(CNN)This year’s gathering of the global elite at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) has been cramped by Covid-19: World leaders won’t flock to New York, opting instead for a virtual speech fest. Gone will be the diplomatic pull asides, the lobbying, the power lunches and cocktail parties.

But that also means Donald Trump will miss the last turn of his first term as US President at the hallowed green granite UN podium, from which generations of world leaders have lectured the world.Just two years ago Trump stood at that lectern and stunned world leaders telling them what a great job he was doing. “In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,” he said.A ripple of amusement cascaded around the cavernous chamber. Other world leaders laughing, in part perhaps at what he said, part perhaps that he would say it.Trump took the laughter in stride.Read More” — so true…” he nodded. More laughter followed.”Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s OK,” he said.Donald Trump bragged about himself to the United Nations. The UN laughed.Donald Trump bragged about himself to the United Nations. The UN laughed.Donald Trump bragged about himself to the United Nations. The UN laughed.The Twittersphere lit up lampooning Trump, and at this stage of his presidency, most of the gathered dignitaries thought they had the measure of the man at the microphone.They did not. French President Emmanuel Macron, who had courted Trump inviting him to Bastille Day celebrations the previous year, still hoped his charm offensive would win the President’s ear on climate change and Iran. But they would drift further apart.President Xi Jinping of China could see a potential trade war with Trump coming, and had spoken somewhat out of character at the World Economic Forum Davos summit earlier that year about “healing rifts.” The rifts have only grown bigger since.Leaders talking past each other More than ever, leaders seem to talk past each other. With or without a live audience, UNGA has come to mirror the high-speed, highly globalized and increasingly fractured world orbiting around it. Trump’s preaching of his tremendous achievements in 2018 was a point in case — of course his principle audience is always his electorate, and they won’t be far from his mind during his address this week.After Trump speaks this Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to defend his differences with neighbors over past few years — Greece, UAE, NATO and EU to name but a few.Xi, who takes the virtual podium next, will also try to put the best light on his own pickle: stuck in a stuttering trade war with the US, watching Trump polarize business partners against Beijing, while it rachets up tension with Taiwan and in the South China Sea.This year's conference will be held virtually.This year's conference will be held virtually.This year’s conference will be held virtually.We will hear about Covid-19 and the importance of working together to fight the virus repeated several times. But we’ll also hear a great deal of hot air: Trump will deny that he failed to contain the virus domestically and Xi will deny that China shirked its responsibility to warn the world sooner. Meanwhile Russian President Vladimir Putin, ever the iceman in delivery and demeanor, will surely claim how much his nation is doing to help others with its vaccine development — even though respected international medical experts criticize the speed with which Russia has rushed the jab out.If ever there were a year for the world to have less talk, more listening and more cooperation, this would be it. But the lesson of Covid-19 in 2020 has unfortunately all too often been for leaders to talk a good game about the need to work together to fund, develop, and deliver an end to the pandemic — but to act in national interest first when the chips were down.WHO chief blasts 'lack of leadership' and calls for global unity as coronavirus cases mount worldwideWHO chief blasts 'lack of leadership' and calls for global unity as coronavirus cases mount worldwideWHO chief blasts 'lack of leadership' and calls for global unity as coronavirus cases mount worldwideEven the sophisticated interlocking of the European Union didn’t stop member nations from closing borders between themselves. With a second wave of the coronavirus surging in Europe, we can expect more of the same.Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson are each pulling in opposite directions this year. At the EU’s longest-ever leaders’ summit earlier this year, Merkel and Macron dueled over the upcoming budget terms, specifically over distributing extra cash to combat Covid-19 and how it would be repaid. They also differ over EU foreign policy and defense.Meanwhile, Johnson has been mostly absent on the world stage — though recently shocking the world as he prepares to welch on an international treaty. The three leaders’ speech scripts will have been carefully vetted, but don’t expect much coordination this week — except perhaps on Iran, where both oppose Trump.A changed worldIn 2018, Trump had the last laugh at the UNGA. He did what he was going to do regardless of the chuckles and polite putdowns he received: China got a trade war and NATO continues to receive a hard time over funding despite the cunning of its seasoned Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Today the world is different, and it’s unlikely that much laughter will be heard in the Assembly Hall. Now, when we most need to come together we cannot. The world has become a very different place since Trump's 2018 speech.The world has become a very different place since Trump's 2018 speech.The world has become a very different place since Trump’s 2018 speech.For diplomats tight on time and short of sleep, the traditional week in New York City once afforded some lighter moments, a good dinner, an important meeting — or as Macron did last year, a stroll down the street sans jacket, joking with journalists.As Ukraine’s newly minted President Volodymyr Zelensky observed to me in an elevator last year, New York is a great place — though it would’ve been better, he said, without the attention being heaped on him at that time. The former comedian still had his self-deprecating wit.This year, it’s hard to imagine any leader would be up for idle banter. Surging second waves of the coronavirus await many leaders now, as they turn off their virtual UNGA connections and tune in to troubles at home.

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https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/21/politics/donald-trump-virtual-unga-intl/index.html

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