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Saving the special relationship

Saving the special relationship

By Michael Lach, PHA Public Affairs

Trump May Holding Hands - Special Relationship

Image Courtesy of; thesun.co.uk

Donald Trump has been President for little over a week, but there has already been significant political change. In that time Theresa May held hands with the new President at the White House, mass protests broke out in London and the UK in relation to Trump’s controversial immigration policy, and 1.5 million people signed a petition in protest against Trump receiving a state visit.

These events mark the significant problems that Theresa May’s government face with Donald Trump.  On the one hand, Trump has been hugely supportive of Brexit, has spoken positively of his “Scottish roots”, moved Winston Churchill’s bust back into the Oval Office and talked up his wish to quickly secure a trade deal with the United Kingdom. This has reassured many within the Government that the so-called special relationship will flourish.

Thousands of people gathered in cities across the UK this evening, including Glasgow, Manchester, Edinburgh and Cardiff, to voice their opposition to Donald Trump’s travel ban targeting several Muslim majority countries. Take a look at the powerful scenes from London in our latest Instagram Story. Photo: @eleni.stefanou

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On the other hand, Trump has shown himself to be volatile and controversial. His recent executive order preventing refugees from entering the US has resulted in his reputation amongst the British hitting rock bottom, with 10,000 protestors demonstrating outside Downing Street with just a day’s notice. The Prime Minister has also come under criticism for not being quick enough to denounce Trump’s Immigration ban, instead simply stating “the United States immigration policy is a matter for the United States”.

In reality, Trump’s Presidency represents a dangerous balancing game. If handled well, May could create a strong relationship with the United States, akin to the Reagan and Thatcher days. Furthermore, a potential US-UK trade deal would be hugely beneficial to the UK economy going forward and would be a threat to the European Union who Trump has denounced multiple times.

Actor Shia LaBeouf has been released following his arrest earlier this week at an anti-Trump art installation in New York. The "He will not divide us" installation aims to run for as long as President Trump is in office. People who pass by are invited to visit @movingimagenyc to deliver the words "he will not divide us" into a mounted outdoor camera, repeating the phrase as many times and for as long as they wish. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

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However, if this relationship can only be achieved by May curtailing to every single one of Trump’s whims and wishes, and refusing to steadfastly oppose the policies he puts in place, she will face severe criticism in both the press and her party in the UK.

Coincidentally, however, if May decides to actively disagree with any controversial policies that President Trump might pursue, it could jeopardise any positive future relationships, trade deals, or cooperation on other important issues (e.g. NATO, intelligence sharing, etc.) that the UK might hope to work with the United States on.

Ultimately, it can be argued that whatever route May and the government take there will inevitably be pitfalls attached.  For the Prime Minister, the only option available to avoid damaging her relationship with the notoriously thin-skinned President is to somehow craft a personal friendship with him. This will allow her to challenge him on policy objectives whilst protecting British interests with the United States.

Theresa May Donald Trump White House Meeting

Image Courtesy of; www.mirror.co.uk

Enter The World of Digital Diplomacy

We’ve come a long way since the first broadcast from the White House in 1947. Back then, Harry Truman was guiding his nation through post-war uncertainty and readying the state for a forty year fight with the ‘communist bugaboo’.

Fast forward half a century and Barack Obama is living in a distinctly different world. Those pesky commies may have been dispatched long before his climb to power, and the President now lives in an age where communication with ‘the people’ is only a tweet away.

The US president has 35 million Twitter followers, the fourth most popular account on the social network (behind Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry) and regularly he updates the nation with nice sound-bites, personal photos and regular calls to action:

 

President Obama is not the only world leader on Twitter. A study by Twiplomacy found that three-quarters of all world leaders possess a Twitter account. That’s 153 countries in total and a combined following of 105 million!

Next in the Twitter league table comes Pope Francis. The head of the Catholic Church is a clear second with 7m followers, whilst Turkeys Recip Erdogan is a distant third with 3.5m. Big Dave Cameron, the UK’s Prime Minister is the 9th most popular head of state on the social network, with 2.3 million followers.

The list stretches all the way down to infant states to South Sudan, who have gathered a following of just over six thousand since gaining independence in 2011. For small nations such as South Sudan, Twitter offers a perfect means of communication. Unlike United Nations conferences and the like, Twitter offers a level playing field whereby South Sudan’s voice weighs just as much as Barack Obama’s.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: a diplomatic war could break out very easily if just one head of state sends an inappropriate, nuclear bomb of a tweet to a fellow leader.

But don’t worry, there’s no need to panic just yet. There are so far very little signs that Digital Diplomacy (Digiplomacy? You heard it here first) is taking off. Although 68% of Twitter’s world leaders connect with each other, very little interaction actually goes on.

So for the time being at least, you won’t see North Korea formally declaring war on the US via Twitter, Europe’s leaders publically discussing how to solve the Eurozone crisis, or Barack Obama creating a #GiveBackSnowden trend.

Nonetheless, it does show the power that social media possesses in the world (see 2011 Arab Spring). Twitter and Facebook are by some distance the easiest way for world leaders to talk to their people. It may all be a popularity contest at the moment, but we may not be too far away from a world in which Twitter overtakes television as the preferred medium for a President’s or Prime Minister’s acceptance speech or as the first stop for dealing with a scandal.