I Remember When Donald Trump Had a ‘Lot of Respect’ for the UN
Moving into my office in 2001 as the newly appointed Swedish ambassador to the United Nations, I had an interesting split view from my 46th-floor office at One Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in New York City.
Through my right-hand window I saw the UN building, 39 stories high and designed in sleek elegance by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. Since its completion in 1952, the complex had never been refurbished and was by then considered to be one of the most dangerous workplaces in Manhattan. The global body was falling apart.
My left-hand window offered the view of Trump World Tower, “the world’s tallest all-residential building, in pure luxury,” at 90 stories high.
The panoramic view struck me as a metaphor for global inequality, private wealth versus public squalor, and I got the idea that maybe some of Donald’s Trumpness could help the UN to fix itself. So, I wrote my neighbor a letter.
“The UN may look like a dwarf next to your tower, Mr. Trump, but its role for our future is gigantic,” I wrote. “Your tall, dark and handsome tower, as you call it, is something of a symbol of the unparalleled economic growth that your country is now experiencing. At the same time, it casts a shadow over the UN, given the huge debt that your country owes to the UN.”
After describing the UN’s role in the world, I continued, “I think we owe it to the many people excluded from the benefits of globalization, and to our children, to change the present state of affairs.… It is my pleasure to invite you to come and have a look at the view from my office and discuss the matter.”
Donald Trump responded by visiting UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and then inviting me to his office. He said he could fix it all, faster, cheaper, and better than anyone else. “I’m the biggest developer in New York and I understand building as well as anybody,” he told me. “If I’m invited in to do the project, it’ll get done more quickly, much better, and much less expensively.” (Rather than spend as much as $1.4 billion, the estimated cost to renovate and restore the building, according to a UN report, Trump said he could do the job for $400 million, “and no one would have to leave the building.” Rather than take six years, as the report suggested, Trump said, “it would take me 18 months.”)
And he added: “I have a lot of respect for the United Nations and I have a lot of respect for Kofi Annan.”
Ultimately Donald Trump did not oversee the renovations to the United Nations building. But 15 years later, in November 2016, I wanted to remind the now president-elect of his noble and generous attitude towards the United Nations. Hence this letter, which was hand delivered to Trump Tower: