­side of the UN bub­ble or the South African me­dia.

But I did brave the bar­ri­cades and bad traf­fic to hear him speak at a busi­ness fo­rum on Wed­nes­day at a mid­town ho­tel. He said noth­ing new or par­tic­u­larly news­wor­thy, but de­liv­ered his re­marks with the mea­sured re­as­sur­ance of a trusted GP.

One vet­eran observer of US-SA re­la­tions in the room said to me: “There’s a sort of collective sigh of re­lief here that he is here, not Ja­cob Zuma.”

Virtue and de­cency don’t nec­es­sar­ily win in­vest­ment. Tax cuts and high skills tend to do that. Nonethe­less, as a friend of mine, glob­al­i­sa­tion pun­dit Jamie Metzl, said while watch­ing events in New York this week: “Given the py­rotech­nics on display from Trump Tower and the hot spots else­where in the world, bor­ing these days seems bet­ter.”

‘There’s a collective sigh of re­lief that Ramaphosa is here, not Ja­cob Zuma’

Leon is a for­mer leader of the op­po­si­tion and for­mer am­bas­sador to Ar­gentina

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