Mr Trump, meet Her Majesty the Queen - Helen Mirren
Get ready to cringe as the president of the Still-United States meets the PM of the Mostly-United Kingdom
Tomorrow, Donald Trump will be greeted in London by what remains of the British government, which, at the time of writing, was a valet, an astrologer and two tour guides dressed as wombles Great Uncle Bulgaria and Orinoco. Mr Trump will be very impressed.
His itinerary in Britain, like his life, is an exercise in avoiding the filth and squalor of the upper middle class in favour of fantastical displays of excess. He will be whisked from one 18th-century palace to the next, preside over military pomp and be entertained by bagpipers. Or, as he calls it, “brunch”.
He will also meet the queen, an excruciatingly awkward encounter made even more so when he asks her why she signs things “Elizabeth R” and not “Helen Mirren”.This week I’ve seen some South Africans relishing the kitsch shabbiness of Trump’s visit. They have expressed a certain schadenfreude at the prospect of a bigoted buffoon parading around a Disney fantasy of colonial Britain, a sign, they gleefully claim, of two wicked powers in terminal decline.
This is, of course, fairly funny: a South African relishing the prospect of the US or Britain falling on hard times because of terrible leadership is a bit like a steerage passenger on the Titanic laughing at someone falling off a jet-ski.
Still, I catch their general drift, given how the hoary old script of the transatlantic alliance is now being performed by such astonishingly bad actors; actors so rotten, in fact, that they aren’t even bothering to learn the lines. They’re simply talking to the audience: “Hi, yeah, so I’m this guy called Hamlet? And I’m like the King of Scandinavia or something? And I’ve got issues.”
Indeed, the traditional oratory of the Anglo-American romance has become so mediocre that it makes this columnist wonder what some of the most famous presidential speeches might have sounded like had Trump been the man behind the microphone in past decades.
For example, I’m pretty sure that in his 1933 inaugural speech he would have rallied anxious, exhausted Americans by reminding them that “the only thing we have to fear is Mexicans and liberals”.Seven years later, when Winston Churchill called on his people to put up such a fight that it would be remembered for 1,000 years as “their finest hour”, Trump would have sent a telegram at once, explaining that he had enjoyed many fine hours, and at least 10 or 12 finest hours, the finest of all the finest hours.
Likewise, had he been inaugurated in 1961, he would have urged the nation: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Asking is for pussies. You gotta demand it. Or sue. I would sue. Lawsuits. Big, big, lawsuits. Because your country owes you, it’s been unfair for too long.”
And in Berlin in 1987, he would no doubt have gazed into the distance like a big bag of Fanta and said: “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall. Because it’s really badly made, it’s terrible, a horrible wall, because bad hombres, East German hombres, they keep getting over it. I would go like 20 feet higher.”Of course I am being facetious. Had Trump somehow clambered into the Oval Office in 1933, those other iconic speeches would never have happened, mainly because he would have signed a non-aggression pact with the “really great Third Reich” and “its strong, excellent leader, Adolf, good guy, strong on crime, strong on immigrants, strong on borders”, and American inaugurations would have been declared unnecessary and eventually illegal by the Office of Occidental Affairs in Berlin.
Even this, however, is frivolous and perhaps pointless speculation. It is highly unlikely that Trump would have been elected to public office in the 20th century, not because prejudiced populists were unwelcome but because there were more talented ones around.No, everything had to play out exactly as it has for Trump to be what he is: the inheritor of late-stage Pax Americana, an empire built on the wars and adventurism of the 20th century. And, like one of the hedonistic rulers of ancient Rome, the empire is his to play with until he disappears in a puff of tacky debauchery, to become a historical curiosity to be filed under “Decline and fall: contributing factors”.
So is this one of the last meetings between a president of the Still-United States of America and a prime minister of the Mostly United Kingdom? Well, that’s up to the secessionists in California and Scotland. But I reckon they’ll both stagger along for a few more administrations.
Which means for now we can sit back and imagine cringe-comedy that would make Ricky Gervais proud, as President Donald Trump steps boldly forward across a magnificent red carpet to proudly shake the hand of Her Majesty, Helen Mirren.