Some years back, one of his harassed employees said of publicity -hungry Rudy Guiliani -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 the truth: the most dangerous place to stand in New York City is basically anywhere on the street during the four day talk fest when the world leadership, hangers on, extended families, media multitudes, descend on Manhattan for the four day talk fest marking the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly.
The sheer pressure of diverted traffic shunted aside for an extraordinary 189 motorcades recorded on Monday, which basically gridlocks cars into a standstill, pushes everyone onto the streets and causes pedestrians to curse far more than 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. So just to add to the vehicular and pedestrian mayhem, the cross-street, 5th Avenue went into lock down mode every time the President entered or left his penthouse.
Both sides of the Trump Tower block and the area around the hotel were barricaded with ‘dump trucks’ which according to the New York Times each weighed sixteen tons and were filled with sand adding an additional sixteen tons. 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 your hotel or desperately late navigating these obstacles for a meeting, one arrived with the sartorial elegance of the proverbial drowned rat.
Meantime across town on the East River in the somewhat crumbling UN Building, the object of this intense security lock down was in full trumpet. If others judge their audiences and adjust script to suit occasion, Trump sounded off as though addressing one of his raucous rallies in Ohio.
He addressed the world leaders, ambassadors and assorted others in tones made famous by his Make America Great Again permanent campaign theme. But when he said that he had accomplished more than any other president at this point in office (cue Abrham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt etc), he did not receive a roar of approval. Rather laughter and tuttering. For one so fixated on affirmation, this response was jarred. “”I did not expect that reaction, but that’s O.K.”, the most powerful leader in the world sounded miffed.
Venezuela, Iran and OPEC and Chinese trade practices are the current targets for 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 trouble makers 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 outside of the UN bubble or the SA media would have heard of it.
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 trusty G.P. 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 hard fought for investment, tax cuts and high skills tend to do that. A friend of mine, Jamie Metzl, a globalization pundit watching events in New York this week said, “ But given the pyrotechnics on display from Trump Tower and the hot spots elsewhere in the world, boring these days seems better.”
Leon, a former leader of the opposition, now chairs Resolve Communications and is a senior adviser to K2 Intelligence of London. @TonyLeonSA.
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