Donald Trump continues to charm our friends across the pond, and the Anglo-American relationship has never been in more peril.
After a petition started last year prompted a parliamentary debate on whether to ban the presumptive Republican presidential nominee from entering the United Kingdom, he’s again the subject of controversy. Last week, Trump suggested that newly elected London Mayor Sadiq Kahn, the first Muslim mayor of a Western capital, could be an “exception” to his Muslim ban, a notion Kahn rebuked.
“This isn’t just about me,” Kahn said. “It’s about my friends, my family, and everyone who comes from a background similar to mine, anywhere in the world,” adding that “Donald Trump’s ignorant view of Islam could make both our countries less safe.”
Appearing on Good Morning Britain yesterday, Trump told his old friend Piers Morgan that he is “offended” by Khan’s remarks. “He doesn’t know me, never met me, doesn’t know what I’m all about. I think they’re very rude statements and frankly, tell him I will remember those statements. They’re very nasty statements.”
Leaving aside the fact that you don’t have to know Donald Trump personally to know his views on Islam—he’s made them abundantly clear—making veiled threats at the mayor of London is not sound foreign policy. It is also no way to win over allies on either side of the political spectrum. Kahn, from the centre-left Labour Party, was subjected to vicious Islamophobic attacks from his right-wing Conservative Party challenger, Zac Goldsmith and Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron. It was “something straight out of the Donald Trump playbook,” Kahn wrote in the Observer. Yet even Cameron has famously condemned Trump’s proposed Muslim ban as “stupid, divisive, and wrong,” a position he “continues to believe,” a Downing Street spokesman said yesterday.
Trump’s reply was as magnanimous as ever. “It looks like we’re not going to have a very good relationship. Who knows? I hope to have a good relationship with him. But it sounds like he’s not willing to address the problem, either.”
Meanwhile, the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, Ruth Davidson, said it “can’t be good” if Trump is president, echoing the prime minister’s and Sadiq Kahn’s concerns. And former London mayor and Tory darling Boris Johnson—widely tipped as the next prime minister—has said Trump’s “stupefying ignorance” makes him “unfit” to be president.
It is concerning, to say the least, that so many disparate voices are united in their condemnation of the man who could be president. British politics is even more tribal than American politics. The prime minister has openly called the Leader of the Opposition a Britain-hating terrorist sympathiser. For a Tory prime minister and Labour mayor of London to be united in their opposition to Trump’s rhetoric is quite remarkable.
Britain is worried, as John McTernan wrote for the Telegraph:
All US presidents use the clever, carefully crafted phrase "America has no closer ally than [Insert country where I am here]". A clever phrase because it provides no relative ranking. It doesn't say "closest ally", because that would be a lie. That post is filled–it is us.
Or, with the election of president Trump-it was us. For there is no doubt that Trump is not just a threat to the special relationship–he would be the end of it.
“There is no conceivable British prime minister who would be able to fake respect for Trump’s intellect and strategic insight,” McTernan concludes. Considering the litany of voices condemning Trump from across the political spectrum, it’s easy to agree with McTernan. It would be disastrous for Britain, who could no longer depend on the United States as a reliable ally and for mutual defense, which has been the cornerstone of British foreign and defense policy since the Second World War.
But it has also been the basis for nearly every strategic decision America has made since then, too. From the importance and faith placed in NATO—which is really only as good as the Anglo-American alliance—to the shared cooperation of our intelligence services through Five Eyes, America relies on Britain as much as Britain relies on us. Sure, Churchill couldn’t have won the war without Roosevelt, but Reagan couldn’t have won the Cold War without Thatcher. Even when we make calamitous blunders (see: Iraq), our most important ally has stood by us and fought with us.
They’re unlikely to keep doing this if we elect a demagogue. Donald Trump is exasperating a cultural rift that has long existed. The British look at us and think we’re bonkers for even considering this buffoon. Sure, they have their own racist uncle in the form of UKIP leader Nigel Farage (the only mainstream U.K. party leader to endorse Trump), but he can’t even get himself elected to parliament, let alone form a government. Following the 2010 U.K. general election, Bill Maher eviscerated the American right by comparing it to its British counterpart. “The English are grownups, including their conservatives, who enjoy a wonderful luxury that conservatives on this side of the pond do not,” he said. “They’re allowed to be sane.”
The British, with their fair play ethos, simply do not tolerate racism and xenophobia in the way Americans do. Kahn’s victory in the London mayoral race proves this. Kahn’s opponents falsely and unsuccessfully attempted to link him to Islamic extremists. Such a tactic may have worked in the U.S., but instead Kahn won with the largest mandate of any politician in British history. And Donald Trump wants to ban him from entering the country.
British prime ministers and American presidents have been able to bridge ideological divides to work in our shared interests before, but Donald Trump just may be a bridge too far.
Skylar Baker-Jordan is a Chicago-based essayist, commentator, and journalist writing about masculinity, the LGBT community, and U.K. politics. Follow Skylar on Twitter @SkylarJordan.