By John Lloyd
John Lloyd co-founded the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, where he is senior research fellow. Lloyd has written several books, including What the Media Are Doing to Our Politics. He is also a contributing editor at the Financial Times and the founder of FT Magazine. The views expressed in this article are not those of Reuters News.
Around the turn of the millennium, a group of thinkers on the right, both American and British, gathered round a project they called the Anglosphere. The English-American writer Robert Conquest wrote of it in his Reflections on a Ravaged Century: “We [the main English-speaking states] have both the physical power and the moral prestige first to preserve the precarious peace of the world and, for the longer term, be the focus and example for a … genuine world community.”
The “special relation-ship” between the United States and the United Kingdom, an often stormy attachment, retains real meaning for both nations. More, naturally, to the smaller and weaker partner. As the UK moves inexorably away from the European Union, it must move closer to its one-time colony, which cast off the motherland and signed its proclamation of independence on July 4, 1776.
The question – one of the thousands that circle round the future presidency of Donald Trump – is whether his administration would welcome it. Would he even revive, with the authority of his office, the notion of the Anglosphere, and give it some solid form? Could he make the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom more special than it has been since the two nations were united in defeating Nazism?
In his God and Gold, Walter Russell Mead, the prominent US foreign policy thinker, likened the special relationship to two cousins working in a family business: They quarrel, do not speak to each other in periods of anger, have quite different ideas on how to live, but are yoked together in a common project – managing and furthering the interests of the business.
The business is nothing less than the creation, maintenance and spreading of the world capitalist order. “Britain,” he writes, “does not just have a special relationship with the United States; it has a special relationship with the international capitalist order, an order largely built by Britain and now largely managed by the United States.” In that order, the other Anglophone states – Canada, Australia and New Zealand – have all thrived.
One thing that the next US president certainly likes is the capitalist order, in which he, too, has had downs as well as ups, but which has been mostly good to him, providing him with the funds to make a run for the White House. He is also likely to have some affection for the UK, especially for the Scottish part of it (which remains in the Union). His mother was a McLeod from the tiny village of Tong, in the Isle of Lewis (though Trump’s visit there, in 2008, was all of three hours long).
Mead was in London earlier this week to offer his insights and speculations about Trump’s foreign policy to come. Like many US thinkers, both right and left, he sees the European Union as floundering, saddled with a currency not solidly anchored, more divided among its members than at any time in its history and unable to act as the stabilizing force in the world that Washington hoped it would be.
He thinks that Trump will, at best, combine elements of three previous presidents. He will adopt Ronald Reagan’s approach of growth through deregulation and tax reductions, in the belief that growth makes both domestic and international politics less bitter. He will refrain from making solid commitments, and make sure everyone in his administration is empowered only by virtue of receiving power from him – as did Franklin Roosevelt (1933-45).
Trump may also resemble Andrew Jackson (1829-37), the seventh U.S. president, whose legacy is nationalist, populist, with America first and last, and no desire to spread democracy beyond American shores. Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and one of Trump’s most enthusiastic surrogates, lauded the president-elect’s victory as Jacksonian: “This is the people beating the establishment.”
Though US nationalism was a strong theme in Trump’s campaign, closeness to Britain is part of it: The former colony taking the faded imperial titan into its embrace. “The special relationship is important to Trump,” said Mead. “He’s for it because it’s part of US nationalism.”
The new occupant of the White House will find the reality of power akin to a cold shower: The world will not leave him alone. Faced with those whose agreements with the United States – Asia on trade, Iran on nuclear weaponry – he has pledged to cast aside, Trump will tend to seek out allies that will remain with him.
For the UK, the attachment to the EU, though strongly supported by much of the establishment and educated classes, is not deep, layered as it is with historic distrust and incomprehension. North America, by contrast, was a British creation. Millions of British and Irish emigrated to and settled in the United States and Canada, where the language is common and the cultures deeply intertwined. Trump is unpopular with most Britons, but the United States is a port in a storm during Britain’s hour of need.
Of all the European leaders’ lukewarm congratulations to Trump, Prime Minister Theresa May’s was the warmest. It stressed that “Britain and the United States have an enduring and special relationship based on the values of freedom, democracy and enterprise. We are, and will remain, strong and close partners on trade, security and defence,” she said.
At the end of Mead’s talk, one questioner in the audience noted that Trump might be intellectually, morally and politically inadequate to the tasks ahead of him. “He’s humbled the pollsters, the news media, smashed the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, and beaten the Bush and the Clinton dynasties,” Mead responded. “If he’s stupid, he’s been very lucky.”
Trump is, in any event, the biggest show in town. Britain needs a piece of it.