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:
Stockholm, 15 November 2016
President-elect Donald J. Trump
725 5th Ave
New York, NY 10022
Fifteen years ago, you were kind enough to invite me to your office in New York. I was then Sweden’s ambassador to the United Nations and you had just made a spectacular offer to Secretary General Kofi Annan: to renovate the UN asbestos-ridden headquarters, seen as one of the most dangerous workplaces in Manhattan.
Your offer was to outbid the existing contract by reducing drastically both the costs and time of the renovation, making use of your excellent workforce when they had finished the Trump World Tower coming up before my eyes in my office on Second Avenue.
I recall that moment with hope today when many of your political opponents express fears after your victory.
After the Cold War, global institutions like the UN, the World Bank, and IMF (fundamentally all American creations), as well as international law and treaties, have helped both Americans and Europeans to live safe and prosperous. There has however never been a more urgent time than today, with international terrorism, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria causing incalculable human suffering and millions of refugees, to convey the importance of this broad international order to maintaining stability and socioeconomic progress at home and abroad. We are all affected by these dramas, now and for the foreseeable future.
You, yourself, expressed this situation clearly, when asked by a Swedish journalist after our meeting why you had decided to contact Kofi Annan: “Because I want the UN to be able to continue to work in peace for peace.”
I trust that now when you are about to take over the most prestigious and powerful position on this globe, that you will continue to act in the same enlightened spirit. We need your support Mr. President-elect, in the global quest for peace and security and decent living conditions for our citizens.
Sweden will for its part do its best both in the EU and UN, now that we also are taking seat in UN Security Council as of January 2017.
I also know that the incoming UN Secretary General António Guterres—a very good person— will be most sympathetic to your personal support for our common cause.
Chairman The Olof Palme Memorial Fund