Whatever happens after the White House “summit” on Friday, any special relationship’n’apple pie double podium platitudefest will not pay homage to the scene in Love Actually.
If Theresa May privately longs to do a Hugh Grant and give a repulsive President an unscheduled character reading, publicly she will be respectful deference itself.
In the movie, Grant’s PM was provoked to tell Tommy Lee Jones’s neanderthal President what he thought of him by the latter’s groping of Martine McCutcheon. May also disapproves of that sort of caper, as she thin-lippedly says whenever asked about the pussy-grabbing. But the glories that unfold in a Richard Curtis utopia tend to be absentees in even as unreal a real world as the one now led by Donald Trump.
In the mid-Sixties, Harold Wilson angrily told a critic of his failure to lacerate Lyndon Johnson over Vietnam: “You don’t kick your creditors in the balls.” The United States is more than just our creditor now. With Britain’s impending isolation from Europe, a quick and favourable trade deal appears the only hope of easing the oncoming agony. Whoever foresaw Donald Trump as the powerful analgesic for the Brexit hangover? The hair of the dog, perhaps. But not Nurofen Plus.
For more than 70 years, Anglo-US affairs have been riven with humiliation. After the Second World War, the economist John Maynard Keynes, ill with a heart condition, spent months begging the Federal Reserve for a loan to stave off British bankruptcy. Every time he asked for more, they offered less.
Long before Dubya inserted the “Yo” between the Tony and the Blair, Margaret Thatcher was outraged when her beloved Ronald Reagan invaded Grenada without the courtesy of any advance warning. Earlier still, Reagan maintained studied neutrality during the Falklands conflict for fear of offending an equally important ally in the charming form of Argentina’s fascist junta.
So while we all enjoy the Love Actually fantasy, a better fictional template for this passive aggressive relationship (we’re passive, they’re aggressive) comes from a more cynical drama. Britain is Molly Hooper to America’s Sherlock – crazy in love, and desperate just to be noticed, but treated with a disdain bordering on cruelty even when she is of use to him.
When Molly gives Sherlock a thoughtful Christmas present, he makes a total fool of her. When a lovelorn Gordon Brown gave Barack Obama a pen-holder made from the wood of an anti-slave ship), the Prez returned the compliment with a hurriedly rewrapped DVD movie box set you could get off eBay for £25 quid.
Yet in the BBC’s gibberish-riven most recent episode, a cuddlier Sherlock showed proper affection for Molly when her life was in danger. Perhaps Trump will do the same on Friday when May will have the “honer”, as he spells it, of becoming the first foreign leader he entertains as President.
Thanks to his mother’s Scottish roots and his golfing interests in Scotland, Trump claims to love the UK. You can take that unseasoned or with the contents of Siberia’s largest salt mine. He has also claimed to love China, the Saudis, Mexico, the Mormons, his own protesters and, most memorably, the poorly educated.
But if he really is fond of us, May will be rehearsing to play on that. No ordinary President would let personal feeling dictate a major trade deal. But this one, as you may have noticed, ain’t ordinary. He runs on emotion, does not love convention, and – as Vladimir Putin would confirm – is susceptible to flattery.
You have to sympathise with May. The pressure to ingratiate herself to facilitate a deal will be pulverising, and she is not natural sycophant. Restrained, brittle, even a little gauche, she looks lavishly unsuited to the task of her greasing herself, Blair-fashion, into the presidential colon.
Grease she must, however. Masking the natural distaste will be the least of it. In a brutal diplomatic version of lying back and thinking of England, she will have to project active pleasure in his attentions.
We learn from sources allegedly close to him that Trump is so keen to reprise the Reagan-Thatcher relationship that he already refers to May as “my Maggie”. On one level, that seems appropriate. The Maggie May of Rod Stewart’s song has a relationship with an immature adolescent “just to stop you from feeling alone”, and it must be hellish lonely being British PM right now
But there the appropriateness ends and the horrific self-abasement begins. Trump is reportedly asking for a Full Monty-state visit (yes, The Donald, you can keep your hair on) to outdo all previous ones in its pomp and pageantry. Specifically, he wants to play nine holes on the private golf course at Balmoral.
If the Queen herself became golf history’s oldest first-time caddie, it would be the ideal representation of the relationship between Brexit Britain and Donald Trump’s United States of America First: an ancient wheezing geriatric doing the heavy lifting for a nasty, emotionally stunted bully in the hope of being bunged a big enough tip to keep the bailiffs at bay a little longer.
This is the reality for May in an unfathomably surreal world. So wish her God speed and the very best of British, and pray she can divest herself of every stitch of dignity and any principles she may have without blushing crimson at her naked reflection in the mirror newly installed on the Oval Office ceiling.
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