It’s not too much to call President Donald Trump’s state visit to Britain, which concluded on Wednesday, a big success. The curious thing is that much of the American media went out of their way to ignore that fact.
The New York Times stands in for a lot of the U.S. coverage. “Trump Insults London Mayor as ‘Loser’ as He Pays Tribute to the Queen,” it blared on Monday as the state visit began.
On Wednesday, as the president left Britain, the Times was at it again: “President Trump, Unloved in Britain, Still Tries to Play Kingmaker.” It’s almost like they want him to fail.
The media has a simple script. When the president is a Republican abroad, the correct approach is to blame everything on him and play up as many negatives as possible. But when the president is a liberal, anything less that fulsome applause is a betrayal of the tradition that politics stops at the water’s edge.
But curiously, much of the British media refused to play along.
The coverage there was partisan, too, but better balanced, with the BBC predictably hoping for the worst, while the Daily Mail and the Sun—Britain’s most popular newspapers—put a positive spin on the visit.
In fact, the Daily Mail adopted as its headline the queen’s final word to the president: “I hope you come to this country again soon.”
Now, the queen is consummately gifted and experienced in her role as the British head of state. Her words to the president were what courtesy and protocol demand, no more and no less—not a revelation of her personal sentiments. And that is the point.
The president’s visit was, basically, a normal one. But the expectations were artificially, and ridiculously, low before his arrival.
In the end, Trump’s speech and toast at the formal dinner on Monday at Buckingham Palace were well-received, he got on well with the Queen, and his press conference with outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May was a sensible mixture of agreement and courteously-expressed differences on a few difficult points.
Yes, there were protests in London. As someone who visits London regularly, let me tell you something: There are always protests in London.
The protests that greeted the president were smaller than I expected, and even the protest organizers said that “tens of thousands” of protesters turned out. The police and the BBC said protesters numbered “in the thousands.”
Bearing in mind that about 250,000 people turned out to protest Trump’s last visit to the U.K., and that the organizers had to make excuses this time about the low turnout, I’d say the protests were a failure to launch.
The president, by contrast, had a great ceremonial occasion. He emphasized the points he wanted to make—above all, about the need to complete Brexit so that Britain and the U.S. can make a trade deal—and moved on to the full D-Day commemorations in France.
That looks like a successful state visit to me.