How might President Trump react to a world leader who, afraid for his image, perhaps afraid for himself, refused to fulfil a promise to visit a loyal ally. He might fire off a tweet: “RAN from critics. A gift for crooked MSM. TOTAL pathetic loser!”
But he won’t, because the loser is him. He got to hold hands with Theresa May when she visited Washington, but alas, that may be the high point of his cuddle-fest with her, and with us – because Trump, it now appears, is not keen on making his proposed state visit to Britain any time soon.
He has apparently, in a recent telephone call to the prime minister, declared that he does not want to come if there are to be large-scale protests. The visit, we are told, is on hold.
Some may be surprised by this. From the violence and menace that became features of his ugly campaign, it was easy to assume that he liked a bit of edge at his public appearances. But on those occasions, he knew he would always have the support of far-right thugs and hangers-on who could drown out dissent and, if need be, throw a few punches at protesters, passers-by, anyone who would dare to question him. That intimidation, unprecedented in recent history, would have been more difficult to replicate here; he could hardly bring his street fighters with him. There are only so many seats on Air Force One.
Maybe he didn’t fancy the trip without Theresa there to hold his hand; to keep him strong and stable, as it were. Even he might blanch – all the way from Tango orange to the whitest white – at the idea of skipping through the Downing Street rose garden hand in hand with Phil the spreadsheet Hammond or Boris Johnson.
So we are denied a spectacle but hopefully saved from the distraction of Trump’s bandwagon here when we may well be fixating on at least one more general election and we should certainly be focusing on the history-defining implications of Brexit.
Saved too – for now at least – the embarrassment of those who offered Trump the invitation in the first place, those who saw our new place in the world as lying at the feet of a reprobate.
And what do we learn from this? Once again we see what it is to deal with someone who has such high office and such thin skin. Just the notion of turbulence that might be seen around the world seems to be enough to scare him off. If he can’t bomb it or tweet against it, the cupboard of responses seems bare.
But, for the more important message, look to ourselves. It is easy to question the efficacy of protest. Millions marched against the war in Iraq, but couldn’t stop it. Millions more marched against Brexit and cuts in the NHS. There is rarely such a direct link to be drawn between public action and response from those with power, but each public protest speaks to the strength and tenor of opinion. Every one sets out a position and raises the stakes. Here the stakes became too high for a brittle, image-conscious president in Washington. What do we want? Not Trump. When do we want him? Never.