I don’t often feel compassion for the British royals, but today they have my hopes and prayers. Even their unrivaled talent at keeping a stiff upper lip is being sorely tested.
Typically for President Trump, his official state visit began with a childish, petulant tweet. As Air Force One prepared to land, Trump attacked London Mayor Sadiq Khan as a “stone cold loser” — which probably will serve only to boost Khan’s popularity, since a recent YouGov survey found that only 21 percent of Britons have a positive opinion of Trump, their unesteemed visitor from across the pond.
Trump was not accorded the customary honor of staying overnight at Buckingham Palace. Palace sources mumbled something about ongoing renovations, but acknowledged that the lavishly appointed Belgian Suite — where Barack and Michelle Obama stayed during their 2011 state visit — is unaffected by the work. Pity, that.
The gregarious Harry appeared to keep his distance from Trump at the palace on Monday, perhaps for good reason. Trump described Harry’s African American wife, Meghan Markle, as “nasty” — then denied having done so, despite a widely circulated recording that proves his denial is a baldfaced lie.
Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, bore looks that suggested faint disgust. True, they almost always do. But one wonders what kind of conversation Charles, whose lifelong passion has been environmentalism, might have had with a scientific ignoramus who claims climate change is a “hoax.”
I wonder whether Charles resorted to the go-to move of his late grandmother, the Queen Mother, who had hall-of-fame social skills. Whenever she was in a tight spot, she would look around and ask, “Aren’t the flowers lovely?”
From the British point of view, it is a ridiculous moment for this ridiculous encounter. The “chaos president” descends on a nation already in political chaos. Prime Minister Theresa May, who unwisely offered Trump this all-the-trappings state visit, is on her way out the door, having announced her resignation after failing to secure a Brexit deal under which Britain could leave the European Union without risking economic disaster.
May steps down as head of the governing Conservative Party at the end of the week, and will stay on as prime minister only until a successor as party leader is chosen. The leading candidate to replace her is Boris Johnson, a former London mayor and onetime truth-stretching journalist who in 2015 blasted then-candidate Trump as unfit to be president because of his “stupefying ignorance.” Trump hasn’t changed but Johnson’s view of him has. Both are identified with the wave of nationalist populism — tainted by racism and xenophobia — that has befouled Western democracies.
These days, Johnson has nothing bad to say about Trump, and Trump has nothing bad to say in return. If Johnson does take the reins of government, the transatlantic relationship will be defined not by history and tradition, but by the shared buffoonery of the U.S. and British leaders.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, declined an invitation to attend Queen Elizabeth II’s state banquet for Trump. On Saturday, Corbyn blasted Trump for “unacceptable interference” in British affairs, a reference to Trump’s assessment that Johnson “would be excellent” as prime minister. But Labour has been no more successful than May and the Tories in proposing a way forward on Brexit that can win broad consensus.
Trump gives the British people one thing to unite around — not liking Trump. I suppose it’s a contribution, however short-lived the effect. When the president leaves, Britain will still be mired in its worst political crisis in decades.
At least most British voters chose Brexit, though the outcome of a second referendum would likely be different. Most American voters did not choose Trump, though the electoral college system duly put him into office.
Then again, we will get rid of Trump and his band of grifters in due course — next year, one hopes, but in a worst-case scenario in 2024. Brexit, if Britain is foolish enough to go through it, will have effects that linger and fester indefinitely. Other European governments, as well, are going through dire, long-running travails.
Trump’s trip abroad makes me feel better about our own prospects. If only the Brits could somehow just keep him.