“We would make a great deal with the United Kingdom because they have product that we like. I mean they have a lot of great product. They make phenomenal things, you know, and you have different names – you can say England, you can say UK, you can say United Kingdom, Great Britain. I always say, “Which one do you prefer? Great Britain?”‘
‘You know Great Britain and the United Kingdom aren’t exactly the same thing?’
‘Right, yeah. You know I know.’
– The 45th president of the United States of America in conversation with a disgraced ex-editor, in a week where people fell over themselves to correct the White House’s Twitter account
So… aye. That happened.
I didn’t attend any of the protests, because I was invited to a recording of “Any Questions” on BBCR4 (long story, more on that in a future post). I’m fiercely ambivalent on the subject of Trump protests. On the one hand, I certainly agree that humourous, peaceful, but sincere protest of the sort we saw across the nations today is good for democratic expression: it’s much better flying silly balloons, hoisting funny placards, and singing comic songs than engaging in the more unpleasant, dangerous, and counter-productive type of protest. On the other hand, I’m reminded of Cyrus Stuart Ching’s response to a particularly belligerent questioner:
A man in the audience began heckling him with a long series of nasty and irrelevant questions. For a while Ching answered patiently. Finally he held up his big paw and waggled it gently.
“My friend,” he said, “I’m not going to answer any more of your questions. I hope you won’t take this personally, but I am reminded of something my old uncle told me, long ago, back on the farm. He said. ‘What’s the sense of wrestling with a pig? You both get all over muddy… and the pig likes it.’”
The current president – or, rather, the machine which placed him there – thrives on anger and outrage and dissent. The narcissist doesn’t care what you say or think about them, only that you do talk and think about them. And the UK media are talking about them a great deal, to the point they have dominated the news for days – and believe me, the irony of me talking about them too is not lost. I’m gritting my teeth as I type this.
But here’s the thing: we aren’t being given the choice to not talk about them, because our state media won’t shut up about them. Through our state broadcaster, they are invading our people’s homes, making that connection to the disaffected, the dispossessed, the disadvantaged – and making new recruits for the supranational cause they serve. We cannot simply ignore them until they go away, because too many people are pumping the great balloon with the oxygen of publicity – supporters, neutrals, and opponents alike.
Every time they or their press office say something, no matter how easily disproven, it results in exactly what they want – more attention. Even if it’s correcting an obvious mistake, calling out a blatant lie, or even basic arithmetic failure: it doesn’t matter if they look complete fools and clowns, because you’re thinking about them. And if you’re thinking about them, you’re thinking about what they’re saying. They – the machine – dominating the conversation.
Listen, I get it. I understand the feeling you get when you realise something is wrong, and undertake your civic duty to Split The Rocks Of Ignorance That Obscures The Light Of Knowledge And Truth. I wrote an entire blog on this sort of thing a lifetime ago (jings, 8 years ago, I’m so old). But one must always be careful that your quest to bring light into the darkness doesn’t result in a cave-in over your head.
Since then, millions watched as the 92-year-old Queen of England stood waiting for him, looking at her watch; they then saw him rudely walk in front of her. In the wake of these and other embarrassments, it’s perfectly possible that anti-Trump sentiments will grow. Along with national regret for the English football team’s semifinal World Cup loss, dislike of him seems to unify Britain more than anything else.
– Anna Applebaum, Washington Post, “The backlash from Trump’s Britain visit will be felt for years to come“
It’s particularly those protesting that “Scotland IS TOO part of the UK” while snarking that the President doesn’t seem to know the differences between England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom that get me the most – because methinks you should remove the plank from thine own eye first.
There is no such thing as the British dream. Or at least, that’s the lesson drawn from years of clunky political attempts to articulate it; to create a version of the romantic story America tells about itself, an identity strong enough to hold a splintering nation together… The idea of a British promise… But Sterling’s life story? Now that’s a British dream, however it ultimately ended on the pitch…
– Gaby Hinsliff, “The World Cup has united England. Enjoy it while it lasts”
The British political system of Monarch, Lords and Commons is almost 800 years old.
– Historian David Starkey
This is what it means; it does mean the end of Britain as an independent nation state. It may be a good thing or a bad thing, but we must recognise that this is so… We must be clear about this; it does mean, if this is the idea, the end of Britain as an independent European state. I make no apology for repeating it. It means the end of a thousand years of history.
– Hugh Gaitskell
St George’s Day will become a national holiday under a Labour government, Jeremy Corbyn will announce today. How would you celebrate Britain if we are given the Saints’ days off work?
Perhaps part of the reason the UK, Britain, Great Britain, and England are deemed to be interchangeable by the president of the United States is because this is exactly what too many British people do all the bloody time.
Be it people who (inadvertently or otherwise) refer to Britain as England…
As we prepare for England’s first match in the
#WorldCup, here’s an inspirational message from one of our country’s finest ever football managers.
– Jeremy Corbyn goes on to quote Bill Shankly… who was Scottish
The citizens of our country have created for themselves an inclusive & thoughtful English identity. One based on the values of freedom, fairness & justice. Principals that are not just shared in England under the St George’s Cross, but across our whole Union
– Brandon Lewis
Wales and Scotland are so much smaller in size than the rest of the… the rest of England.
– Kezia Dugdale
Or speak of “one nation”…
The one thing no-one can ever take away from us Brits is our collective sense of humour and all-round good egginess. There have been a number of moments in 2016 when British pride has never been stronger. Summertime blues: Why the hottest months of the year can make people so anxious And equally, there’s been a number of times when we’ve been collectively embarrassed. But one thing is for sure – there are moments when we have laughed and cried and cheered and clapped as a nation.
– The Metro, “10 times we chuckled and cheered as one nation in 2016”
But one of the reasons that Britain’s democracy has been such a success for so many years is that the strength of our identity as one nation…
– David Cameron
But let us remember what Disraeli was celebrated for. It was a vision of Britain. A vision of a Britain where patriotism, loyalty, dedication to the common cause courses through the veins of all and nobody feels left out. It was a vision of Britain coming together to overcome the challenges we faced. Disraeli called it “One Nation”. “One Nation”. We heard the phrase again as the country came together to defeat fascism. And we heard it again as Clement Attlee’s Labour government rebuilt Britain after the war. Friends, I didn’t become leader of the Labour Party to reinvent the world of Disraeli or Attlee. But I do believe in that spirit. That spirit of One Nation. One Nation: a country where everyone has a stake. One Nation: a country where prosperity is fairly shared. One Nation: where we have a shared destiny, a sense of shared endeavour and a common life that we lead together. That is my vision of One Nation. That is my vision of Britain. That is the Britain we must become.
– Ed Milliband
Even Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged that before the campaign because she was down in England, on TV debates in England speaking to people across the UK about the vote that we were all taking as one nation state.
– Ruth Davidson
As a committed Unionist who sees the importance of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, I want the four regions of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to be together as one nation – one nationhood together – under the Union flag.
– Jim Shannon
A vibrant post-16 education sector gives young people the skills they need to succeed in life, and it is a key part of this Government’s commitment to governing as one nation and extending opportunity throughout the country.
– Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education (Education in Scotland is independent from England & Wales)
Let us not rehash the arguments of the referendum. Let us put it to one side and move on, accepting that the decision was taken as one nation and that now we must focus on making the best of it as one nation.
– Andrea Jenkyns
– James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
The United Kingdom joined the EEC as one nation and we’ll leave the EU as one nation.
– Robin Swann
The UK joined Europe as one nation, and that’s how we’ll leave… No one can plausibly deny that for each part of the UK, the most important trade (never mind social and cultural) relationships are those we have with the rest of the country.
– Arlene Foster
Or “one country”…
I grappled with this question when I was Environment Secretary. I would talk to my opposite number, Richard Lochhead, and he would sometimes come to Brussels and we would discuss the matter in question beforehand. However, the position always was, and remains to this day, that it is the United Kingdom as one country that is negotiating.
– Hilary Benn
We must leave the EU as one country not just because it preserves the Union but because it is the best option for jobs, businesses and trade across the UK.
– Stephen Kerr
Our values as one nation are, of course, ones we would want everybody else to follow. We are talking about the United Kingdom, and the current position is that this Government have capacity and dominance over this country, but I also want to emphasise that what matters is that sense of fairness, of equality and of inclusion.
– Neil Carmichael
I am confident that together we will be able to deliver on what the country asked us to do through the referendum. I am greatly encouraged by the national mood. Most of those I have met who wanted to remain have accepted the result and now want to make a success of the course Britain has chosen. Indeed, organisations and individuals I have met already who had backed the remain campaign now want to be engaged in the process of exit and in identifying the positive changes that will flow from it as well as the challenges. I want us all to come together as one nation to get the best deal for Britain.
– David Davis, now former Secretary for Exiting the European Union
We voted in the referendum as one country, and we need to respect it as one country.
– Dominic Raab
We entered the EU as one country and we will leave as one country, whatever the European Commission might desire.
– Jacob Rees-Mogg
That is a very good point, we voted as one country.
– Kwasi Kwarteng
It is important that we now move forward together as one country, very clear in what we want to see in our future relationship with the European Union, and that we go into the negotiations with that confidence.
– Theresa May
We know Britain can deliver because we’ve seen it time and again. This is the country that invented the computer, defeated the Nazis, started the web, saw off the slave trade, unravelled DNA and fought off every invader for a thousand years.
– David Cameron
Romney has funny way of making friends and influencing people. Slagging off Britain not sure fire way to success… My country has been relevant for 1,000 years. Yours wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for mine.
– Andrew Neil
One wonders if it’s because the Establishment’s pride, wounded as it is by the president’s complete humiliation of their Prime Minister, dictates that just as Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland must share in England’s glories, so too must these countries share in their misery:
England (Britain since the union with Scotland) has led a charmed life… Why, after so many thousands of years, was it just in this island off North-West Europe that the spark was lit that was to transform human societies for ever? … Each provided a new stimulus for the English to demonstrate their amazing resourcefulness…. But England did more than adapt imported ideas… Over 1,000 years, has it made any big mistakes? …In realpolitik terms, it seems to me that England (GB) made very few, if any, major historic mistakes… British ideas (from 1707 with a strong Scottish accent) were exported to the USA… The country will be seen as erratic, bound up in its problems, a power that cannot be fully trusted.
– Matthew Perris, “Brexit: Britain’s Biggest Mistake in 1000 Years”
Rarely have we been so enfeebled and isolated. The only certainty is a perilous future… The Trump visit ought to be a moment of national awakening. Instead, it has been a national humiliation.
– Nick Cohen, “Brexit Britain is out of options. Our humiliation is painful to watch”
Britain is a ship adrift, with no captain, a shambolic crew throwing each other overboard, and a storm coming our way. We’re going to sink.
– Owen Jones
You insult our country, attack our NHS, embarrass our Queen, undermine our ‘special relationship’, humiliate our PM… and then smugly pose in Winston Churchill’s armchair
– Ben Glaze, “Donald Trump sparks fury posing arrogantly in Winston Churchill’s armchair”
Trump is a racist & disrespects our nation. Why does he get to meet our Queen? And those Tories saying we should respect him simply because he is elected President – by that logic shouldn’t he respect our Prime Minister & London’s Mayor?
– Anna Turley MP
Donald Trump’s visit to the UK was nothing short of national humiliation. It shattered the decades-old fiction about the ‘special relationship’. These visits have a set formula that’s designed to re-enforce that fiction and distract people from the fact that Britain is always playing second fiddle to the US… This is a smorgasbord of embarrassments. Just how much national humiliation is Britain willing to accept? And for what gain?
As Theresa May’s government walks, zombie-like, towards a no-deal Brexit and the country becomes an international object of pity, it’s worth noting some words of Sir Humphrey Appleby’s: “Well, government doesn’t stop just because the country’s been destroyed! I mean, annihilation’s bad enough without anarchy to make things even worse!”
– Darragh Roche, “How much national humiliation is Britain willing to accept?”
Instead it is Britain, whose bond of blood with the US should not need spelling out, that offers up a full-dress, all-but-state banquet in Winston Churchill’s birthplace, followed by tea on Friday with the 92-year-old monarch and an itinerary that allows him to chopper around Britain pretending there aren’t crowds below who loathe him – and what does the country’s prime minister get in return? A series of insults calculated to undermine and weaken her, delivered by means of the country’s bestselling newspaper.
– Jonathan Freedland, “Alone, Britain is easy prey for Trump. It must hug Europe close”
Britain is in a fog: political infighting and tax-dodging have set us on a trek to nowhere without a map. It might sound too much to promote the English football team’s manager to the role of relocating our national identity… Here’s hoping Southgate’s decency can be replicated in his dreamed-of “modern England.”
– Lucy Tobin, “Britain is on a road to nowhere but Southgate has shown us the way”
For a nation with a storied history of public largess, the protracted campaign of budget cutting, started in 2010 by a government led by the Conservative Party, has delivered a monumental shift in British life. A wave of austerity has yielded a country that has grown accustomed to living with less…
– Peter S. Goodman, The New York Times, “In Britain, Austerity Is Changing Everything“: not only the journalist, but the interviewees refer to Britain and England interchangeably, with no references to Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland at all
“Our” humiliation? “We” are going to sink?” “The country“?
I’m not “humiliated” by the president’s visit, and I dare say Nicola Sturgeon isn’t embarrassed to be snubbed and allegedly the subject of the president of the United State’s ire. In fact, I’d say her pride is perfectly fine.
Likewise, “we” are not going to sink – England and Wales have made their bed, and though I truly hope the people of those countries wake up, it is the course they chose to take, and not up to us to stop them. We, the people of Scotland, have a contingency in this material change in circumstances. It’s one thing to succumb to despair for your own nation: don’t drag us down with you. I don’t even have to cover why referring to the UK or Britain as “the country” is everything wrong with modern political discourse here. “The country” of Britain was united in joy as England advanced into the semi-finals, then united in grief as England were knocked out by a small, independent European nation – because to England, Britain is England Plus Three.
But why is this?
Before The Simpsons went wrong, it was a show of remarkable savagery in its satire. One 8th season episode, “The Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie Show,” was a magical self-recursive half-hour comic masterpiece as the phenomenally successful show turned its merciless gaze on itself – the executives demanding new characters, the entitled fans outraged at the merest slights, and the writers desperately trying to placate both and create art in the first place – through the medium of the show-within-the-show, Itchy & Scratchy.
The titular character, Poochie, is a sorry figure, created by senseless, artless executives who wouldn’t know good art if it was naked riding on a clam, using meaningless buzzwords and bizarre calculations (“Attitude! Attitude! Aaargh… Sunglasses!” “Can we put him in more of a “hip-hop” context?” “I feel we should rastafy him by… 10% or so,” & so forth) to create something that they thought would be a “totally outrageous paradigm” that gets “biz-zay! Consistently and thoroughly.” They weren’t creating a character, they were creating a product to sell to the most people – and in the process, created something almost universally hated.
Almost… except for Homer. Homer thinks he’s great (plus he’s the voice actor), and desperately wants the public to like Poochie. Unfortunately, Homer doesn’t realise why people hate Poochie, to the point where his suggestion for the character is that he should be even more belligerently awful – and that the characters people do like should constantly be directing their attention to him. This is not helped by the fact many of Poochie’s faults are present in Homer himself – but he doesn’t see the difference.
“Uh, hi, Mr. Meyers. I’ve been doing some thinking, and I’ve got some ideas to improve the show. I got it right here. One, Poochie needs to be louder, angrier, and have access to a time machine. Two, whenever Poochie’s not onscreen, all the other characters should be asking “Where’s Poochie”?”
– Homer Simpson, “The Itchy and Scratchy And Poochie Show”. How prescient.
Homer’s solution for Poochie’s lack of popularity? To essentially turn “The Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie Show” to… “The Poochie Show.”
Eventually, the showmakers decide to kill Poochie off in the most insulting way possible to the (in-show) audience: a clumsily animated moment where he is confirmed to die offscreen. And the audience laps it up, because Poochie’s dead, and that’s all that mattered. Meanwhile, Homer is devastated, because he couldn’t understand the hate, even as he tried to fix things by making them worse.
Britain is Poochie.
But there’s something much more sinister going on here – and it’s going to come to a head much sooner than a lot of people realise.