Britain's "special relationship" is nothing special.
Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at Andrew's Air Force Base in Washington DC, USA, ahead of Friday's meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House. (Picture by Stefan Rousseau PA Wire/PA Images)
Nobody in America knows who Theresa May is. The new President of the United States, who she is the first foreign leader to meet, thinks she's a stern English auntie he forgot all about until she happened to see him in the news. White House staff misspelled her name on a memo about the upcoming meeting – dropping the "h" and making it seem like a glamour model who starred in the Prodigy's video for "Smack My Bitch Up" was flying in to strike a deal with Trump.
The great sleek American bureaucracy, the thousands of suited government wonks who make it their business to appear to know about absolutely everything, are vaguely aware that Margaret Thatcher rose from the grave while they were busy caring about more important things, to lead her country once more. The American people, the kindest and most generous people you will ever meet, are now absolutely certain that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is someone called Mr Brexit. Britain might have a special relationship with the US, but so does Israel, and Taiwan, and Japan, and just about everyone else: we tell ourselves that we're important, but we're nothing of the sort. When Theresa May arrived in America, like every washed-up Brit who can't hack life at home, she became instantly anonymous. Just like me.
I came to America to watch Donald Trump's inauguration, with the vague idea of watching the American left try to resist its horrifying new government and drawing some lessons for how we in our sorry and sinking island might hope to do the same. I watched limousines burning behind heavy ranks of riots cops; I watched the largest political protest in American history surge into the streets of Washington and then melt away again; I watched the face of Donald Trump leer at me from TVs in every Greyhound station in every city I went to; and for consolation I watched the video of Richard Spencer getting decked over and over again. I didn't expect to be offering advice to our own skinnier, pettier, meaner Donald Trump – but since she's decided to follow me, here's what she can expect in the strange new America that's being birthed, blood-splattered and screaming, before our eyes.
The first thing she should realise is that she's not, in fact, the first. May is not the only British politician to jet off across the Atlantic, nostrils sniffing for a fat orange Cheeto-toe to lick. As I wandered aimlessly around the sub-Milton Keynes hellhole that is Washington DC on inauguration day, being alternately charmed and repulsed by the great silent crowds of Trump supporters with their big enamel grins and their "Make America Great Again" hats, I found myself being stalked by a banshee, a hideous grinning creature I thought I'd left behind in the UK. All anybody wanted to talk about was Nigel Farage.
For months Farage had been following Trump around on his campaign, slimy and sycophantic as only a Brit can be, and Americans (who, despite all their national guff about all men being created equal, can't resist a bit of old-school hierarchy) loved him for it. You try to be A Journalist, you try to be calm and objective in all your interactions with people – but then they say those words, Nigel Farage, the oleaginous syllables that sit like a slug on your tongue, grinning happily in the hope of mutual approval. Every time his name came up horrifying visions would invade my mind. A greasy, lubed-up Nigel Farage butt-plug, plunging headfirst into the waiting American heartland. A thousand scurrying Nigel Farages on the march, swarming through the blackened muck of the New York City subway to spread their disease. Farage, falling with the bombs over London, to seize the governorship of America's 51st State.
I must have winced, involuntarily, because they always changed the subject. (In the end all my nightmares were realised on a corner just north of the Capitol, where I saw the man himself puffing at a fag with a bevy of equally grim acolytes. What else could I do? I shouted "wanker!" at him and he snapped around to face me with a strange look, half weariness and half surprise, the look of a man who's had "wanker!" shouted at him all his life, but who didn't expect it to happen to him here.) But when Theresa May sits down with Donald Trump to carve out the world for evil, she will feel what I felt, because this is Farage country now.
It's not that Theresa May might not pick up a few tips and tricks on how to more efficiently ruin the world from her new colleagues in Washington. For days now, half the country has stood shellshocked as the Trump regime landed a blistering assault, blow after blow, on what they had thought was a political consensus around a few general standards of decency. Another half, of course, is giddy, frothing, flapping about in a sugar-rush of undiluted repression. In the space of a few hours, Trump announced that he really would be building the wall, he really would be banning Muslims from entering the country (if they have the temerity to be from one of the countries that America is bombing, that is); he really would open an investigation into election fraud based on an anecdote about people who looked a bit dark-skinned being allowed to go to the polls when an impeccably white German citizen wasn't.
Every stupid and irresponsible thing Trump announced during the campaign, everything we told ourselves couldn't actually happen – it's all happening. It helps that a lot of this was already happening – there's already a wall along much of the Mexican border, there are already visa restrictions on people from some majority-Muslim countries, there is already massive voter suppression – but for Theresa May, who's mostly threatened future evils through laconic ambiguity ("Brexit means Brexit"), the example of Trump might give her some confidence. You can say that you intend to blow up the world, and soon you'll find that there's nobody to stop you.
Most of all, though, Theresa May might learn what she really looks like, reflected in the vast mirror of the United States. For all her fawning and grovelling over the new child-king across the Atlantic, it's pretty certain that she doesn't really like Trump all that much. All his new-money brashness, his wrong type of sexism, his grand mythopoeic violence decked out in gold and marble – it's entirely foreign to the prim, petty, insular viciousness of common-or-garden English Toryism. Tongue-bathing American potentates is just what British politicians do. But when that potentate is someone as puckered and disgusting as Donald Trump, it's possible – just possible – that our Prime Minister might look out across his rolling waves of flesh, melding into the grand landscapes of this endless country, and realise what a tiny person she really is.
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