It is reasonably safe to conclude that this week did not end on a high note for American diplomacy, even considered against the usual standards set by Donald Trump’s presidency.
First, in a meeting at the White House, he described Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as “shitholes” in a display of characteristically course petulance. The President subsequently claimed on Twitter – his preferred medium for communication – that “this was not the language used”. But there had been no denial from his staff when the claim first emerged and Democratic Senator Dick Durban, who attended the meeting, publicly backed the accuracy of the initial media reports.
The reported remarks were made as legislators from both sides of the political divide met to discuss proposals to restore Temporary Protected Status (TPS) permits for a number of countries. Mr Trump, whose administration has withdrawn TPS rights from Haitians, Nicaraguans and – this week – migrants from El Salvador, is said to have railed against America’s generosity to such afflicted peoples and to have suggested that the US should instead be welcoming immigration from countries like Norway.
Unsurprisingly, the backlash was swift and strong – and rightly so. Mr Trump’s choice of language was bad enough; the sentiments underpinned by the profanities are simply grotesque.
Not content with letting off one hand grenade, Mr Trump proceeded to pull the pin from a second by announcing that he had decided not to visit Britain next month. Having been expected to visit the UK to mark the opening of the new American embassy in London, Mr Trump tweeted that he was not a “big fan” of the building and that it had been a mistake to move from Grosvenor Square to the new site in Battersea.
Given that no details of the likely visit had been confirmed, it is hard to know what lies behind Mr Trump’s pre-emptive strike. Bearing in mind his previous use of social media to divert attention, it may even have been an attempt to distract from his TPS outburst.
Whatever the reason for the timing of the announcement, it is difficult to believe that the President of the United States – even Mr Trump – would decide against visiting the UK because of lingering angst about a construction deal. Some commentators have suggested he was unwilling to commit unless he was assured of a hefty dose of pomp and ceremony. Others contend that the very real prospect of mass protests had put him…