On Tuesday, the very same Trump said it was unproductive for British politicians to criticize him. “I don’t like critics as much as I like and respect people who like to get things done,” Trump declared. Referring specifically to Khan, Trump said, “I don’t think he should be criticizing a leader of the United States that could be doing so much good for the United Kingdom.”
Apparently, when it comes to U.S.-Britain relations, criticism should flow in only one direction across the Atlantic.
Trump’s declaration that he doesn’t like critics is a nice little window into his worldview. Basically nobody is immune to Trump’s jabs, and he often reserves some of his sharpest ones for top allies abroad. Trump has used his ability to criticize perceived foes and turn his supporters on them to great effect, in some cases, including by keeping congressional Republicans in line.
But he also regularly attacks the mere idea that anybody would criticize him.
“I don’t like critics,” he said when former defense secretary Robert Gates criticized him in 2016. “I don’t like critics. I like the people that get it done and get it done right.”
“In the ‘old days’ if you were President and you had a good economy, you were basically immune from criticism,” he tweeted in April.
At the commencement ceremony for the Coast Guard Academy in May 2017, Trump intoned: “No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly. . . . You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams.”
Less than two years earlier, in November 2015, he said: “You know, I don’t like critics. I never like even movie critics, theater critics. They complain, but they can’t do it themselves. I don’t like people that complain.”
Politics is a business rife with double standards. When someone does something you don’t like, they are “playing politics.” When you do something other people don’t like, it’s being principled. And, likewise, when you believe you are doing what is right, you will view criticisms of it as gratuitous and underhanded.
But as with many things, Trump takes this to another level. If you look at some of the comments above — most especially his comment about Khan and the tweet from April — they seem to betray a man who believes he should be somewhat immune from criticism. He argues he has been too successful and wields too much power as the president of the United States. British politicians apparently need him more than he needs them, and so they should fall in line.
And there’s something to that. The president of the United States is generally understood to be the leader of the free world. He wields tremendous power, as Trump is showing, over international treaties and trade agreements. He can often hurt other nations much more than they can hurt him. And Trump has certainly tested the limits of other countries’ willingness to tolerate his bull-in-a-china-shop approach to foreign policy. Generally, they have been forced to humor his double standard.
Which makes the strong Trump criticisms we’re seeing from Khan and the head of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, all the more notable. Corbyn, who spoke at an anti-Trump rally on Tuesday, leads a party that would need to forge a relationship with Trump if it were to gain power. Yet he attacked Trump on Tuesday for spreading hatred and for his treatment of minorities.
Even the favorite to become the next prime minister, Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson, has in the past leveled very tough criticisms of Trump, referring to his “stupefying ignorance” and saying he was “out of his mind.” The two have since become allies, with Trump promoting Johnson as a potential replacement for May.
It seems that one way or another, future relations between the U.S. and Britain will test Trump’s willingness to forgive the apostasy of criticizing Trump.