In the land of hope and glory, the US president’s state visit is under way against a backdrop of wild insults between Donald Trump and the London mayor, Sadiq Khan. Here’s the backstory.
Not since Lindsay Lohan slandered the Northamptonshire town of Kettering and failed to switch on their Christmas lights has a transatlantic feud scaled such heights. As Air Force One prepared to land in the United Kingdom for a state visit, President Donald Trump thumbed out a Tweet declaring the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, to be a “stone cold loser”. Hours earlier, Khan had accused Trump of parroting “the fascists of the 20th century”.
Where does it all stem from? Here’s a short history.
‘I hope his campaign dies a death’
The two men are both gearing up for elections next year, and so they were in 2015, when they first sparred. Khan started it all, raising concerns about Trump’s “outrageous” push for a so-called “Muslim ban”.
When Trump said London had become “so radicalised the police are afraid for their lives”, he was roundly condemned, including by then-London-mayor (and Trump’s favourite to succeed Theresa May as UK prime minister) Boris Johnson.
Khan tweeted in response: “Donald Trump doesn’t have a clue about London – his comments are divisive and dangerous. I hope his campaign dies a death.”
A few days later, in an article for the Guardian, Khan wrote: “It’s too easy to dismiss Donald Trump as a buffoon – to point and laugh at a man whose worldview is as ridiculous as his hairdo. But to do so is to make light of a very serious threat. Trump is just the latest public figure to articulate a growing wave of Islamophobia across the western world. His shocking views justify the actions of those who commit hate crimes and worse, play into the hands of terrorists such as Daesh (Islamic State) – making Britain less safe.”
Trump said Khan, a Muslim, could be exempted from any ban.
Khan was unimpressed, saying, “Donald Trump’s ignorant view of Islam could make both our countries less safe – it risks alienating mainstream Muslims around the world and plays into the hands of the extremists.”
After Khan’s victory, Trump, then running for president, responded by saying, “when he won I wished him well. Now, I don’t care about him.” He said he was offended by the “ignorant” comments: “Frankly, tell him I will remember those statements, they’re very nasty statements.”
He also challenged him to an IQ test.
‘Pathetic excuse by London Mayor’
Following a terrorist attack at London Bridge in June 2017, Khan urged Londoners not to be alarmed by the increased police presence on the streets. Trump dispatched a Tweet, misquoting him: “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!'”
Khan pointed out that he was clearly talking about the police presence. Trump unleashed another Tweet. “Pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who had to think fast on his ‘no reason to be alarmed’ statement. MSM is working hard to sell it!”
The mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, chipped in, commending Khan and lambasting Trump for “trying to undermine a man who’s trying to protect the people of London. It makes no sense.”
Khan subsequently called on a planned state visit to be cancelled. “I don’t think we should roll out the red carpet to the president of the USA in the circumstances where his policies go against everything we stand for,” he said.
‘A betrayal of the special relationship’
Late in 2017, Khan castigated Trump for retweeting racist videos from the far-right group Britain First.
He had “used Twitter to promote a vile, extremist group that exists solely to sow division and hatred in our country,” wrote Kahn in a Facebook post. “Many Brits who love America and Americans will see this as a betrayal of the special relationship between our countries … It is increasingly clear that any official visit at all from President Trump to Britain would not be welcomed.”
Trump later insisted he hadn’t known the nature of Britain First when he shared the posts, saying: “If you are telling me they’re horrible people, horrible, racist people, I would certainly apologise if you’d like me to do that.”
‘He has done a terrible job’
The state visit did end up getting downgraded to a working visit, meaning Trump, when he arrived in July last year, was denied the full regal pomp and ceremony, though he did find the time to slide around in front of the Queen like an ice-skating bollard.
Protesters flew a giant Trump blimp, in which the president appeared as a baby in nappies. That had been approved by Sadiq Khan, further infuriating the president. Later, in some kind of free-speech protest, a blimp of Khan in a bikini was also launched. That wasn’t a Trump stunt, but it very likely played a part in making America great again.
As he began his visit to Britain, Trump told the Sun that Khan had “done a very bad job on terrorism”. And: “I think he has done a bad job on crime, if you look, all of the horrible things going on there, with all of the crime that is being brought in.”
In Brexit-riven Britain, Trump said: “I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad. I look at cities in Europe, and I can be specific if you’d like. You have a mayor who has done a terrible job in London. He has done a terrible job.”
Khan, who is the mayor of London, which is a city in the United Kingdom, and so has no power over immigration laws, said Trump’s comments were “beastly”, but he wasn’t taking the bait. “It takes two to tango, and I’m not tweeting President Trump or saying beastly things about him.”
‘Egregious example of a growing global threat’
On Sunday, Khan wrote in the Observer that Trump was guilty of using the rhetoric of “the fascists of the 20th century”. He added: “President Donald Trump is just one of the most egregious examples of a growing global threat. The far right is on the rise around the world, threatening our hard-won rights and freedoms and the values that have defined our liberal, democratic societies for more than 70 years.”
In an interview in the Sunday Times published the same day, Trump said of Khan: “I don’t think much of him”, adding, “I think that he’s the twin of De Blasio, except shorter.”
On the eve of Trump’s arrival, Khan opened another flank, posting a video in which he criticised the president’s position on abortion, which would relegate women to second-class status.
“Your values and what you stand forare the complete opposite of London’s values and the values in the country,” he said.
Though Trump had insisted he didn’t think much of Khan, he was thinking of him on the descent into London.
“Sadiq Khan, who by all accounts has done a terrible job as Mayor of London, has been foolishly ‘nasty’ to the visiting President of the United States, by far the most important ally of the United Kingdom,” tweeted the visiting president of the United States. “He is a stone cold loser who should focus on crime in London, not me……”
And soon came a follow-up: “….Kahn reminds me very much of our very dumb and incompetent Mayor of NYC, de Blasio, who has also done a terrible job – only half his height. In any event, I look forward to being a great friend to the United Kingdom, and am looking very much forward to my visit. Landing now!”
Khan’s response? “This is the sort of behavior I would expect from an 11-year-old.” And: “President Trump’s behaviour flies in the face of ideals America was founded upon.” And: “I think there are many, many racists who think he’s their poster boy”. Racist groups “have been normalised and mainstreamed because of Donald Trump”.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.