One of the glories of the English language is its flux, with some words rising to prominence while others sink, and one of the glories of Donald Trump’s visit to Great Britain this week was the boost that he gave to that unceasing process. He really fluxed it up.
The boosting began even before he arrived, with a ringing announcement that the United Kingdom was “in somewhat turmoil.” The President had already surprised many observers by informing us that Germany was now “totally controlled by Russia,” a phrase that will have left Vladimir Putin, for one, in somewhat heaven.
Then, there is Brexit. This is a topic, to be fair, that few people can talk about, on either side of the argument, without risking a burst blood vessel or a cognitive collapse. The subject of Britain’s withdrawal from Europe—which could range from soft to hard, like pornography—was broached by the President in an interview with the Sun newspaper, during which he took abrasive issue with the British Prime Minister’s approach. “I would have done it much differently,” the President said, sounding like a tourist who has given his phrase book a passing glance, but no more. “I actually told Theresa May how to do it but she didn’t agree.” Odd, that. I’m sure he would have listened politely if, for example, she had offered her thoughts on the need for political balance on the Supreme Court.
By the time of their joint press conference, on Friday afternoon, the President was busy mending fences, which I guess makes a change from trying to erect them. He dismissed allegations that his comments to the Sun had, in effect, derailed the meeting with May before it even occurred, and, as if to demonstrate their bond, he indulged his strange penchant for holding her hand, cocked above the waist, like an Elizabethan gentleman leading his lady in a stately dance. Relations between the President and the Prime Minister were, he was pleased to confirm, at “the highest level of special.” That high.
The question remains: What was the purpose of the Presidential trip? Little of substance seems to have been achieved, unless you count the handshake between Trump and the Queen, who gave absolutely no sign of casting around for a wet wipe. She has seen and heard it all, during more than six decades on the throne, and her smile, both assured and reassuring, was that of a woman who once had the Ceauşescus to stay and lived to tell the tale. The President stuck to the script, rather than veering off-piste, and, if he was tempted to hail her as the queenliest queen he’s ever met, or to praise her discernment for thinking well of him, he kept such musings to himself. Beside him, towering over the royal personage, the First Lady remained unreadable, as is her wont, and any hopes that she might lunge forward and ask Her Majesty for immediate political asylum were, most regrettably, dashed.
Other opportunities, equally enticing, were missed. When Ronald Reagan came on his state visit, he went riding with the monarch. This was no big deal; if you can canter alongside Barbara Stanwyck in “Cattle Queen of Montana,” as Reagan did, in 1954, you can trot with the Canny Queen of England. Like any good countrywoman, she often appears happier in the company of dogs and horses than she does with her fellow-bipeds. Where, therefore, was Donald’s braying mount? Could no animal in the royal stables be persuaded to volunteer? In an age of global unrest, Trump on horseback could only have added to the gaiety of nations, uniting us in merriment at his terror, and one can just imagine the final exchange as he slipped gingerly from the saddle. “Great mane,” he’d say to the stallion, and back would come the reply: “You, too.”
Also absent from the Trump itinerary was a chance to press the flesh, at large in the public gaze. This was largely because, to judge by the protests that greeted the Presidential visit, the flesh didn’t want to be pressed. In fact, the flesh was up for a fight. Crowds flowed along London’s streets and filled Trafalgar Square, where they were addressed by, among others, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, who asserted “our rights to want a world that is not divided by misogyny, racism, and hate.” Other demonstrations took place in Manchester and Edinburgh, all fired by the same wanting, and all heedless of the fact that the object of their invective was a long way away, not giving a damn, and having tea.
Much attention had been focussed, ahead of his visit, on the Trump blimp—or, as it should have been branded, the Blump. This was a large and baby-shaped balloon, the hue of the summer sun, which was floated in London as a comic symbol of anti-Trump derision. It sported a diaper at one end and a violent quiff at the other, and permission to fly it was granted by Sadiq Khan, the city’s mayor, for whom Trump appears to nourish a particular contempt. “You have a mayor who has done a terrible job in London,” he said. Plans for the blimp to drift over Turnberry, the Scottish golf course owned by Trump, where he is playing today, were quashed by the spoilsports in charge of security—for safety reasons, it was said, although the dodging of embarrassment may also have entered the equation. Like the balloon, after all, the President has a thin skin, and he might have reacted with fire and fury had police marksmen taken a pop at his giant inflatable self, forcing it to descend, deflated and shrivelled, into the nearest bunker.
In truth, the whole week has been tinged with the surreal, and the President could hardly have picked a more peculiar summer in which to swing by. The weather has been so unusually—almost offensively—fine that only on one day did rain stop play at the Wimbledon tennis tournament, an event that in previous years has verged on the semi-aquatic. In Russia, meanwhile, during the early stages of the World Cup, the English soccer team spent an inordinate amount of time not losing, to the delirious amazement of the entire nation. Even a penalty shootout, a spectacle that has for many years left England supporters nursing harrowed fingernails and reliably broken hearts, passed off triumphantly. O brave new world, that has such players in it! What the hell was going on?
By Anthony Lane
The Express News