LONDON — The reflex of British governments is to sift the rhetoric of new American presidents for good news and to ignore the rest. Such are the habits spawned by the postwar “special relationship.” But Prime Minister Theresa May will struggle to find much to welcome in the sophomoric drivel that President Donald J. Trump presented as his Inaugural Address today.
Most British, it is true, are indifferent to American politics. A caucus within Westminster’s political class — those who campaigned for Brexit and the U.K. Independence Party — regards his victory as a continuation of the populist revolution that was set off by Britain’s referendum vote last June to leave the European Union.
For the rest of us, this speech was as alarming in content as it was weak in form. It is a tradition for new presidents to open their arms to the rest of the world: to assert America’s role as the strongest supporter, if not the automatic guarantor, of freedom around the world. But the core message of this speech, in a ghastly echo of 1930s isolationism, was “America First.”
Other nations were put on notice that a new era of protectionism is at hand, that the United States would no longer “subsidize foreign armies,” that America would protect its own borders rather than those of other nations. There was absolutely no sense of global comity.
“We will shine for everyone to follow,” said the 45th president. My way or the highway, in other words.
For a passionate Atlanticist like me, this is an hour of sheer despair. Ever since this spectacularly unqualified man was elected, we have been assured that he would be tamed by the prospect of office. Could it really be as bad as it seemed? Oh, yes: As it transpires, even worse.
Matthew d’Ancona is a political columnist for The Guardian and The Evening Standard and a contributing opinion writer.