Dear London: on behalf of my fellow Americans, I apologise for Donald Trump

The president’s state visit has left us embarrassed—even horrified

June 05, 2019
Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Wire/PA Images
Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Wire/PA Images

I don’t know what the British royal version of a Kremlinologist would be—Windsor-watcher? Gemologist?—but the Trump state visit to the UK has inspired Americans to study the Queen’s choice of tiara, Prince Harry’s body language, Prince Charles’s tight smile, the Duchess of Sussex’s absence from the festivities, and what appeared to be a well-placed wink from the Duchess of Cornwall.

What could it mean for the special relationship? Is there still a special relationship?

When it comes to the British, many Americans still experience a certain amount of cultural cringe: we can’t get over the sneaking suspicion that the British are cooler than we are, and may, in fact, be laughing at us. Despite that—and despite our republican form of government—we’re awfully royalist, even if we tell ourselves that everyone is as good as everyone else.

We don’t really believe it: there’s a reason Victoria and Downtown Abbey are huge hits on American television. The glamorous duchesses Kate and Meghan beam from countless magazine covers stacked at supermarket tills. Princess Diana is still revered as a kind of secular saint, and somehow we’ve decided that the Queen belongs to us, too. That could be why thousands of Americans took to social media to express horror that she had to entertain Trump and his dodgy ménage of unshaven sons and daughters in prom dresses at Buckingham Palace.

The Queen has had to sit next to Vladimir Putin, Robert Mugabe and Nicolae Ceausescu at dinner, too. Maybe she’s hard to shock. Certainly, she’s proved herself adept at some elegant trolling. She must have been told Trump does not read, yet her official gift to him was a fancy first edition of Winston Churchill’s The Second World War. Abridged. And during her speech, she lauded the way the UK and the US “worked with other allies to build an assembly of international institutions to ensure that the horror of conflict would never be repeated.”

Even Trump’s Fox News sycophants understood that HM was bigging up Nato there—possibly even the EU. Trump didn’t seem to get it. He was practically purring the whole time he was in London, behaving uncharacteristically well. True, on the way over he insulted Mayor Sadiq Khan, calling him a “stone cold loser.” And when the Sun reminded him that the former Meghan Markle, now married to Prince Harry, once called him a misogynist, he dismissed her as “nasty.” No doubt it’s the merest coincidence that both the mayor and the Duchess of Sussex are people of colour.

Trump has been uncharacteristically nice to Prime Minister Theresa May, a woman about whom he has been condescending at best and really offensive at worst, opining that if only she had listened to him, Britain would have been out of Europe by now and rolling in dosh. Anyone watching the press conference on Tuesday must have wondered if they’d fallen through the looking glass. Trump said May has done “a very good job” and called her “probably a better negotiator than me.”

He refused to believe that the majority of Britons might disapprove of his presence in the country. “Where are the protests? I don’t see any protests.” He called the evident fact of many tens of thousands in the streets of London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and other cities, “fake news,” insisting that if there were a lot of people out, they were “protesting in my favor.”

But hey, he’s enamored of Great Britain—at least at this moment. It’s “a great, great country” and the US and the UK have “the greatest alliance the world has ever known.” Plus, he promises, there’ll be a “phenomenal” trade deal the second the UK bails out of Europe, possibly including the NHS—not that he was entirely sure what the NHS is.

It’s always possible that when Trump gets back to the US, he’ll see pictures of the Trump Baby floating over London, realise that there truly were enormous demonstrations against him, discover that the National Health Service will never be part of any trade agreement with the UK, and throw a Twitter tantrum. Or maybe the grandeur of the palace, the ormolu, the gilt, the glittering champagne and the parade of diamond-draped princesses, will continue to enchant him and Britain will bask, at least for a little while, in his favour.

If nothing else, we now know that Trump is even more royalist than most of his fellow Americans. And on behalf of my fellow Americans, I apologise.