LONDON — Some people are finding this month’s White House transition a bit difficult. Perhaps it’s the looming rollback of Obamacare, the unraveling of crucial climate protections, or President-elect Donald Trump’s lengthy list of potential conflicts of interest. Or on the other hand, maybe it’s the sweeping policy ignorance, implicit racism, or alleged violence toward women we heard so much about during the long campaign.
But as the world awaits the most dramatic changing of the presidential guard in recent memory, I say we must learn to love the Donald. Yes, love the Donald, even if you loathe him (or especially if you loathe him). This is a bright and sunny day in the land of comedic possibility. America has elected its own version of Italy’s former tycoon-playboy leader Silvio Berlusconi and set him loose with a Twitter account and a taste for vengeance.
You will find that Trump, already famous as a reality TV star, translates quite well as a brusque and irreverent comic book character. Presidential protocol? Our hero will have none of that. And the delicate diplomatic dances that take years to nurture? Someone please get the buzz saw. Alec Baldwin, who plays the incoming president to brilliance on Saturday Night Live, should be sending personal checks to Trump Tower. I say we all should.
Finding the humor in Trump’s antics (however offensive or terrible) is better than dwelling on his every awful move. In my own case, it’s better than apologizing for him. I fear I will be doing a lot of that over the next four years.
When I swapped the West Coast for Blighty in 2007, Europe was often a difficult place to be an American. Although for some Brits the word “American” was already the preferred synonym for “tacky,” the U.S.-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq didn’t help, casting such a long and awkward shadow that in some social settings an apology was required before the first pint was ordered.
Things got easier the next year when America elected Barack Obama, whom Europe promptly greeted with a Nobel Prize and has consistently cheered, despite a few kerfuffles along the way (don’t mention German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone tapping or the now-toxic trans-Atlantic trade deal).
Then just as America’s reputation started to come back from the brink, the U.K.’s suddenly became very shaky.
In a shock referendum last June, the country voted to leave the European Union. That one of the most Googled phrases after the vote was “what is the European Union?” fails to capture the enormity of the move, although it reveals something about the level of thoughtfulness. “Brexit” is somewhere between the United States pulling out of NAFTA and New York State seceding from the Union.
The EU — a post-war trade bloc that has grown steadily in power — is not a country, but some forecasters say nationhood could follow inevitably if and when future generations see themselves as Europeans, not just Spaniards or Swedes. This remains a distant prospect, although the EU already functions as a country in many ways, with a common currency in most parts, a single market for goods and services, pesky regulatory warnings on consumer products, and unrestricted immigration rights for EU citizens.
Most observers agree that immigration concerns are what drove the non-binding Brexit vote. Like many U.S. regions, the U.K.’s north and former industrial heartlands haven’t benefited from free trade like other parts have. And although many areas that voted to leave were not large centers of immigration, the prospect of unrestricted access for Poles, Romanians, Bulgarians, and others to the U.K. job market and welfare system has generated huge anxiety, as has frequent footage of Syrian refugees landing on European shores.
How ironic that the Brexit lever has little chance of lifting these deprived U.K. areas. Actually, there is a strong chance it will make everyone worse off, since leaving the EU, in addition to blocking immigration, also means leaving the single market for goods and services, which is the thing that makes products cheap and creates millions of jobs across the country.
Even though Britain has not officially left yet, the pound has plummeted and sits about 25 percent below its historic long-term average against the dollar, with the price of consumer goods rising quickly. Big Finance firms that have helped make London a global capital are also making plans to relocate to the continent.
But the EU Referendum was never about logic, despite the small minority of Conservative Party activists who claimed it was about regaining the country’s “sovereignty.” It was more of an accident that happened to go their way. When prime minister David Cameron hoped to win over these party rebels by agreeing in 2013 to put the matter on the ballot, few thought it would succeed, least of all Cameron himself, who campaigned vigorously to remain.
Cavalier Remain backers assumed they would win and underestimated the depths of anger, fear, economic instability, and xenophobia in the country — much like the American establishment thought Hillary Clinton had victory locked up.
Of course, the U.K. still has a chance to change course. Prime Minister Theresa May, who herself voted to remain, is now pledging to implement Brexit but awkwardly sidestepping the important details about how it would actually happen.
Remain factions won a battle late last year when a high court ruled that only Parliament, not the prime minister, has the power to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (Brexit’s proverbial point of no return). May’s government, which argues that the prime minister alone has this privilege, promised to exercise it this spring.
Pulling the Brexit trigger will mean major changes ahead, for example, potentially uprooting millions of EU nationals living in the U.K. On a brighter note, some of the priciest real estate in the world might be a little more affordable to a generation priced out of places like London and the south. Of course, with fewer jobs and higher bills, they might not be able to afford it.
All of this seemed destined to complete America’s hard-fought image rehabilitation just two months ago. Indeed, the then-widely predicted Trump loss would have reaffirmed the wisdom of American democracy and made our British cousins appear rash and intemperate by comparison.
Then America elected Donald Trump.
There’s little hope that my compatriots will be getting more respect on this island anytime soon, so I say loving the Donald is better than apologizing for him.
Born and raised in Santa Barbara, Barney McManigal reported on county government for the Santa Barbara News-Press before moving to the U.K., where he taught political science at Oxford University and served as a policy adviser in the Department of Energy and Climate Change.