President Donald Trump talked about the “eternal friendship” between the United Kingdom and the United States at a state banquet in his honor at Buckingham Palace on Monday night.
During the first major event of his three-day visit, he praised the courage of the British people during World War II and called his host, Queen Elizabeth II, a “great, great woman.”
“In that dark hour, the people of this nation showed the world what it means to be British,” he said, adding that their bravery ensured that the destiny of the country “remained in your own hands.”
Trump appeared to relish being treated to the splendor and opulence unique to the British Monarchy. But then, this is all part of a trip which will include a military spectacle marking the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings.
The anniversary has become part of presidential pilgrimages since the Ronald Reagan years in the 1980s, emphasizing the deep and enduring partnership between the UK and the US, which is rooted in a common history and shared interests.
“This state visit will reaffirm the steadfast and special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. In addition to meeting the Queen, the president will participate in a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May,” a White House spokesman said.
But with growing protests in Britain, clashes within the intelligence agencies over accusations of British spying on Trump’s presidential campaign, political intermixing with Brexit deals over Europe and trade deals with China and Mexico, many Britons question whether that solidarity and unity actually exist.
Gravity and splendor
Still, the histrionic display of Anglo-American unity at Buckingham Palace stood in stark contrast to the rough-and-tumble politics and popular unease in the UK over Brexit.
In any other country, a state visit immediately after the resignation of a prime minister would seem incongruous. In Britain, May’s departure and the raucous fight over her succession are inconsequential, because the monarchy remains the head of state.
Under these circumstances, the Trump visit sets in relief the gravity and splendor of the monarchy on the world stage during a moment of political instability.
The visit commenced with a Horse Guards Parade, with a procession of unparalleled magnificence. The Guard of Honor reported to President Trump before his state visit to Buckingham Palace in a carriage procession escorted by a complement of mounted soldiers from the Household Cavalry. The welcome was then punctuated by 21-gun salutes fired from Green Park and the Tower of London.
According to the Prime Minister’s office, the D-Day 75th Anniversary event will be “one of the greatest British military spectacles in recent history,” featuring a flypast of 26 types of RAF aircraft and at least 11 Royal Navy ships in the Solent, the strait separating the mainland from the Isle of Wight.
Huawei rollout threat?
Trump, of course, is planning for something of a spectacle of his own. The Financial Times reported May 30 that he will threaten to cut the UK off from crucial US intelligence unless it boycotts the Chinese technology giant Huawei in the roll-out of Britain’s 5G mobile network.
May said in April that the UK would not accede to his demand. That is a jarring contrast to the mood of historical reverence that the D-Day celebrations are supposed to evoke.
Trump has also alluded to possible meetings with May’s prospective successors such as Boris Johnson. In between the pomp and pleasantries, the tours of art galleries and Westminster Abbey, the president will advance a rough-edged political agenda that to many looks like America meddling in Britain’s internal affairs.
Some UK observers worry that the commemoration of D-Day may be disturbed by Trump’s brawling style. That would be unfortunate because the event is a unique window between generations.
Presiding over the ceremonies is a queen who at the age of 18 stood at the side of her father King George VI and met wartime leaders Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. The Queen, of course, is not only Britain’s sovereign but the repository of its national memory.
She has a unique capacity to communicate the character of a past that is at risk of being forgotten.
Direct link to WWII
Millennials no longer have a direct connection to the end of World War II. The idea that one once served in the military with enthusiasm, patriotism and purpose is almost lost in the future generation. With a shrinking British military, masses of young people have lost their purpose and direction in today’s political climate.
And they will be using the platform to mobilize protests – with the impasse over Brexit and Trump policies – by engaging in tactics, such as the return of the “Baby Trump” inflatable over Trafalgar Square. Yet demonstrators will be met by pro-Trump campaigners, who are expected to attend a counter-protest. There are even plans to launch a giant float of Trump dressed as the Emperor from the Warhammer 40,000 game series.
But there is no denying that the president’s visit has been controversial with a YouGov poll showing that more than half of the people of London, or 54%, felt he should not have been invited. Less than a quarter agreed with the decision.
“The UK should not be ‘rolling out the red carpet’ for Donald Trump,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said. He was not alone in his views. Labour MP Stephen Doughty felt the state visit was “bonkers.”
Meghan and Ivanka
Still, the Buckingham Palace PR team has diplomatically navigated the Meghan Markle issue. The Duchess of Sussex will not be taking part in official engagements after the birth of her child to Prince Harry.
There has been open hostility between the two since she called Trump “divisive and misogynistic” on The Night Show with Larry Wilmore in 2016. Sources close to the Palace did reveal, however, that a private meeting will take place between Meghan and Ivanka Trump.
In his book Meghan: A Hollywood Princess, Andrew Morton said: “Before Donald Trump entered the race for the presidency, one of her female idols was businesswoman Ivanka Trump.”
Whatever the differences, the monarchy, epitomized by the Queen, deftly dealt with the situation with pomp and ceremony.