Back after a long absence and there’s certainly plenty to sound off about. So let’s ease back into things gently. There was a lot of media speculation last month (June 2017) regarding the prospect of a state visit to the UK by President Donald Trump being aborted as a result of a hostile public reception, and particularly as a consequence of the rejection of the proposed visit by London mayor Sadiq Khan following Trump’s misquotation of Khan’s statements regarding the visibly increased police presence on the streets after the 3 June London Bridge terrorist attack.
The problem for the Trump administration team (who I do sometimes find myself in reluctant sympathy with when I consider that their job consists of making retrospective sense of the midnight social media trolling of an ignorant buffoon and integrating it into the national policy of a global superpower) is that avoiding a state visit looks like submitting to the dictates of terrorists or local dissenters who can easily look like terrorist sympathisers and fellow-travellers to the president. Hence the planted speculation in the media last month about some kind of visit to the UK being sneaked into his scheduled vist to France in July.
The other factor involved is, of course, Trump’s exploitation of the traditional American perception of the rest of the world as an alien environment, defined by the random fluctuation between oppressive autocracy, moral turpitude and anarchic terrorist violence. The recent terrorist attacks in London can only have fed into this narrative. Take, for example, what President Trump may have believed to be a recent recent documentary on the subject; ‘London Has Fallen’ (2016).
Clearly anticipating the possible consequences of a presidential visit to London, the prophetic features of this cryptic satire of Trumpism include (spoiler alert!) the traditional Hollywood tropes; smug references to the preferences of the British monarchy for low-brow US popular culture entertainment, and an omnipotent, omniscient and apparently unstoppable middle-eastern terrorist threat facilitated by British treachery until confronted by an omnipotent and omniscient US secret service agent, played by a Scottish actor with lots of guns.
It must be acknowledged that this film has attracted unwarranted criticism for it’s alleged racism. I would reject that thesis on the basis that the film, like Trump himself, does not restrict itself and exploits a wide-ranging xenophobic nationalist contempt for everything that isn’t American, rather than just racism. This is particularly visible in the representation of the inevitable British treachery. Despite the presence of a token SAS soldier on the side of the good guys (the Special Air Service being perhaps the last remaining identifiably British totem acceptably free of potential treachery to the American way of life; virtuous enough as a military elite with sufficient global brand recognition to be admitted to active involvement on the right side yet never quite competent enough to escape the necessity of American leadership), the rest of the British national security apparatus and indeed the whole of British society can be divided into the stupidly befuddled and the openly treacherous. It’s the sheer number of the second element which is so impressive – the inevitable MI5 ‘mole’ is present and correct, but is joined by a host of unidentified but nonetheless often Caucasian goons. Indeed, the terrorists field most of the London Metropolitan Police on their side to enthusiastically join in the machine-gunning and explosive attacks.
My personal favourite example was the case of the Coldstream Guards performing the changing of the guard parade ceremony who understandably seize an ideal opportunity for opening automatic weapons fire on the German chancellor and the surrounding crowds of tourists (the subliminal Brexit subtext being another masterful display of the multi-layered and insightful analysis evident throughout the movie).
Who knew public duties could be so much fun?
Still, based on the evidence of the film, I think the soldiers on parade probably decided to join forces with nihilistic terrorism in anticipation of the bollocking the Company Sergeant Major was going to give them when they came off parade. Check out the swinging of the arms on the march, where the arm is supposed to be swung straight, brought parallel with the ground, swung in unision, and all done in step. It’s almost as if they hired a load of cheap actors to do this and didn’t bother to instruct them in close-order drill. It’s also almost as if they forgot that the Brigade of Guards aren’t just tourist icons and in fact professional soldiers who not only have official duties supporting the police dealing with terrorism for the past two generations (as seen in their deployment in response to the London bridge terror attack), but in addition actually fought on the side of the US in the Global War on Terror.
Now, I realise such films are the fictional entertainment designed to make money, but the cliches and stereotypes they exploit and reinforce are instructive about popular culture and the populist politics which also exploits those cliches and stereotypes. Don’t worry, that’s as post-modernist as I intend to go today.
In conclusion, I would say that the next few weeks for the Trump administration have presented themselves with a self-created dilemma; face visible public hostility (and possibly apocalyptic terrorist attack) in a presidential visit to their closest-yet-suspect ally; or cravenly admit moral defeat and slink away from the issue with consequent loss of face? And for those of you who might believe such concepts to be foreign to the current president, don’t forget he’s already attempted to blame British intelligence services in unsupported claims of bugging, and his video attacking CNN demonstrates his affinity for wrestling one-on-one with pantomime bad guys in ritualised displays of public machismo.
If Britain ever becomes the alien and hostile enviroment riven with chaotic violence, social disintegration and craven appeasement of islamic fundamentalist terrorism peddled by right-wing American popular mythology, the Trump administration is certainly doing it’s bit to foster that perception. In the long run, suborning your allies into the antagonistic and personalised world view espoused by an ignorant and petulant president is a good way of ensuring that perception generates a lasting reaction. That reaction won’t be an inadequate anticipation of islamic terrorism as might be suspected by the Trump administration and the lazy Hollywood scriptwriting indistinguishable from policy analysis in the Trump administration. It will be an rejection of the ‘ugly Americanism’ characterised by Trump which will do more than the unpopular military adventures of the Bush administration to undermine the US position as the acknowledged leader of liberal democratic states across the world.
First CNN, then London, then the World!