On Thursday night, British Prime Minister Theresa May treated President Trump to a lavish dinner with 150 guests at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, one of Trump’s great heroes. Just as the dinner was winding down, the Sun, a British newspaper, released a bizarre and breathtaking interview with Trump during which he sneered at May’s latest Brexit plans, praised her main political rival and gave another jolt to her teetering government. It’s the old story: Who needs enemies when Trump is your friend?
The interview — equal parts insane, insulting and incendiary — essentially derailed Trump’s visit to Britain almost before it even began. The American president is doing everything he can to collapse the government of the United States’ most important ally. And in the process he’s imperiling relationships that are crucial to American and international security. (Now he’s trying to backpedal by calling the interview “fake news,” blithely ignoring the fact that the Interview was taped.)
It was insane when Trump falsely claimed that U.S. gross domestic product “has doubled and tripled” since he took office. (Tripling GDP takes decades, not 18 months.) Or when he absurdly claimed that his poll numbers are better than Abraham Lincoln’s. (Presidential approval ratings didn’t exist when Lincoln died in 1865.) Or when he wondered aloud why we don’t hear the “beautiful name” of England as much anymore, compared with the United Kingdom. (The answer, Mr. President, goes back to the 1707 Acts of Union; and when people mention Wales this week, they’re not talking about belugas.)
It was insulting when he insinuated that he has a secret Brexit strategy that May ignored. That seems highly unlikely given that his ignorance about the European Union’s basic functioning is on display every time he discusses it. He also caused offense with a highly personal attack on London Mayor Sadiq Khan, whom he accused of weakness on migrants and terrorism. (The mayor of London has as much control of British immigration policy as the mayor of Toledo, Ohio, has control over the United States’ borders.)
Finally, the interview was incendiary — for British politics and for the “special relationship” between the United States and Britain, a pillar of the current system of international security.
May’s government is already teetering as a result of the Brexit negotiations, which are not going well. Trump just gave her a shove. May already faces the risk of an internal party challenge that could topple her government. When Trump casually dropped the remark that her latest plan, a compromise designed to soften the blow of withdrawal from the E.U. for British businesses, would lead to the United States abandoning or downgrading trade relations with Britain, it was 10 Downing Street’s worst nightmare come true. That makes an internal revolt by the hard-core “Brexiteers” more likely.
Trump’s interview also imperils international security. When his questioners pressed him about Dawn Sturgess, a British woman who recently died from the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, Trump continued to play up the value of a good relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mind you, this is just one week after the British government again accused the Kremlin of using the nerve agent to murder British citizens on British soil. By failing to clearly and unequivocally condemn the Russians’ action, Trump is simply emboldening them. Why shouldn’t Moscow just do it again? As long as it’s Putin who’s pulling the trigger, apparently, no one is softer on terrorism than Trump.
It’s astonishing to think that Trump arrived in Britain only yesterday, considering the amount of political and diplomatic wreckage he is already leaving in his wake. It’s imperative that someone — anyone — on either side of the Atlantic stand up to him before he blows apart the “special relationship.”