“A bully, a braggart, a proven liar, a failure as a businessman who inherited his wealth, a sexual predator, a Russian agent of influence if not actually in the country’s pay, a woman-beater, misogynist and racist – or else a whipper-up of racism for political gain, which if anything is even worse. As well as a serial tax avoider, hypocrite, smear merchant, Islamophobe, narcissist, conspiracy theorist and supporter of torture.”
All this and more has been said of Donald Trump, we wrote after he won America’s presidential election, adding as a footnote that “much of it is true”. Office has more than reinforced our below-floor estimation of his character. Trump may not known that the author of a rubbish anti-Muslim tweet that he retweeted was a British fascist leader. But he showed selfish disregard for America’s relationship with Britain when he reproved Theresa May on Twitter for the very mildest of complaints. It is tempting to conclude that no Democrat replacement in 2020 could possibly be worse than a President who helps to legitimise the Alt-Right.
Be careful what you wish for. When weighing up Trump, it is worth wrenching one’s gaze away from Twitter and looking instead at America. Our columnist Ben Roback asked recently: is the United States working? Since he wrote, government has closed. But these standoffs between president and Congress are not unknown; and not all the machinery of state grinds to a halt. As Roback pointed out, Trump got his tax bill through. Unemployment is at a seven year low. Business confidence has risen. The security mainstays of his team are very competent indeed: H.R McMaster and James Mattis. Relations with his party in Congress have been patched up.
For certain, it can be argued that Trump is stoking an unsustainable boom, and that the Mueller investigation, or some new revelation, may bring him down: that wouldn’t be a surprising end for a man who seems to see life as a TV reality show. But on foreign policy, Trump hasn’t done at all badly to date. His strike on Syria had the desired effect. ISIS is crumbling under American firepower. There remains the terrifying possibility that he will miscalculate over North Korea, and grown-up diplomacy isn’t best conducted via social media. But remember: his predecessors all failed to rein in the rogue state. They were less provocative, but no more effective.
The brutal reality is that Britain needs the country Trump governs, and so by extension needs the President himself – for security, for a post-Brexit trade deal, for prosperity. Boris Johnson is doing himself no favours by making the case for a Trump visit to Britain in today’s Sunday Telegraph. But this unconventional politician is acting exactly as a conventional Foreign Secretary should: straining to transform the mood music – for without change, a Trump visit won’t stand a chance of getting a polite reception, let alone an enthusiastic one; and if that isn’t possible, at least showing the White House that he’s prepared to make the case for America.
The President has been to Germany, Poland, Italy and, please note, France – where Emmanuel Macron, that ineffable showboater, made the most of it. If all of these can roll out the red carpet and grit their teeth – remembering not to do it the other way round – it is surely possible for Britain to do the same. Not least when we have welcomed the likes of China’s President without complaint. Johnson will be familiar with 1066 and All That. As its authors might have put it, his initiative is Repulsive but Right.