Donald Trump's zany British vacation: How badly will he screw this one up?

Faced with angry protests, worsening Brexit chaos and solemn rituals he doesn't understand, Trump heads to Blighty

By Heather Digby Parton


Published June 3, 2019 8:04AM (EDT)


Almost from the beginning of his term, President Trump has been excitedly anticipating a fancy state visit to the United Kingdom. Unlike recent presidents Obama and Bush, who didn't want to strain the security services, he particularly wanted to ride with Queen Elizabeth in the golden coach, as royal brides and heads of state do on such grand occasions. Normally, such visits happen early in a president's term. Trump's was postponed for a variety of reasons and he had to settle for that horrific short visit last summer during which he insulted Prime Minister Theresa May, yelled at the press, kept the Queen waiting for 15 minutes and then practically tripped the 92-year-old monarch while they were reviewing the troops.

That trip was around the 100th anniversary of the World War I armistice. I'm sure you will recall Trump's petulant behavior in France where he refused to go outside in the rain and basically snarled his way through the ceremonies, with no apparent feeling for the event at all. This big state visit to England is timed for the 75th anniversary of D-Day, about which I'm sure he is equally clueless. But he will love all the pomp and circumstance. It's his favorite part of being president. And he's bringing the whole Trump crew — Jared and Ivanka, along with Tiffany, Eric and Don Jr., are reportedly tagging along.

Sadly, he won't be riding in the golden carriage though. Perhaps the prospect of being out in the open with an expected 250,000 protesters and that Big Baby Trump blimp overhead soured him on the idea. Neither will he be staying at Buckingham Palace, as heads of state usually do. However, a formal white-tie state banquet at the palace will feature toasts from both the Queen and the president (which I cannot quite imagine).

Trump will also meet with business leaders and May — now the outgoing prime minister — as well as Prince Charles. One might have expected that he and Melania would meet with American princess Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, but it's not looking good. She is a new mother and Trump described her as "nasty" for opposing his candidacy in an interview with the Sun tabloid a couple of days ago, so she will probably beg off. Trump's people have since tried to claim that he didn't say what he said, but their clumsy explanation was so hilariously inept that his unfortunate insult went viral.

On Thursday, Trump will attend the big D-commemoration at Portsmouth, described this way by USA Today:

The event will tell the story of D-Day through musical performances, testimonial readings and military displays, including a fly-past of 25 modern and historical aircraft, and Royal Navy vessels in the Solent, the strait between the mainland and the Isle of Wight.

He'll enjoy the flyover, anyway.

These are the sorts of rituals normally meant to solidify alliances and smooth out adversarial relationships. Since Trump is constitutionally unable to behave like a dignified statesman on foreign soil, we'll just have to grit our teeth and hope he doesn't start a war or something. So far, it's not looking good. Aside from the "nasty" princess gaffe, he's already stuck his nose into U.K. politics by giving wide-ranging interviews with British papers, telling them they should put his pal Nigel Farage in charge of Brexit and endorsing former London mayor Boris Johnson as the next prime minister. (May will resign June 7, as a direct result of her inability to make a Brexit deal that anyone will accept.) Trump also said the U.K. should just walk away from Brexit talks and stiff the EU for the agreed upon $50 billion "divorce payment." (That figures. It's how he does business.) He also repeated his daft idea that Britain should sue the EU because it's been unfair and cost them a lot of money.

Once again demonstrating that he sees himself as a king (or a mob boss) rather than an elected official, Trump implied that the Labour Party should be nicer to him because he does a lot for the U.K. and he might stop doing so if they don't behave themselves. He declared that the U.S. might not share intelligence with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, if he becomes prime minister, until Trump "gets to know him," as if such things are decided based upon the president's personal feelings toward other leaders. (He has, you'll recall, been enthusiastic about sharing cyber secrets with Vladimir Putin. He's brought it up repeatedly.)

Over the weekend, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, Trump crony Woody Johnson, got in on the act. On Andrew Marr's BBC show, Johnson said that every area of the British economy would be subject to American involvement if the two countries brokered a bilateral trade deal after Brexit. When asked whether Britain's treasured National Health Service would be part of any such deal, Johnson said “I think the entire economy, in a trade deal, all things that are traded would be on the table.” Asked if that specifically meant health care, he said: “I would think so.”

Needless to say, this went over like a lead Trump-baby blimp. Labour's shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said, "The ambassador’s comments are terrifying and show that a real consequence of a no-deal Brexit, followed by a trade deal with Trump, will be our NHS up for sale. This absolutely should not be on the table."

Supporters of Brexit have been saying that a magical new bilateral trade deal with the U.S. would be one of the big upsides of breaking away from the EU. Trump and his ambassador's big mouths may just be making some of them feel a bit queasy about that this week.

As well they should. Trump is throwing around tariffs willy-nilly now, and nobody can stop him. His trade war with China has become increasingly serious, with talks breaking down and no end in sight. His impulsive declaration, under a specious definition of "national security," that Mexico must stop all illegal immigration and drug smuggling or face tariffs on all goods entering the U.S. is just the latest example.

On Friday, Trump announced that he would end special trade treatment for India, saying, "I have determined that India has not assured the United States that India will provide equitable and reasonable access to its markets." The New York Times reported on Sunday that the administration nearly imposed tariffs on Australia last week and was only stopped, at least temporarily, by strong opposition from the military and the State Department.

Trump plans to play golf at his course in Ireland and naturally, he managed to created another diplomatic faux pas. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar did not think it appropriate to meet the U.S. president at his private golf club. Trump was miffed and threatened to go to his club in Scotland instead. He and Varadkar have now agreed to meet briefly at the airport. Trump will then travel to France for more D-Day commemorations after the U.K. visit. Let's hope it doesn't rain again or he might decide to slap more tariffs on the EU until its bureaucrats agree to only have sunny days whenever he is visiting.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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