As I’ve suggested on this site, political operatives on both sides of the Atlantic should find a way of pulling Trump’s state visit, which promises to be a disaster for everyone. But if they can’t, how should they make the best of it?
He has to meet the Queen – she won’t be “embarrassed” in the slightest – but the ceremonial element of the trip must be played down. Rather, Trump should come on a work visit with clear themes of focus. Above all: “Brexit, Security and Provincial Renewal”.
There will be massive demonstrations whatever, but they’ll lose some of their moral power if the watching public are reminded that Trump is the President of the most powerful country in the world – someone we need to make Brexit work and to guarantee European security.
London is lost to Trump. But a big chunk of the provincal English lower middle class might collectively roll their eyes at demonstrators if Trump comes as a willing partner to deliver things they care about – in places they care about. This is the best that Number 10 and Trump can hope for, and they should plan on this basis. What does that mean in practice?
Of course there will need to be a couple of state dinners in London and all the usual meetings with dignitaries. But the only way to make Trump’s visit work will be to hold a small number of made-for-TV events that help tell a story that the mass of voters in provincial England, particularly, will respond to.
The most obvious option would be to visit both British and American armed forces bases – with the two visits underlining his commitment to the ongoing role of the US in defending Europe. The pictures would be good – serving men and women will behave impeccably – and it will send a useful message to Russia and the rest of the world that the NATO alliance is strong.
Another good option would be to visit one of the new expanded ports that have recently opened and that allow even larger ships to load and unload in the UK – and some of the people that work there. This would give Trump and May to talk about the new trade deals that Britain hopes to shape with the outside world as we leave the EU. Again, they ought to be reasonably controlled, given the security that surrounds such sites.
Other options might be: visiting major sites of infrastructure; touring privately-owned high tech manufacturing businesses; meeting with a small group of businesspeople that are expanding post-Brexit; visiting places of historical interest with a security/military link. A little dull, perhaps, but that’s no bad thing.
That said, there will need to be a few surprises in there too: maybe something like a private visit to meet UK special forces or intelligence operatives (the latter might mend a few fences); or a visit to a tough group of community project leaders that have helped regenerate their area by cutting crime.
I’m aware this all suggests that Trump will be like a typical foreign head of state visiting – one that pretends to ignore demonstrations and that lets his or her staff play down whatever happens in the name of diplomacy. In reality, Trump will make the news by what he says in person and on Twitter. But at least such a schedule would provide decent context for a trip.