In the last 24 hours a petition to ban U.S. President Donald Trump from making an official state visit to the United Kingdom, during which he would be received by the Queen, has been signed by 1.5 million Britons. I noted yesterday that to rescind the invitation to Trump, which was offered via Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday, would, in my opinion, be a mistake. It sets a risky precedent for the monarchy and for a relationship between two countries that predates and will continue after Trump.
I will, however, add the caveat that if uninviting Trump is the consensus of Parliamentary debate and the Queen’s government, then yes, of course, she should follow their advice. Part of the monarchy’s power is its symbolism and for a U.S. president, particularly one as sensitive to his own image as Trump is, to essentially be barred from the Palace because it would be beneath the dignity of the Queen is a significant rebuke. It would be a personal and professional humiliation.
But would it be effective? Well, it could be argued that it means world leaders are not willing play ball with Trump, but was anyone paying attention during the 2016 election? I find it difficult to believe it would prompt much shame from the Trump team. Instead, I see them doubling down and using it as a badge of honor. I see this as playing right into the hands of an “American first” narrative that we’ve already established plays quite well in huge swathes of the country.
In December 2014, when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited New York, suggested etiquette from the Palace to the press was leaked and the American reaction brought up quite a few callbacks to 1776. And that’s how America will always react to a perceived snub from the monarchy. The institution has been rejected and defeated – it might be entertaining and interesting a couple centuries later, but only to a point. The pomp is admired, but from a distance – it is, after all, not just foreign but fundamentally “Un-American.” It takes less time than you think for images of the Boston Tea Party to re-emerge with pride.
But this really isn’t about the Queen. This is about Brexit, Britons’ reaction to May’s visit, NATO, the United Nations and a “special relationship” that has, arguably, veered into bullying and pressure at times. Britain is the junior member of that relationship; they’ve followed the United States into quite a bit of uncomfortable territory over the last several decades and it’s possible they’re about to be left high and dry.
Paul Mason writes persuasively for The Guardian today that:
We have two choices: we can acquiesce and let this sociopathic sex pest grab our collective hand amid the scary world he has created. We can abase ourselves for special favours – such as exemption for British dual nationals. Or we can reject Trump in his entirety.
Just as Trump is meddling – via Ukip – in the racial politics of Britain, British liberalism and socialism has the duty now to intervene in the social politics of the US. We must bet on Trump’s defeat in 2020, help train and fund lawyers and journalists to hold him in check, and – once he is gone – attempt to rebuild the multilateral order. Yes, and ruin his state visit: through all forms of protest legally possible.
The shape of a Dump Trump foreign policy is clear: Britain must strengthen its alliance with countries whose governments and peoples share our values: France, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada and Greece. Although we are headed out of the EU, the case for the softest possible form of Brexit is only strengthened by the US’s descent into arbitrary government.
It’s a risky proposition – setting up a new cool kids’ table and saving the U.S. a spot in 2020. Risky for the U.S., but also for everyone else because betting on Trump’s defeat in 2020 is about as sound as it turned out to be in 2016.
In a telling anecdote, Trump apparently saved the menu from his lunch with May. The President, apparently, collects menus, particularly those that commemorate significant events to him. In this case, Trump was quite chuffed to have dined with the British PM. When one compares the aesthetics of Trump Tower with the state rooms of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, well, the mind boggles at what he might want to keep as a memento.
In any event, Trump is known to be proud of his Scottish heritage via his mother (a big fan of the Queen’s) and it’s been reported that he’s angling for an invitation to Balmoral, specifically. I am trying to imagine how he’s going to explain all this to his mother.