Vinay Menon: The U.K.'s new motto: Keep calm and stick it to Donald Trump
Before he leaves the NATO summit in Brussels and flies to the U.K. on Thursday, Donald Trump should dash into a shop along the rue Neuve and buy a blindfold.
And noise-cancelling headphones. He’ll need both this weekend in London.
The British are often stereotyped as aloof and snooty. They are calm and collected. They are civilized, save for when it comes to watching football. They crack wise with droll irony. To be British is to keep your thoughts above the fray and your emotions below the surface.
But when our beloved friends across the pond relax their stiff upper lips and decide to stick out their tongues, blimey, look out, because few nations in this world are capable of mocking with such feverish intensity.
Imagine if you were a child named Donnie on your first trip to Disney World. You boarded the plane with great expectations. But when you arrived, your parents forbade you from entering the Magic Kingdom, climbing aboard any rides, eating the waffle cones or approaching Mickey Mouse, who was keen to give you a wedgie.
Outside your hotel, thousands of angry strangers amassed to chant and hoist placards that read, “Stop Donnie!” and “Shame on Donnie!” and “Donnie is Satan!” Inside your tiny heart, you never felt more alone and unloved.
As it turned out, Disney World was no fun getaway.
It was a living hell.
That is basically what Trump’s first official visit to England is shaping up to be: a weekend in which multiple protests must be avoided to spare the U.S. president the humiliating sight and sound of discovering he is just as reviled abroad as he is at home. An itinerary that is high on artificial pomp and pageantry — military bands, lunch with Theresa May at her countryside residence, tea with the Queen at Windsor Castle — and low on unpleasant truths.
So sanitized is this trip, Trump might as well be visiting the U.K. via a VR headset.
But if we learned anything from the Luddites, Kett’s Rebellion, the 1848 Chartist Petition, the Rebecca Riots, the 1983 Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament or the Peasants’ Revolt, it is this: when the Brits decide enough is enough, when their unflappable sensibilities are flapped by perceived injustice, they are as impossible to ignore as a 6-metre presidential effigy flying high above Parliament Square.
That’s just one of the many brazen insults Team Trump must avoid on Friday. Dubbed “Trump Baby,” the giraffe-sized balloon depicts the septuagenarian Donnie as an orange, diaper-clad, phone-clutching toddler with a ruddy snarl.
As political stunts go, it’s juvenile, needlessly combative and completely lacking in class and subtlety. And that’s why it’s so perfect – those same traits define Trump.
As the activists who created the blimp declared on their crowdfunding page, “moral outrage is water off a duck’s back to Trump. But he really seems to hate it when people make fun of him … we want to make sure he knows that all of Britain is looking down on him and laughing at him.”
In this spirit, a coalition of groups has jumped into the fray ahead of Trump’s visit, harnessing England’s superpower of making pointed political statements.
Fourteen years after it was released, there’s been a push to propel Green Day’s “American Idiot” back atop the charts. Incredibly, it’s back and somewhere Ronald Reagan and Konstantin Chernenko are playing Risk and wondering, “What about Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Two Tribes’? Now that was a protest song.”
Protesters will also congregate outside BBC headquarters on their way to Trafalgar Square. There will be crowds outside the U.S. ambassador’s manse in Regent’s Park, where Donald and Melania may spend the night, presumably in separate bedrooms with the shutters closed and rainforest sound machines blasting at full volume.
There will be anti-Trump marches in the streets and anti-Trump dirigibles in the skies. There will be anti-Trump music in the air and anti-Trump performance pieces all over television and social media. To fully understand the nexus between celebrity and activism when Britain is fed up, glance at the signatories on the Stop Trump Coalition, a list that now includes Brian Eno, Lily Allen and Bianca Jagger.
One artist even created a massive crop circle that’s visible on the flight path from London to Chequers, May’s bucolic estate. The outdoor installation has two words.
The second one is “Trump.” The first one is the F-word in Russian.
No wonder Trump is looking forward to Monday’s summit with Vladimir Putin. Even if that tête-à-tête mostly involves Putin changing the microchip he planted in the base of Trump’s skull years ago, and making new threats over sanctions and pee-pee tapes, it will surely feel like Disney World after London.
Trump is used to angry protests in his own backyard. But this weekend, he is wandering into the most coordinated and elaborate mass demonstrations against his administration and his policies on foreign soil.
London is ready to showcase a “carnival of resistance.” And if the past is a reliable guide, it will be a big top of merciless ridicule.
Trump should really take off that blindfold and take a good look around.
Vinay Menon is the Star's pop culture columnist based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @vinaymenon