Like a bull who keeps returning to the china shop, President Donald Trump is headed back to Europe, where on previous visits he has strained historic friendships and insulted his hosts. This time, he faces an ally in turmoil and a global call to renew democratic pacts.
The agenda for Trump’s week-long journey is both ceremonial and official: a state visit and an audience with Queen Elizabeth in London, D-Day commemoration ceremonies on both sides of the English Channel and his first presidential visit to Ireland, which will include a stay at his coastal golf club.
But the president will arrive at a precarious moment, as he faces a fresh round of impeachment fervour back home and uncertainty on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
British Prime Minister Theresa May will step down days after Trump visits and French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to use the 75th anniversary of the World War II battle that turned the tide in Europe to call for strengthening the multinational ties the U.S. president has frayed.
“My greatest hope is this: the president and all the leaders stay focused on the extraordinary heroism of that of D-Day and focusing on what brought allies to that position,” said Heather Conley, senior vice-president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Dark clouds are forming once again in Europe, and rather than encourage those forces we need to find much better tools to defeat them.”
Trump is to arrive in London on Monday for a two-day whirlwind of pomp, circumstance and protests, including meetings with the royal family and an extravagant state dinner at Buckingham Palace. He is likely to be shadowed by demonstrators, who during his visit to England last summer flooded the streets and flew an inflatable balloon depicting the president as a baby.
A year ago, Trump played the ungracious guest, blasting May in an interview just hours before Air Force One touched down in England. He has done it again, this time sparing May but praising her rival, prime ministerial hopeful Boris Johnson, just before she steps down as head of the Conservative Party on Friday for failing to secure a Brexit deal.
“I think Boris would do a very good job. I think he would be excellent,” Trump told The Sun, the same publication to which he gave an interview last summer. “I like him. I have always liked him. I don’t know that he is going to be chosen, but I think he is a very good guy, a very talented person.”
Trump also used the interview to weigh in on the American-born Duchess of Sussex. The former Meghan Markle, who gave birth in May and will not attend the week’s events, was critical of Trump in the past, prompting the president to tell The Sun, “I didn’t know that she was nasty.” He said later in the interview that he thought Markle would be “very good” as a royal.
Trump pushed back Sunday against reports that he had described Markle as “nasty,” tweeting: “I never called Meghan Markle ”nasty.“ Made up by the Fake News Media, and they got caught cold!” The newspaper posted the audio of the interview on its website.
Trump will make his first presidential visit to Ireland on Wednesday. But what should have been a routine visit with the prime minister grew complicated due to the president’s unprecedented blending of government duties and business promotion. Trump will spend two nights at his club in Doonbeg, which sits above the Atlantic, and the White House originally insisted that he and his Irish counterpart meet there.
After Dublin balked, a deal was struck for Trump to meet Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at Shannon’s airport.
The centerpiece of the president’s visit will be two days to mark the D-Day anniversary, likely the last significant commemoration most veterans of the battle will see. The anniversary events will begin in Portsmouth, England, where the invasion was launched, and then move to Normandy, France, where Allied forces began to recapture Western Europe from the Nazis.
The day is normally a heartfelt tribute to unity and sacrifice, outweighing any national or political skirmish of the moment. But some on both sides of the Atlantic are nervous about Trump, who has shown a willingness to inject partisanship into such moments. Trump also has been embroiled in simmering disputes over trade and military spending with fellow Western democracies.
On a trip to Brussels last summer, he upbraided NATO leaders on their defence budgets and caused near-panic when rumours spread that he was considering pulling out of the alliance formed in the aftermath of World War II. Just days later, in Helsinki, Trump rattled European capitals by publicly siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies.
On his most recent European visit, last November in France, Trump skipped a ceremony at an American military cemetery to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I when rain grounded his helicopter.