If Trump does come, let's make it a visit he and May will regret
PUBLISHED: 12:21 10 February 2017 | UPDATED: 12:37 10 February 2017
Donald Trump is a game-changer, but using The Queen as a bargaining chip to secure Britain gets thrown a few post-Brexit scraps is insulting
So there I was chatting with Keir, my Arsenal-supporting personal trainer – how liberal metropolitan elite is that folks? And he is named after Keir Hardie – about the football commentating clichés we hate the most.
I offered “nothing to lose”, speaking as a winning obsessive (subliminal book plug) it is my number one (which is where my book Winners went in the charts by the way), there is always something to lose, in any contest worth the name. “Acres of space’ is runner-up (a piece of geographical drivel) and “throw the kitchen sink” gets bronze (when have you ever seen a kitchen sink on a football pitch?)
Keir’s bête noire, however, was “game-changer”. Keir and I like to argue – it helps me get through the tougher circuits and the ever lengthening planks - and I was able to defend “game-changer” as having far greater merit and meaning than my own three monstrosities.
A goal does change the game, especially if the score is 1-0. If a substitute comes on and scores that goal, the manager is entitled to view his substitution as a “game-changer”. A red card, such as the one given to my beloved Burnley’s Jeff Hendricks early on in the game against Watford, almost certainly had a big, if empirically immeasurable, impact on a game we lost 2-1.
At the risk of making Keir subject me to his 100 burpie endurance circuit, his game-changer cliché is going to form the basis of this, (my latest of many, with many more to come) rant at Brexit, Theresa May’s pandering to the Brextremist Lie Machine and Donald Trump.
You see, dear Keir (it’s not Starmer by the way, he is my MP not my trainer) Trump is without doubt a game-changer for the world. So many of the norms, values and institutions we broadly adhered to, appear to be eroding at a speed that is exhilarating for his followers and excruciating for those who fail to see in Trump the positives that they do.
As Trump took power, May’s mind and modus operandi were locked in the pre-Trump US-UK relationship setting, while other more experienced leaders like Angela Merkel sensed a very large reset button might need to be pressed. So to our PM, it was important to win the diplomatic race to be the first invitee to the White House, important to have the words “special relationship” drip from Trump’s pursed lips, important to have people back home feel that Brexit or no Brexit, lil’ ol’ Britain still mattered in the world, and indeed – with the Lie Machine in full cry for her – mattered more out of the EU than in.
Yet, by the time she had landed in Istanbul to forge a relationship with another wannabe dictator, President Erdogan, Trump’s random migrant ban had been unleashed on the world, and May’s entourage suddenly had the same sickly feeling in their stomachs that Trump has been inspiring in most of us for weeks. The warm glow of Brexit Lie Machine headlines comparing her to Thatcher, and Trump to Reagan, evaporated as it became abundantly clear that whatever words he had uttered to get him through his May day without embarrassment were insignificant compared with the words on the executive order he was planning to explode the minute she was off the premises and into the transatlantic sky.
And by the time she was in Malta a few days later for a meeting of EU leaders, offering to be the bridge between them and Trump’s US, the reactions varied from bemusement to scorn.
The dishonesty that comes from the White House and the attempt to deligitimise all other sources of power and information are broadly transparent. What is also alarming is the desperation of people like May to believe him, to take him at his word. So when he hints that he will do his best to help the UK with a good post-Brexit trade deal, in her desperation she believes him, and the Brexit Lie Machine ventilates the belief.
It begs the question, what part of the words “America First” doesn’t she understand? How many lies does Trumps have to tell before she realises he needs to be handled with a little more care and candour than she displayed as he grabbed her hand, showered Britain with praise, and she gushed about his “stunning” victory?
Can she not see that as he turns America’s back on the world, and she turns Britain’s back on Europe, she may end up with the worst of all worlds, and the bridge she is offering to build between Europe and America will be about as fully-formed and effective as the one reaching half way across the river in Avignon?
The thing about game-changers is that those they are playing with may need to adapt their tactics to deal with them. But because May was in pre-Trump setting mode in Washington, she made the ghastly error of offering him a State visit to the UK, despite getting precious little of substance in return. It was an offer first mooted, via the pages of the Sunday Times, and to the annoyance of many at the Palace, within days of his election, long before his inauguration and her visit.
It is a fascinating facet of modern life that The Queen is one of the few global figures, and thanks to her the UK Monarchy one of the few institutions, bucking the trend of negativity driven by 24/7 news, social media, and a cultural decline in deference.
A State visit is a huge diplomatic chip in the game that Trump’s ascent has changed. For May to offer it, so soon into her Premiership and his Presidency, amid all the doubts about Trump that emerged during the campaign, and have been exacerbated since, was an act of diplomatic panic.
The panic stems from the insight, which as she rests her head on her pillow may well be keeping her awake, that Brexit ruptures several of our most important alliances. But we should all be panicking that as a result of her panic, she may have committed herself to reliance on to a man whose word cannot be trusted, whose good conduct cannot be guaranteed, whose stability is self-evidently in doubt.
I am no natural monarchist but I have huge respect for The Queen and for May to use her as a bargaining counter with a chancer like Trump in the post-Brexit battleground is as shortsighted as it is insulting.
What’s more, had May studied Trump’s past, or read his book, The Art of the Deal, she would know that he would see this offering of a ride down the Mall in a gold coach with The Queen so soon in their relationship as a sign of weakness, and exploit it.
There is another book she should read, by a man named Peter Pomerantsev, Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, about how Putin took near dictatorial control of Russia.
Although Trump famously doesn’t read books – what with being so clever – he is governing by the same playbook. He doesn’t just admire Putin, as was clear once more from his Fox News Super Bowl interview, in which astonishingly – cue Reagan spinning in his grave - he put the two powers on parallel moral equivalence status; he is also jealous of the power he holds, over his own people and over geo-politics.
The attacks on the media, actors who speak out, officials who point out inconvenient facts, businesses that don’t conform to his worldview, and now judges. The threats to “lock up” opponents. The surrounding himself with like-minded people prone to idolatry. The strongman image. The abuse for anyone who takes a different view. The shaping of an alternative facts, Orwellian, post-truth world so that for the people in power “nothing is (indeed) true and everything is possible”.
This is the man May is relying on, crawling to, embarrassing Queen and country over, as we reverse engineer our way out of a set of alliances that have helped deliver peace and prosperity to a European Union for which Trump and Putin appear to have contempt, as evidenced by the former’s attempt to appoint an avowed hater of the EU as his ambassador there, and the latter’s strategic goal of eroding Western institutions so he can fast forward his vision of a “spheres of influence” world dominated by him, China and the US.
At least defence secretary Michael Fallon called out Putin in his speech on the dangers posed by cyber warfare and a level of Russian aggression not seen since the Cold War. But his claim that “Trump is a realist” was almost as fanciful as his boss’ claim that 65 million people are all standing to attention waving Union flags and cheering her on to Brexit success. Narcissist, yes. Fantasist, indeed. But realist?
So stuck was May in the pre-Trump diplomatic setting that even as much of the world rose in revulsion at his travel ban, she had to be dragged kicking and screaming to say something even vaguely non backside-kissing, long after most others had. Then came his attack on the “so-called” judge who suggested the ban might by unconstitutional, prompting Trump, 1930s Germany style, to warn that if anything bad happens – which it will by the way, as he knows – Americans should “blame” the judge. At least in the UK it is only rags like the Daily Mail that attack judges doing their job (as their German 1930s equivalents did) as “enemies of the people”. But when the attacks come from the US President, supposedly guardian of one of the finest constitutions ever written, then the comparisons with Hitler start to become less fanciful than Piers Morgan might imagine. In fact I argue with Piers on this point in this months GQ.
AC: You don’t worry about all the parallels with the 30s, financial crisis, Europe breaking up, resurgence of populism, rise of the hard right, resurgent Russia?
PM: This is the fundamental flaw in how to hit him. The Hitler analogy. It is not just offensive, it is stupid. Hitler killed 12 million people …
AC: It didn’t start that way. Seeds get sown.
PM: Trump is not going to commit genocide.
AC: Nice to know. But isn’t it alarming how Putin, Le Pen, the far right across Europe, all align with Trump? Or the way he treats the media. Erdogan started out saying the kind of things Trump says, then …
PM: Hold on a minute, this is coming from YOU! You treated the media with utter contempt. You effed and blinded, you lied when it suited you, so get off your high horse.
AC: One, I didn’t lie. Two, I wasn’t President.
PM: You’d like to be. You are exactly the same as Trump on the media, no different. And the Hitler thing plays into his hands. If you look at his political history, he is a moderate. I’m not even sure he is a Republican. He fought as an independent.
The interview was done pre-inauguration. I think there have been enough signs since to suggest my concerns about 1930s analogies are more founded than Piers’ optimism or his depiction of Trump as a moderate. Also, any journalist tempted to normalise let alone defend Trump’s approach to the media, look up the history of the Munich Post.
As for the State visit, May has locked herself in, like she has locked herself in to a Hard Brexit. Full steam ahead to both, despite the damage they will do to the UK and our standing in the world. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear – and oh to be a fly on the wall at her next audience with The Queen.
It would, of course, be diplomatically embarrassing for the offer of the State visit now to be withdrawn. But it is also going to be diplomatically embarrassing for the visit to go ahead. That is the rock and the hard place between which May has inserted herself, Queen and country. So it should be embarrassing, the more embarrassing the better, and anyone who can help make it so, anyone who can turn it into an embarrassment for Trump, and an embarrassment for May, should do so.
Street protest is of course a part of that. He must not be allowed to enter Britain, and certainly shouldn’t leave, without knowing that he is more unpopular than any President in history, and right now seen by most Brits as a considerable menace to the values we hold, and to the security of the world.
But also the great and the good who are expected to be part of these State visits need to understand that if they do so, they are giving support and succour to someone who is certainly a sexist, a racist, a misogynist, and with apparent proto-fascist tendencies (and fully fledged white supremacists like Steve Bannon on the payroll and in his ear).
That is why Harriet Harman, Yvette Cooper and others were right to say they would boycott a speech in Parliament, if such an honour was part of the State visit itinerary, and Speaker John Bercow right and brave in making clear he would not allow the Racist-Sexist-in-Chief the earned honour of an address to both Houses.
But there needs to be a multifaceted approach to the tactics. Given his and Bannon’s loathing of science and education, no college or university should even entertain the thought of giving him a platform.
When it comes to invitations to the requisite white-tie State banquet, I would recommend that some reject the invitation and publicise that they have done so, while others accept, but then don’t show up. Some should also accept and go. Then, when Trump rises to speak, some should walk out, some should stay and clink their glasses as he speaks, and one or two should follow the route taken by MEP Seb Dance when Nigel Farage was speaking in the European Parliament last week and held up a “he’s lying” poster.
There will be some embarrassment for The Queen, of course. She has survived worse. Also, she and everyone else will know who caused it, Trump with his hideousness, May with her pandering to his ultra-narcissism and the sociopathology that is becoming clearer by the day. This is not a normal Presidency, and we must not let it become normalised.
So if May insists on this wretched visit going ahead as she blunders her way through the Hard Brexit she has chosen without mandate, let’s make sure it is one that both she and Trump live to regret, and file away in the box marked “seemed a good idea at the time”.