The president of the world’s biggest military superpower might be choosing to skip town to avoid seeing protesting crowds in person this weekend in the United Kingdom — but they should be inescapable when he tunes in for his daily dose of cable television over the weekend. Let’s be very clear, though, Mr. President: It has nothing to do with how we feel about the U.S. and everything to do with how we feel about you.
Despite what a few fringe figures who work as talking heads on U.S. television will likely suggest, Trump is not a divisive figure here: The country’s public opinion is overwhelmingly against him, not divided, and Friday’s march will show that.
The U.K., it’s true, is not short of problems or on division right now, some of which may feel familiar to a U.S. audience. We are deeply divided after a close and fiercely contested “Brexit” vote two years ago — the referendum to leave the European Union — and our entire political body is consumed with dealing with its consequences. Our government is now perpetually on the brink of collapse, buffeted by multiple, ongoing Cabinet resignations (two this week alone).
Donald Trump is not a divisive figure here: The country’s public opinion is overwhelmingly against him, not divided in their opinion of him.
But despite these divisions, there are good days: Last Saturday for instance, the streets of London were full of people from very different walks of life as our Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, helped lead the Pride parade through the streets while pubs across the country were packed with people watching England play in the World Cup quarter final. Thanks in part to a likable and inclusive England squad led by waistcoated Gareth Southgate, the football fervor was not exclusive — fans of any race, of any sexuality, felt free to celebrate and Pride-goers cheered England’s goals, as flag-wearing fans complimented LGBT marchers on their outfits.
On Friday, London’s streets will be full of marchers once again, this time with a different shared purpose: To oppose the visit of President Donald Trump. Turnout is expected to be enormous as hundreds of thousands of Brits protest the arrival of the leader of our country’s closest ally, whose previous leader could almost always expect a warm welcome.
This is not, however, evidence of a new outbreak of anti-Americanism, nor a refusal to accept that it’s the people of the United States who get to choose their president, rather than those of us living overseas. It is about Trump the man, what he means for the world and what his actions have meant for the citizens of the U.K.
At almost every moment when the U.K., whether its government or its people, would typically look to the leadership of the president of the United States, we have found it lacking. When London and Manchester faced a flurry of terror attacks — some by Islamist extremists, some by those on the far-right — Trump decided to attack London’s popular mayor, rather than offer his support.
As the U.K. government looked to tackle extremism, and manage the difficult and divisive Brexit process, President Trump retweeted a series of anti-Muslim videos tweeted by the deputy leader of Britain First, a fringe and racist U.K. political party.
And that’s before we start tackling Trump’s decision to launch a trade war against the EU — which still includes the U.K., for the moment — with a series of new tariffs. Plus, when the U.K. government has looked to support international deals such as the Paris Agreement, or the Iran deal, these have been undermined by the United States.
When our leaders finally accommodated Trump for his first state visit despite its controversial nature, even going to extreme lengths to keep Trump away from protesting crowds, Trump announced that he would personally meet Russian president Vladimir Putin immediately after his UK trip — despite a U.K. citizen dying as the suspected result of a Russian chemical weapons attack on U.K. soil just days before.
It would be ridiculous to say that outrage at Donald Trump stops there: We see the same images of Trump’s administration separating children from their families at the border as you do. The U.K. has had its own powerful #MeToo movement, and its allies are as horrified by Trump’s words about — and alleged sexual harassment of and misconduct against — women as any liberal in America. And as we try to work out exactly how much Russia interfered in our Brexit vote, we are probably as concerned about Russian collusion in the 2016 campaign as most US citizens would be.
As president, Donald Trump has done virtually anything possible to insult and damage his allies, while boosting and praising our traditional shared adversaries. So for most people in Britain, welcoming Trump would feel to be a bitter and hollow act: While most of us still firmly believe the United States and its people are our friends, its president is not. And it would be fake news to suggest anything else.
James Ball is an award-winning journalist and author based in London. His journalism has appeared in the Guardian, the Washington Post, BuzzFeed, the Daily Beast and numerous other outlets.