Donald Trump is the one person who’s more of a political basket case than Britain
Over three endless days, the president was welcomed as grist to our dark satanic content mills
Britain’s Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth and US president Donald Trump during an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, in Portsmouth. Photograph: Jack Hill/AFP/Getty Images
It is finally over, then, the state visit during which US president Donald Trump treated Britain like a Moscow hotel mattress. God, we deserved it. The event served most tellingly as a vicious satire on British public life, with every fevered reaction to it recalling Sybil Fawlty’s assessment of her husband’s Basil’s way with guests. “You never get it right, do you? You’re either crawling all over the them, licking their boots, or spitting poison at them like some Benzedrined puff adder.”
And so with the entire political class, who spent three days either fawning over this Nascar royal wedding, or shriekingly defining themselves against it to boost their personal brands. Much better to have treated Trump with the exquisitely polite disinterest of a competent hotelier – perhaps the only language he understands.
Instead, he was welcomed as grist to our dark satanic content mills. Rolling news offered the 24-hour spectacle of Britain being borne back ceaselessly into its past, while our best hope for the future is apparently to beg for a few scraps of chlorinated chicken in exchange for a go on the NHS.
In some ways, Trump ended up a plot device, his subservience to proceedings underlining the curious indignity of any visiting world leader. All superpower guests have to go along with the place settings and the artefact-cooing and the floor-length reminders that the British were the best at things once, until they weren’t. If you’d taken a drink every time someone said “pomp” or “pageantry”, you’d have been dead before Trump got out of the airport.
Smart call. All the 4,876 most boring things to be said in the UK this year were said during these three days, usually over footage of Trump inspecting troops and D-Day veterans with the imperious nod of a five-time draft dodger who described avoiding STDs in 1980s Manhattan as “my personal Vietnam”.
Much as a toddler intimidated by a new present will play with the box instead, Trump dealt with the aspects of the visit that were beyond his skillset by returning to areas firmly within it. In Westminster Abbey, he was shown a white marble slab commemorating the Romantic poet Lord Byron, and took the opportunity to ask what stone the flooring was made from. Doubtless it will make a lovely splashback when they refit the executive bathroom at Mar-a-Lago.
“Oh to be a fly on that wall at that meeting!” anchors kept saying, underscoring the comical lack of access as Trump met Nigel Farage or whoever, while they went on about how long it took to lay the dinner table. Some meetings were more intriguing than others. Fair play to third-string Tories Owen Paterson and Iain Duncan Smith for driving into the ambassador’s residence like a couple of wedding crashers, having somehow managed to convince Trump they were relevant.
You spend a lifetime cringing at Prince Philip insulting people, and the one time you want him to, he’s retired
There was the usual obsession with hardware. “In a sense,” mused one pundit, “I’m out of my depth as to how motorcades work”. Some cars follow each other. Next? “These guns saw action in the first World War.” Well, that is now only the second most senseless waste in which they’ve been involved. Who could give one-tenth of a toss about “The Beast”, the most annoyingly anthropomorphised vehicle since Duchess Fergie wrote her Budgie the Helicopter series?
In Ma’am Darling, Craig Brown’s brilliantly naughty book about Princess Margaret, the author marvels at the fist-gnawingly dull ways in which the royals are covered. Passages from various royal biographies are quoted, including one describing in remorseless detail the manner in which Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip would make their regular short journey between Windsor Castle and the Guards Polo Club, also in Windsor. “Sometimes,” this ran, “instead of changing into polo gear at the castle, Prince Philip was seen changing, quite uncomfortably, in his automobile, sitting sideways, the door open, pulling his breeches on. Then he would stand up to fasten the belt…”
The state visit was exactly this, but for three straight days. I lost count of how many attempts to avoid a million cubic miles of dead air were prefaced by the lie: “What’s going to be so interesting is…” You could imagine that all correspondents had compiled one sheet of mildly tolerable factoids for when Trump was out of eyeshot, a second sheet of lesser trivia, a third sheet for absolute desperation, and a fourth in case nuclear apocalypse required the station to keep on broadcasting so that viewers could hear at least the sound of another human voice as they succumbed to radiation. We were always on page four. As Marine One landed behind the US ambassador’s residence, someone talked at length about “the reaction of the wind of the propellers on the grass…”
Countless moments would have been best served by silence. Sarah Huckabee Sanders scowling out of an upper window of Buckingham Palace like Mrs Danvers. A close-up of Trump’s preposterously ill-fitting attire for the state banquet, a far more disrespectful act of tailoring than even the time the late Alexander McQueen sewed the words “I am a c**t” inside the lining of a suit for Prince Charles. Any footage of Melania Trump, whose miserable countenance seems living testament to the old adage that when you marry for money, you earn every penny.
Any laughs? I enjoyed someone who used to work in the US embassy describing Melania as “a great diplomat”, as well as the talking heads who felt they had to be a bit American. On one atrocity of a Sky News panel, right-wing commentator James Delingpole kept saying “Hello?!”, apparently under the impression that the occasion required him to come as a 1990s Valley Girl. Meanwhile, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, whose grandeur far outstrips the queen’s, spent Tuesday morning explaining why she wasn’t at the state dinner: “I had to write to the palace saying please don’t invite me on this occasion, as I would embarrass everybody by having to say no.” So good of you to spare their universal blushes. Would you accept a posy as a token of admiration?
As far as the real royals go, Camilla’s possible wink at the cameras was greeted by some as “epic trolling”. Incorrect. The Tea Act of 1773 was epic trolling. Or to put it another way, in the profit column I’ve got “a £40 million state visit”, and in the loss column I’ve got “a wink”. Wake up. That said, I did miss our former best player. You spend a lifetime cringing at Prince Philip insulting people, and the one time you want him to, he’s retired.
Still, we shan’t miss people remarking archly that “Donald Trump is getting what he wanted out of it.” As are you, dear! In fact, we might go so far as to say that everyone from the Trumps to Jeremy Corbyn to Farage to half the Tory leadership field “got what they wanted out of it”. The whole political class were on the grift just as much as Trump. The only people to not “get what they wanted out of it” – and really, it’s such a tiny constituency – were people who think that Britain’s mad nostalgia and political self-harm is at an advanced clinical stage, and that just because we’ve found the one person more of a basket case than us, doesn’t mean we’re winning. – Guardian
Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist