Well that didn’t take long, did it? Those of you with longer memories might vaguely recall me saying that I was having a hard time dealing with Donald Trump’s abusive style of campaigning in the run-up to their Presidential Election, but that we’d all have to live with it if he became President.
And now, just a few days into the job, we’re all being forced into some rather painful adjustments. The latest, and biggest, is the executive order for tighter immigration controls on people from a short list of mainly Muslim countries, which has outraged small-l-liberal opinion here and in America as well. Everyone from Theresa May and Boris Johnson to US Senator John McCain, a decorated war hero who, as the Republican candidate who lost to Barack Obama, is probably one of the best Presidents the USA never had, has queued up to denounce it.
But who cares what we think? He’s just been democratically elected as the leader of the most powerful democracy on earth, and he knows that no Brits (or Germans, French or anyone else for that matter) had a vote. So how can we persuade him to change his mind if we need to?
That’s where Theresa May’s visit to Washington, and the Special Relationship, really matter. Some people are assuming we can't have a close special relationship with the USA if we don't agree with them on important issues like this one. But Thatcher and Reagan often disagreed over hugely important issues, like nuclear disarmament for example, and the special relationship was stronger than ever while they were in charge. So just because we don't agree with President Trump on one thing doesn't mean we have to disagree with him about everything. In fact, we have a much better chance of persuading him to change his mind if we are close and trusted partners on everything else.
For example, the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary were able to call senior USA administration figures over the weekend after the Executive Order was signed, and get them to clarify and modify the policy so that Brits like Sir Mo Farah, who has joint UK and Somali nationality, were not included in the ban. Their calls would have been much less likely to get through, or their voices listened to, if the special relationship wasn't working strongly.
So I'm trying not to feel outraged. Not because President Trump’s executive order is OK – it isn’t – but because jumping up and down won’t be a terribly effective way of getting the policy changed. It might make me feel better for a few hours, but it's unlikely to influence President Trump very much. The answer is painstaking building of the Special Relationship, so we can persuade him to change his mind instead.