Donald Trump’s state visit in London

Doom and gloom

d'Lëtzebuerger Land vom 14.06.2019

It became one of the most surreal weeks in a long while, at least in London, where Donald Trump was on an official state visit a couple of days before Theresa May formally resigned as leader of the Conservative Party on Friday, June 7th.

End of story, you might have hoped, but no, not at all. The Brexit fiasco is messier than ever and the stakes are as high as could be. In fact, one might wonder how anyone in their right mind would volunteer to take over! Still, in the first round ten contenders are squabbling for the Tory leadership, with Boris Johnson as the runaway favourite, while Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, and Michael Gove, the environment secretary, are neck-to-neck. Either of them might very well be the other candidate that will be chosen by Tory MPs and then appear on the ballot paper of two which the whole national Conservative membership is to elect the next leader from.

While Johnson has told MPs in his usual flowery way that they need to “stop banging on about Brexit and put that bawling baby to bed”, some Tories are running full-frontal attacks on him. Thus, in last week’s Saturday Times Matthew Parris, former MP and now respected Times columnist, described the party favourite as “a lazy, untrustworthy do-nothing” and as “a nasty piece of work”. Yet Boris (the one Tory everyone seems to be on first-name terms with!) is seen by many as the only politician able to beat both Corbyn and Farage.

Michael Gove is prepared to delay leaving the EU beyond 31st October, determined to avoid a no-deal. A more moderate approach, no doubt. He has also just had to confess that he took cocaine on several occasions over twenty years ago, when he was working as a journalist. It is something he admitted to his closest aides in 2016. Since of the six people present at the time only one is no longer working for him, the leak signals that the gloves are off and that a dirty-tricks campaign is on its way. In any case, Gove is busy this week trying to get his campaign back on track.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Hunt has been flip-flopping on key policies, among them the option of a no-deal Brexit. This does not help and confuses everyone. He has put family values at the heart of his campaign, claiming that he wants to erase the divide between young and old at a time when, according to the latest research, nearly half of Tory voters are over 65.

If you turn to the Labour Party, you soon realise that they are equally divided and hardly any better off. Jeremy Corbyn’s awkward attitude towards bullying and harassment seems to make front-page news day after day. Besides, a lot of party members resent his ambiguous stance on the Brexit mess. And what about the anti-Semitism accusations that have been chipping away at Labour’s integrity for months now?

It all suggests that at least in Britain you cannot yet dismiss unfavourable reports as “fake news”, the way the US President routinely does: Not many people cheering my motorcade? – No problem. Let’s just pretend that the demonstrators who shouted “Dump Trump” and flew the orange baby blimp were, in fact, cheering me on.

Character is destiny. In most ways the President is the very opposite of Theresa May, who has often been described as secretive and enigmatic, whereas we all know what the world’s most powerful tweeter is thinking. Except that he’s changing his mind every five minutes. Mercurial and aggressive, with not a hint of gravitas in sight.

When they were standing at the two lecterns for that press conference last week, Theresa May tried to sound upbeat about the special relationship, while Trump bragged about his popularity. Also, he had clearly not been briefed about the NHS and the great emotional significance it has for the whole nation.

“Big hat, no cattle”. The old Texan expression for showy people without much behind their show might help sum it all up. In the eyes of the Potus, the state visit had already morphed into a glorious family holiday. Will the American taxpayer be ready to pick up the tab for all those hotel floors and luxury suites, I wonder. In any case, the Trumps meeting the Windsors was the cherry on the cake. All those tiaras and the glorious pomp. Just bring it on! The Trumps might have come across as a brasher, less thrifty gang, but the winner was clearly out to take it all.

The biggest and most grotesque irony came on Thursday, when everyone attended the D-Day ceremony in Portsmouth. As expected, the speeches were about standing together and defending common values. Seeing the frail but resilient veterans take the stage in front of those political leaders became an exercise in sheer absurdity, what with “America First” and the Brexit fever hanging over it all. But then, no doubt, the Donald was already thinking of the next round of golf and of which adviser he would fire once he was back home. Tremendous spirit and great love – no negative force in sight!

Fortunately, you might conclude, only the Queen is in it for the long haul. Having seen so many Prime Ministers and Presidents vanish into a short paragraph or a mere footnote in the odd history book must feel strangely satisfying at times.

Janine Goedert
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