So President Trump isn’t coming to open the new US embassy (pictured above). Outrageous cries the Foreign Secretary and others: “We won’t let a puffed up pompous popinjay damage the special relationship!’ Boris Johnson says of London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
The UK/US relationship has been quite a preoccupation. The US has been described as our closest and longest-standing ally and a hugely important trading partner. Especially in the looming post-Brexit environment, you can understand this focus.
But, and no pun intended, this can’t trump every other consideration. It shouldn’t mask the truth, for example. The President says he isn’t visiting because he’s opposed to the cost, location and who gave the go-ahead for the new building. But he is wrong on all three counts – it’s self-funded, central and it was George Bush who authorised the move, not President Obama. Oh, and there nearest supermarket is a new purpose-built Waitrose, a moniker for gentrification if ever there was one.
Then there’s the question of his conduct. And there is a real risk of us being judged by the company we are keeping. So a visit from someone who casually, callously writes off whole countries (as “s**tholes”) together with their populations is surely not someone one wants to welcome into our home right now.
And the direction of travel isn’t good. The UN have called out Trump’s racism in explicit terms. If his administration runs true to form, can we now expect belly-aching about the cost and value of a “so-called” and “fake” organisation as a prelude to possible withdrawal from it?
Then there is the value of the relationship itself. What has Trump’s administration contributed to our national interests? Helped us counter home-grown extremism? Er, Not really. Helped create a more stable, sustainable world ? You look at Jeruslem, Iran, Climate Change and have to say “No” on all those counts too. How about trade? ‘Fraid not – as US protectionism looks set to shut out UK exports.
And then there is the man himself. If we cause offence to the individual – whether it is justified or not – does that mean the relationship between our two countries is sullied?
The answer is no. The “special relationship” has endured for decades and must surely transcend one uniquely destabilising presidency.
And the USA is bigger than one individual – even when it is the President. Especially when the President doesn’t have a majority of the popular vote, is set to lose the wafer-thin control he currently and notionally has in Congress, and is viewed in turn as destructive, incompetent, ineffective and irrelevant.
There’s no doubt that these are challenging, dangerous times. But our interests are not protected still less advanced by pretending that all is well in Washington, or by wilfully indulging the President’s repulsive excesses. Dealing with this President recalls the words of a world leader (Churchill) from other troubling times: You can’t reason with a tiger when your head is in it’s mouth.
Or as we colloquially might put it: With friends like Trump, who needs enemies?