The Imperial President

Making friends. Berlin, 12 July.

Trump’s visit to the UK is an opportunity as much as it is a part of a crisis. The sky is full of military planes, and the police are preparing for the demonstrations.

President Donald Trump has finally landed in the UK, the British government is already on its knees begging for a free trade deal and the demonstrations have begun. But say what you will about ‘The Donald’, the man gives US foreign policy the faces it deserves.

The British establishment want you to pretend that the US president is a great friend of the UK, however flawed, and you should be understanding of our indispensable ally and partner. Trump is just an aberration, and not representative of imperial decay, and the rug omelette hairdo is nothing to worry about really.

Piers Morgan may not like it, but Trump’s visit will remind the British state of its servile place in world affairs. This is the real meaning of the so-called ‘special relationship’. More importantly, it will push the British people to finally protest against the Empire. Maybe this is the only good thing about Trump coming over to patronise these islands.

The Era of American Decline

In one sense, the Trump presidency is incredible because it clearly doesn’t care about the conventions of globalisation; while it also has nothing but contempt for the liberal norms of free trade, the real outrage may be that the White House does not understand its own role in the world.

This is what American liberals cannot fathom or forgive. The same is true of the British establishment, with its long-held attachment to American power and its abandonment of reactionary ideals. The UK is increasingly one of the most secular and diverse European countries, and the political class has had to concede to this.

At this level Trump jars with the norms that the establishment has managed to accept, but in another sense, the Trump Administration has no regard for the rules of Empire. The US is not just an imperial power in the same way that France and Britain were, it is a world-constituting power of proportions that the Romans couldn’t dream about.

Several years ago, I wrote to Noam Chomsky about the ‘special relationship’. At the time I was a student and had just been attending the protests against tuition fees. Chomsky was one of my heroes, and I was amazed that he actually replied:

That was defined by a high-level JFK adviser at the peak of the missile crisis in 1962, when US planners were taking actions that they knew might incinerate England while leaving the US untouched, and were refusing even to inform the British government. The “special relationship” means that “Britain is our lieutenant, the fashionable word is ‘partner’.” The British prefer to hear the fashionable word.

This is the ‘special relationship’. We are servants, forever bowing in a surreal version of Upstairs, Downstairs. Europe is a cultural theme park for Americans, and the United Kingdom is the most nostalgic ride of all. It’s all so well summed up in the meeting of May and Trump.

We Are Not Special

Now I’ve argued against the ‘special relationship’ for as long as I can remember. I recall the days when Blair was regularly mocked for his poodle status to the American leader, who was meant to be the leader of the free world.

So the sight of impassioned, irreverent protests against the Emperor brings me a great deal of joy. Perhaps it’s the knee-jerk response of someone who once loved America so much for giving us The Simpsons. Though I still suspect it might have had something to do with a swaggering fake Texan.

The sight of Tony Blair hanging out with George W Bush at Camp David is seared into my mind. Blair’s inability to tear himself away from the Bushman turned me into a radical. The idea that the Labour Party was meant to stand up for the working class was suddenly absurd. If this was the case, why was Blair embracing a millionaire warmonger.

It was clear that New Labour was not on my side. After all, I was the son of a single mum living on the benefits, the scum of the earth as the right-wing press would have you believe. I was expected to close my mind and keep voting for Blair. Millions of people like me saw it for what it was: a pathetic display of cowardice.

Instead of standing up for ourselves against the Empire, we just stand around talking about whether or not we are being treated with sufficient respect and if we are going to get any treats at the end of this. Well, it looks like this may be over with the rise of Trump.

Say Yes to Chaos!

As with all such events Trump’s visit is supposed to be a stage-managed series of photo-ops for the White House. It’s also supposed to be a free trade coup for May, as she faces the brunt of Tory vengeance. It’s not any of these things.

If anything proves that the Conservative government must fall, it is the sight of May holding hands with the Emperor as they make their way up the steps of Blenheim Palace. Just as Trump will be no more legitimate after being photographed posing with the PM. It’s much worse than Blair and Bush at Camp David.

So protest the rug omelette and its presence in Britain. ‘The Donald’ can avoid the London protests, but those same demonstrations are ultimately what will help bring down May. Give the Yanks what they want: turmoil.

Photograph courtesy of Joel Schalit. Published under a Creative Commons license.