Sunday, June 2, 2019

State Visit

Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), the "Iron Chancellor" who did more than anyone else to create a united Germany, is supposed to have said that the greatest political fact of modern times was "the inherited and permanent fact that North America speaks English." Indeed, this week's 75th anniversary of D-Day should be a perfect opportunity to celebrate that providential fact and to highlight the "special relationship" between the United States and the United Kingdom. This it should do even though the State Visit to the UK by the present President of the United States may prove to be an emotionally fraught occasion for both countries - and especially for a Britain now in the midst of its own leadership crisis.

Of course, Trump's host, Queen Elizabeth II, has had decades of experience entertaining foreign leaders, not all of them easy to deal with, and some of them genuine scoundrels. Her worst experience perhaps was the 1978 state visit of the infamous Communist Dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceaucescu  - whom the Queen called "that frightful little man" - and his equally abominable wife, both of whom were summarily executed when Romania liberated itself from communism 11 years later. She has also hosted Idi Amin and Mobutu Sese Seko. There have been far worse people on the planet than Trump, and the Queen has survived her obligatory encounters with them. The Queen knows her duty and will offer Trump a properly polite royal welcome, which is more than can be said for certain British politicians (among them, the Leader of the Opposition and the Speaker of the House of Commons), who have declined invitations to tonight's State Dinner, although they showed no such qualms about entertaining the President of China recently. (For his part, the Chinese President politely rode in the royal coach with the Queen, as is the custom on these occasions, something the security obsessed Americans will not let Trump do.)

It remains to be seen how Trump will behave himself in London. He has not resisted the temptation to wade further into British politics at this particularly perilous time when the Prime Minister is a lame duck and her successor has yet to be chosen. But, be that as it may, the grand ceremonial of this State Visit, combined with the solemn commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, ought to remind all involved that, however much (as Cassius said to Brutus about Julius Caesar) "he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus, and we petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about," the links between the U.S. and the U.K. and the traditions and values we commonly share are more deeply rooted and hopefully longer lasting than even Donald Trump's embarrassing narcissistic antics.

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