Afraid. Aghast. Amazed. Amused. Angry. Appalled. Apprehensive. Astonished. Astounded. These words reflect British opinion about the new U.S. president. And they’re just the ones beginning with A.
Similar to the referendum in which U.K. voters decided to leave the European Union (EU), Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton was a shock here, although there can scarcely be an electorate in the Western world that’s more suspicious of opinion polls and experts than the British, after unexpected results in the 2015 general election and the 2016 EU referendum.
We live in a time of surprising political developments, when the post-World War II liberal ascendency is under threat—partly because its policies (for example, on globalization and immigration) have alienated substantial segments of Western electorates who feel they have not gained from them. This has provided populist politicians with a sizable constituency.
More evidence of this will appear in upcoming national elections in France, the Netherlands, and Germany.
Trump caught this wave in the U.S. Of course, it couldn’t happen in the U.K. First off, you have to be a direct descendant of George III to be head of state. Becoming prime minister means many years of grinding through the political mincing machine to get to be party leader. The nearest we have to Trump is Nigel Farage, a former businessman, who through his leadership of the U.K. Independence Party was more responsible for Brexit than anyone.
It’s no coincidence that Farage and Trump seemed to have some sort of bromance in the run-up to the presidential election. Following the second presidential debate, Farage described Trump as “like a big silverback gorilla” who dominated Clinton and the moderators. Who’s feeding the bananas to whom, I wonder?
His Poll Numbers Aren’t Great in the U.K. Either
Back on Planet Earth, an October 2016 poll by YouGov on what people in seven European countries thought of Trump and Clinton put her way ahead. Just 4% of those polled in the U.K. thought Trump would make a great or good president, while 67% thought he would be terrible. I suspect that number’s even higher now.
Some 19% thought Clinton would be a great or good president, compared to 11% who told pollsters she would be terrible. Digging deeper, the same poll of 1,631 British adults found that 59% were interested in the presidential election, while 39% of them said that—if they could—they would vote Democrat, 8% would vote Republican, and the rest didn’t know or would not vote. If they had a vote, 8% of Britons polled said they’d vote Trump, and 59% Clinton.
Only 8% thought Trump would win. When he did, phone-in radio programs—admittedly often the preserve of the mad, bad, and dangerous to know—played host to some virulent comments. I particularly liked a tweet on a talk show’s Twitter page that said Trump’s win was “like digging my eyeballs out with a rusty spoon.” Really? Another commenter said the win was “like throwing up.” Not in my experience.
God Save the Queen
Now the U.S. president’s policy decisions are causing some anger on this side of the Atlantic. The election revelations about his dealings with (and comments on) women had alienated many, as has the follow-through on his promise to bar entry to Muslims entering the U.S.
The latter sentiment triggered a 2015 online petition calling for Trump to be banned from entering the U.K. This attracted 586,930 signatures. It was dismissed by the government with the tart comment, “The Government has a policy of not routinely commenting on individual immigration or exclusion cases.”
Trump’s recent ruling on banning people from seven mainly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days has sent his U.K. opponents into a frenzy. Another petition to stop him from conducting a state visit as president “because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen” has attracted more than 1.8 million signatures, and we’ve been treated to demonstrations in cities that have, significantly, large student populations.
A counter petition approving a Trump state visit has garnered about more than 300,000 signatures, while a YouGov poll released on Feb. 1, 2017, found that 49% of those asked wanted the event to happen, while 36% didn’t.
Protesters say they don’t want the queen to be put in the position of meeting Trump. I suspect many—as I did in my largely wasted student years—rather enjoy demonstrations and the inevitable booze-up that follows. Politicians too have jumped on the ban-Trump bandwagon—for example, London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan. If there was a Nobel Prize for photo-opportunism, he would win it hands down.
Incidentally, in October 2016, U.K. foreign secretary and leading buffoon Boris Johnson—who was born in New York—called on Britons to demonstrate outside Russia’s embassy about its role in the bombing of Aleppo, Syria, which was surely a rather more serious event than Trump’s ban. Heroically, one person turned up.
Undoubtedly, Her Majesty would take Trump in her 90-year-old stride. In the past, she’s met with far worse: Robert Mugabe, Bashar al-Assad, Nicolae Ceausescu, Vladimir Putin, and Xi Jinping have all scraped their forks on royal crockery.
It’s a racing certainty that the Trump state visit invitation offered by Prime Minister Theresa May will go ahead. The U.K. electorate’s decision to disobey orders and vote to leave the EU has left her government with the rolling-stones-uphill task of trying to make free trade deals with non-EU countries.
These can’t be done until the U.K. quits the EU; however, a deal with the U.S. would be a big prize for the U.K. government. But having read his magnum opus The Art of the Deal, it’s clear Trump knows the value of leverage and will drive a hard bargain with the U.K. This may include elements that will not play well with the British electorate.
His Scottish Heritage
As Tory Member of Parliament Simon Burns wrote in the Daily Mail in January 2017, “Trump will not do us any favours. He is a ruthless businessman and will want any deal heavily slanted in favour of the US.” Trump, of course, has serious U.K. connections.
His mother, Mary MacLeod, was born in Scotland in 1912 and brought up there. And Trump was the flavor of the month in Scotland when developing a large golf complex near Aberdeen.
In 2010, Robert Gordon University–Aberdeen—ranked 64th out of 127 universities in the U.K.—awarded Trump an honorary doctorate of business administration in “recognition of his business acumen, [and] entrepreneurial vision. …” He was stripped of the doctorate in December 2015 after calling for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.
For a time, Trump was also a GlobalScot business ambassador, appointed by the Scottish government in 2006. Scotland’s current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stripped him of this post in December 2015 after his ban-Muslims stance.
Bizarrely, in 2010, fashion and textile students at Robert Gordon University–Aberdeen were designing Trump corporate tartans. Whether these made the catwalks of Aberdeen, I know not.
To say that Trump polarizes opinion in the U.K. is an understatement. But he is president of our most important partner and ally and therefore will enjoy a close relationship with May’s government, especially when it comes to trade, defense, and foreign policy. However, in the reality TV show that the Trump presidency resembles, who knows what’s coming next?
Hell, given his ancestry, the Great Deal Maker could even apply for British citizenship. Americans may also ponder that New York-born Johnson in theory could run for U.S. office. Just imagine a Trump-Johnson joint ticket. Who’d be the silverback then?