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Presidential welcome

07 June 2019

HANDLING a visit by a foreign head of state is always a challenge, particularly one who has left online a long trail of critical remarks about your country, its institutions, and some of its politicians. There is the potential inference that, by playing host, you somehow endorse all that he or she has said or done. Then there is the question what should be done to fill the time, especially if an itinerary has to be devised to avoid large-scale protests. Fortunately, this is something that the royal family does without raising an eyebrow. President Trump — the 13th US President whom the Queen has met — was absorbed into regal hospitality in a process honed over many years and many visits for heads of state far more dubious even than he. The straitjacket of protocol, often derided but devised for just such an occasion, ensured that President Trump and his family were welcomed and entertained, without giving any hint of complicity or agreement with any of his policies.

One reason for the protests was to counter the professionalism of the welcome, and together they achieved the right sort of balance. There are many policies and attitudes disseminated by President Trump which people in the UK would like to challenge, not least his concept that the National Health Service is broken. This could well be true in certain instances, but we prefer to say this ourselves, and resent foreign dignitaries who pitch in to suggest reforms, particularly ones that just happen to fit into the visitor’s business model. By a parallel argument, it is for US citizens to protest at their President’s policies, should they choose; but there is one obvious exception to this rule. The issue of climate change is a worldwide phenomenon, and attempts by President Trump to halt measures to mitigate the United States’ disproportionate impact on the climate invite and deserve global protests (which he mostly disregards or dismisses).

The chief reason to welcome Mr Trump was that, when he appears abroad, he represents his citizens. This visit coincided with the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Set in that context, the squabbles that surround the present incumbent fade into insignificance. On 6 June 1944, the United States landed 73,000 of its young men on the beaches of Normandy, nearly ten per cent of whom (6603) were dead or wounded by the end of the day. Their sacrificial conduct, to liberate a continent that few of them had ever contemplated visiting, was best honoured by respecting their modern Commander-in-Chief, whatever his faults. To reverse two lines from St Peter’s first letter, “Use hospitality one to another without grudging; and above all things have fervent charity among yourselves; for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.”

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