American presidents in recent years have generally enjoyed goodwill from Bretons. President Trump is testing that good feeling in historical proportions.
When I first came across the #InternationalClashDay label trending on social media, my first thought was: “this must be in relation to the exponential outrage against Donald Trump”.
After all, it has been widely reported that Trump allegedly had a combative call with the Prime Minister of Australia, and the former Prime Minister of Norway was temporarily detained by officials at Dulles airport for having an Iranian visa in his diplomatic passport. Must be a so-called ‘alternative fact’ to even consider a former democratic leader of an allied European country and a current President of a human rights organization a potential threat to U.S Homeland Security.
When I discovered that the aforementioned hash tag was actually an annual appreciation for the English punk band The Clash, it dawned on me just how overtly politicized my world is. I am not alone. This revelation also made me seriously reflect on the unprecedented decision of John Bercow — the Speaker of the U.K’s House of Commons — who has more or less told Trump to ‘sling his hook.’ The Speaker is of the opinion that the US President is not deserving of the honor to make an official address at the UK Parliament by virtue of his “racism and sexism”. Bercow has a substantially-sized choir singing from the same hymn sheet — and a growing list of individuals discontent at his unilateral statement, including his House of Lords counterpart, Lord Fowler, whose preference is to keep “an open mind and consider any request”.
Despite myself being a long-standing critic of Hillary Clinton, one of the many reasons I supported her for the Presidency was due to my concern for bilateral and multilateral relations under a Trump Administration. His Twitter account and his erratic behavior does not leave much to the imagination.
At the time of writing, a UK-based petition calling on the Government to reject a state visit for the President has attracted over 1.8m signatures — but in the spirit of Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister Theresa May is ‘not for turning’, and has spurned the demands citing the visit as “substantially in the national interest.” In the meantime, many British politicians of different political persuasions, journalists, public figures, and ordinary citizens and residents of the U.K have praised Bercow’s stance. Irrespective of the official position of the Government, the online petition is due to be debated in the UK Parliament on February 20th, and the Stop Trump Coalition are mobilizing to stage a day of protest on the day.
From the vantage point of a British national, married to an American citizen and living in the US, I am more than just concerned about the political relations between the two nations that I proudly call my homelands. To say that there is a real possibility of a serious diplomatic crisis between the UK and the US during Trump’s tenure is an understatement. The US is deeply divided over Trump, and the UK is deeply divided over Theresa’s handling of the new era.
The special relationship between the US and the UK goes beyond politics and diplomacy — it also centers on our shared histories, including cultural and economic similarities. The term was first emphasized by Winston Churchill following WWII, and throughout the years the world has witnessed many ‘special’ political relationships between British and American counterparts. Even before Tony Blair became Prime Minister of the UK, he aligned himself politically with President Clinton and spearheaded a rebranding of the British Labour Party, which almost mirrored the ‘new Democrat’ approach during the early 1990s. When it was (inaccurately) reported that Obama did not have a bust of Winston Churchill in the White House, this sparked a series of angry responses — on both sides of the pond — claiming that Obama was not honoring the special relationship. Despite the fact that a bust of Churchill was placed outside his private office in the White House was largely ignored — but that’s a whole different story.
In 2017, we are navigating through uncharted waters and there is no accurate map to guide us to any known destination. Bercow has pushed the boundaries of convention between British and American relations; however, no US President in modern history has sparked such outrage and contempt. The last time I recall the special relationship being so brutally slated was during the Iraq War— again, a whole different story.
I am more than sympathetic toward those expressing their aversion at Trump’s pending visit, and I certainly do not ever want Trump’s behavior and attitudes to be normalized. However, many demands and requests are likely to be futile given the UK Government’s determination to not diminish British national interests by giving America’s democratically elected President the cold shoulder. Theresa May is engaging in conciliatory politics, and trying to reassure her critics that she will speak frankly with the President — where there are issues of great disagreement — while not kicking the special relationship into the Atlantic with her best foot forward. To be honest, she has a tough job — I don’t envy her position, or the difficult decisions she is going to have to make.
While Trump has been resoundingly criticized for his ‘America First’ mantra — with many calling this isolationist or a euphemism for ‘America Only’ — he has pledged to seek a trade deal with the UK once it officially leaves the EU Bloc. What that trade deal will look like, or mean, remains to be seen — but what I do know is that if and when the UK ultimately closes its doors on the European single market, it is going to require reliable trading partners, within Europe and outside, to keep the country afloat. Thus, the state visit will go ahead, the pomp will be on full display, but peaceful protests against Trump will not be in vain — his vision of the world will not go unchallenged.
The US – UK special relationship will ultimately be politically tested over the coming months and years. What relationship May and Trump will have is difficult to predict, especially since our new President has not long been inaugurated.
Sometimes, I have to remind myself that this is not a movie.