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Letting Trump Visit Leaves Nowhere To Hide

31/01/2017 11:59
DanBrandenburg via Getty Images

To be fair to Donald Trump - and it does seem an awful lot of statements regarding the 45th President of the United States that are not immediately negative start with a qualifier of some kind - he's doing exactly what he said he would. It doesn't make it any less repellent of course, but there is, for once, a garbled sort of consistency to his actions. That consistency has seen him rush through a gamut of deplorable actions culminating in a blanket travel ban for refugees and citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

As has been the case since he first threw his hat into the ring for the presidency, there are plenty refusing to watch on in silence. Amidst mounting worldwide condemnation, more than a million people in the UK have signed a petition demanding the cancellation of Trump's proposed state visit. This is only a small sign of the bind the British government is in. Prime Minister Theresa May finds herself stuck between a Brexit rock and an odious Trump shaped hard place, forced to bend the knee in a desperate bid to make friends and influence people.

When the UK decided to cast off from a continent it's never been willing to properly engage with (unless centuries of internecine warfare count), rhetoric regularly came back to the much hyped "special relationship" with the US. Who needs petty squabbling EU bureaucrats when we can soar beside the majestic American eagle? That scenario didn't account for the rise of Donald J. Trump, a controversial figure to say the least.

He certainly has his fans in the UK, though some of those clustering around prove a good measure of the man. Just watch Nigel Farage slobbering all over Trump in a desperate bid to soak in a little more glory. Then there's Michael Gove, a man who once apparently held principles himself, rushing to soft-soap the new overlord. Theresa May, a decent and dignified person in all the ways Trump isn't, surely can't approve of the man, but she's also complicit in digging the hole the UK is now in, and she too finds herself prostrate before him.

For others he's gone too far. The travel ban, haphazardly applied in a storm of contradictory statements, has irked many a world leader. Just north of Trump, the Canadian Prime Minster met hate with love. Over in Europe, the French President, admittedly not under pressure to run for election again, has been strident in his opposition. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, very much an active politician and certainly the most influential in the EU, has added her voice. There are countless others trying to ensure the EU remains a beacon of goodwill and civility, while the UK slinks slowly away.

Brexit leaves the UK in desperate need of friends. European allies have been alienated and a sharp economic cliff threatens if the exit is not managed well. There's much talk of engaging with the rest of the world, and that starts with America. A longstanding English speaking ally with a powerhouse economy and a broadly similar approach to trade and world relations should tick all the boxes. Then along comes President Trump making it all so much more unpalatable.

Thus Theresa May dashes over to be the first foreign leader to meet him, standing side-by-side and affirming close ties in the name of a quick trade deal and the continued embrace of the US military machine. She's stuck maintaining a brittle smile while he signs order after disgraceful order, clouding his presidency before he's even moved all the furniture in. And then, while Downing Street crows over its place as first amongst supplicants, the clouds gather over the Prime Minister leaving her facing hostile questions and boos, because she won't offer more than mealy mouthed disapproval of his actions.

But not everyone has been so quiet. Politicians across the aisle are raising concerns and protesters continue to pop up making clear their distaste for the US President and the warm welcome the UK seems intent on enveloping him in. It took little time for over a million to sign the petition calling for an end to his state visit. It's the kind of action that lifts spirits without being the right course. Trump is the one closing off conversation wherever he finds it. He shouldn't be met by his own medicine. We are better than his gutter politics, or we should at least aspire to be. Besides, if the UK is going to cleave to him, we can't have it both ways.

Instead Trump should arrive with all the pomp and ceremony the fast fading glory of Britain can muster. He should stand next to Theresa May while the two of them face a barrage of angry and humiliating questions. If our government wants to cosy up, it must face the opprobrium that comes with such a decision. If our government wants to sell its soul to the highest bidder, it shouldn't be done in secret, away from a disapproving public. If engaging with Trump is shameful and we're going to do it anyway, it should be up there centre stage where all can see.

As for Trump, meet him with a sea of peaceful protesters and a hail of boos and push the images around the world. Many a politician suffers from an inflated ego, but few have such a toxic mix of extreme self-regard and fragility. He can't see a picture of his inauguration crowd without working himself into a lather. He can't let his defeat in the popular vote sit, picking at the wound endlessly. Let him come, and show he's welcome but his views aren't. There'll be no hiding place when everywhere he looks he finds anger, disgust, and dislike. After all, there's nothing a bully hates more than to be made small while everyone watches on.

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