Donald Trump has had a bad year, to say the least, and there are early indications that 2018 is looking no better for his presidency. Mid-terms on the horizon, a splintered party and a resurgent opposition coupled with the lack of major achievements. Now Trump has a new frustration to fume over. His planned visit to the UK has been downgraded from a State Visit to a ‘working visit’ and slated for early 2018.
The difference is crucial. Great Britain became one of the first nations to invite Donald Trump to their country. A State Visit involves meeting the Royal Family, riding to Buckingham Palace in a gold carriage, attending parades and official ceremonies full of pomp and glamor. There’s gift-giving, national anthems, the guard of honor, 21 gun salute and much more. In short, it is the greatest honor that a country can give to a visiting head of state and the Queen has played hosts to hundreds of heads of state over her 65-year reign.
As ever though, Trump has presented a tricky problem. His brash, bluff and generally undiplomatic turn of phrase means that many were concerned of the Royal Family being embarrassed. Politicians on both sides have condemned Trump’s political actions with even the usually impartial Speaker of the House of Commons declaring that Trump would be barred from addressing Parliament. A petition calling for the State Visit to be shelved gained 1.8 million signatures and Trump has even told Theresa May that he might not come until he gets a better reception in the UK. He might be waiting a long time as many groups have already declared that they will protest his visit.
Instead, Trump is expected to have a ‘working visit’ as part of a tour of several countries in 2018 and with the event scaled down for the most part. He will be speaking of global security as well as opening the new US embassy in London, staying over at the US ambassador’s house rather than Buckingham Palace. It is widely thought that the working visit will be a test run to ensure that Trump will not embarrass himself or the Queen during his State Visit.
State Visits have often courted controversy in the past. Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping all rode in the gold carriage amongst other dictators and all attracted protests. Trump is perhaps an exceptional case and while the State Visit is still set to go on, the scaled-down visit will be a point of annoyance for Trump who revels in parades and military ceremonies. It’s perhaps a first that a US President has to have a trial visit before he meets the Queen. In fact, many foreign leaders have had a State Visit without needing a trial run.
It has also been a sore point for Great Britain as the negative effects of Brexit become clearer and the need to establish good relations with countries outside the EU takes a new urgency. The UK prides itself on its special relationship with America, but Trump’s attacks against London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, his often unwelcome statements on recent terror attacks and his own blustering and often dishonest style has won him few friends or supporters in the UK or in Europe.
No child likes to be told that they can only visit Disneyland if they can get through a tour of a modern art gallery first. The State Visit is still on, but Trump will be less than happy with the change in plans. One thing is for certain: if Trump is still president and the State Visit goes ahead, it’ll certainly be memorable.
All Trump has to do is make sure it’s remembered for the right reasons. Don’t hold your breath.