In a week that saw US warships sent to North Korea, increased tensions in Syria following a US missile strike and the American military drop, for the first time, the largest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal on Afghanistan, the most ominous story came to light yesterday. President Donald Trump really wants to ride in the Queen Elizabeth’s gold-plated, horse-drawn carriage when he visits England.

While foreign leaders hitching a ride to Buckingham Palace with Her Majesty is occasionally a thing that happens, American Presidents generally take a different vehicle because of security concerns. A police source told the Times of London:

“The vehicle which carries the president of the United States is a spectacular vehicle. It is designed to withstand a massive attack like a low-level rocket grenade. If he’s in that vehicle he is incredibly well protected and on top of that it can travel at enormous speed. If he is in a golden coach being dragged up the Mall by a couple of horses, the risk factor is dramatically increased.”

I’m not sure of this source’s name or rank, so let’s just use Captain Obvious. Security concerns are heightened when it comes to this President in  particular. There are supposed to be massive protests and even the British Parliament is refusing to let him address them.

Instead of taking the safer route, the Trump team is doing their best to insist on the gold-plated carriage ride. It’s a pretty safe bet that this approach goes right to the top. And that is why this otherwise trivial piece of nonsense is downright scary.

Trump wants to ride in something gold sitting next to royalty. Putin got to do it. That peasant Obama slummed it when he visited the Queen. Slummed it in a super-fast grenade-repellent limousine driven by a chauffeur with more real-world military training than most fictional action heroes.

Maybe if the hyper-secure car was also gold on the outside Trump would ride in it. But then he would be in a competition with the Queen for opulence. Come to think of it, the main reason he probably wants to ride in the carriage is to be on equal footing with the Queen.

Why is that something he cares about? Being on equal footing, or even a dominant footing, when meeting with Xi Jinping, Justin Trudeau, Vladamir Putin or Theresa May makes sense. You don’t want to negotiate from a position of weakness. But what on Earth could President Trump possibly hope to negotiate with the Queen?

She is technically a Head of State, sure, but that is purely symbolic. Symbolism matters to this President. Celebrity, though, matters even more. The Queen is a celebrity, way more than Prime Minister May is, you might say she is THE celebrity.

Riding in the Royal Carriage means, to Trump, that some people may see his celebrity on par with hers and that he is one step ahead of Obama in looking important. It’s all about proving that he is important. The fact that he achieved, perhaps by fluke, something that only forty-four other people have done in a country of millions doesn’t seem to be a factor.

If Obama took a secure limo, Trump wants to ride in the same carriage as the Queen. If other Presidents dropped bombs, Trump wants to drop the Mother of All Bombs. His bomb is bigger.

Some have suggested, and I tend to agree with them, that launching sixty missiles at an airfield in Syria was a PR stunt:

A distraction, most likely from the persistent allegations that he is a Russian puppet. But he didn’t just give us one distraction, no, that’s something a standard politician would do. Trump has the most distractions, the best distractions. Bigly.

Three distractions so far. If this is a case of the tail wagging the dog (as in the 1997 film Wag the Dog which many have referenced in the past few days), well, this dog now has three tails and might grow more.

The Trump team can’t even do deflection right, because their boss is only focused on looking bigger and badder than anyone else. Meanwhile, the biggest, baddest dog in the yard, the US military (along with its defense contractor allies) has been unleashed, or at the very least, is now connected to a real long bendy leash that no one is pulling on to reign it in.

These distractions could turn into full-blown wars. When it comes to North Korea, it’s now up to Kim Jong Un to be the restrained, responsible one if the world is to avoid the start of World War III.

If Donald Trump was taking the actions of the military he now commands with the gravity the situation warrants, then he wouldn’t be telling reporters about the chocolate cake he was eating when ordering a strike on Iraq, only to be corrected that it was, in fact, Syria he had sent missiles into. He also wouldn’t be ordering military actions from a golf course.

He also wouldn’t care if he got to ride in the carriage with the Queen, or, for that matter, whether or not he got to meet with the Queen at all. This focus on image and who looks more famous, bigger and more important, may be laughable, but it also may be what dooms us all.



What are we to make of the Julian Assange drama unfolding in London these days?

Assange may be a hero or villain (I lean towards the former) to millions of people and internet users all over the world for establishing Wikileaks and exposing the hypocricy of governments’ (especially the U.S.’s) foreign policies, but, and it must be said, his decision to seek asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, was not his finest moment. Though the gambit may have achieved its ultimate purpose of gaining Assange the sanctuary he set out for, it has also resulted in a stalemate between British police—who have an arrest warrant and a court order to extradite Assange to Sweden for questioning on sexual assault allegations—and what is probably the oldest of all international legal principles: diplomatic immunity.

While we may have some doubts about the thought process that would lead a man to take such drastic measures to avoid a possible trial, there is certainly no doubt about the legality of his current situation. He can not be removed by force from the premises of the embassy, period! This is enshrined in every form of international treaty (The Vienna Declaration, 1961) doctrine, case law (The Iran Hostage crisis) and international customary law (i.e. diplomatic immunity) you can name. No domestic law invoked by the British authorities in violating this sacrosanct legal norm, would make one bit of difference.

Of course, this won’t stop them from trying. The British government is already, citing the obscure Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act (1987) which it claims give it the right to enter the premises of the embassy if the state in question “ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post.” The only problem is that such as law goes against every rule in the international legal rule book and isn’t recognized by any international court, anywhere.

Assange is still very much painted into a corner, though. He can do one of two things: stay put in the embassy and pray that the Brits are bluffing (more than likely) about the invasion threats. Or he can attempt some sort of daring cinematic escape to Ecuador (less likely, but a hell of a lot more fun!).

Either way, Britain should respect the age old principle of asylum and grant Assange safe passage to Ecuador, instead of listening to those in the U.S. (and Tom Flanagan in Canada) who view him as some sort of international terrorist mastermind. It’s hard not to conclude that the Brits’ hard line stance in this case is due, in part, to being pressured by the Americans, who would sorely like to get their hands on Assange for his part in any number of leaks that have embarrassed the U.S. government over the years. It also looks an awful lot like a double standard that would be almost unimaginable if this were a case involving one of the more important embassies in London (e.g. Canada’s) harbouring any dissident other than Assange.

*Photo from Democracy Now! (Under a Creative Commons license.)

Ten years ago I was outside Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebration. There’s a picture: I’m huddled with my parents and sibling amongst the heaving crowd outside the palace gates, looking pretty cold but mostly confused about why everyone was so happy.

And why wouldn’t I? The crowd erupted when the Queen came out onto the palace balcony (where, you’ll probably remember, Prince William and Kate Middleton kissed after their wedding last year), and she waved back for a few minutes. That’s it.

Compared to the Red Arrows flyover a few minutes earlier it wasn’t that cool, especially for a 12 year-old boy.

Sandwiched between those two thunderous moments, though, was a lot of sitting and standing—outside the palace, in the car, on the train, in the pub. Given the occasion, we passed the time mostly telling Queen stories, the same way weight loss storms back to relevance after New Year’s, or a celebrity everyone had forgotten about gets glorified after they die.

We didn’t have many stories. My dad, an officer in the Royal Navy, took the cake with an etiquette crisis during his lunch with the Queen while serving on the Royal Yacht.

That’s how the British tend to think of monarchy, myself included. Instead of thinking about how one person comes to be one of the wealthiest in the world by virtue of the hereditary ownership of roughly $600 million of land and other assets (still less than J.K. Rowling), we think, “Oh bollocks, should I swallow these cherry seeds or spit them out onto my plate in front of the Queen?”

The fact is, the Queen – and the monarchy as a whole – just sort of exist in Britain. Especially since the recession, they’ve kept a low profile while the rest of the country has struggled along, surfacing to throw the occasional huge party and long weekend distractions Britons are needing more and more of lately.

Because “jubilee” isn’t compatible with “austerity” – and both were on display in Britain for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee last weekend.

As we saw with the royal wedding last year, this latest pricey royal spectacle clashes head-on with the austerity agenda of British Prime Minister David Cameron, an agenda that faces mounting criticism with each day the British economy worsens.

While it may take an appearance from the Queen for the U.K. to make international headlines, protests against austerity are not new. In the intervening periods between royal celebrations, Britain has seen an ongoing campaign against cuts to health and social services, protests against – oh, hi Quebec – increasing tuition fees, and even recent Casseroles protests.

Austerity is now being called to question, even in the economic fortress of Britain. While the rest of Europe has fared far worse, the British economy has seen little improvement despite Cameron’s strict budget cutting, and cuts are being blamed for not only exacerbating existing issues like social inequality, but creating new ones, including (some have argued) last summer’s riots:

The Diamond Jubilee was marked by another significant moment, Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman attacking austerity’s effectiveness—from London no less.

Despite all these alarming signals, a disturbing cognitive dissonance seems to persist in Britian, and around the world, with international viewers fawning over the spectacles while their own countries experience similar cutbacks.

Indeed the Britain the rest of the world sees has migrated inside the Palace, visible in recent Academy Award successes like The Queen and The King’s Speech. While these films don’t always show monarchy in the most favourable light, they’re also a far cry from the harsh portrayals of Britain’s desperate and destitute underbelly in preceding works like This is England and Trainspotting (or my personal favourite The Full Monty).

The Queen returned to the balcony for another Jubilee last weekend. Apparently, the choice of having only six members of the royal family with her at the time “sent a message demonstrating both continuity and restraint at a time of austerity.”

If she’s going to push the austerity line (because she doesn’t have to), the Queen might want to try a little harder. She could just as easily point to the big tourism boost stimulated by the royal wedding last year to support Krugman’s recession-busting public spending theory. She remains mired in timid hypocrisy, however. With an international spotlight and a chance to be the kind of leader a monarch used to be, she came up mute.

While I can honestly say that, if I were in England last weekend, I would probably be drunk in the middle of the road with everyone else, this week everyone will wake up with the same hangover.

Nowhere is that more visible than in Scotland, whose slowly-advancing independence referendum will be a thorough test of whether last weekend’s party-fuelled display of national unity was real or imagined (I’m leaning towards imagined).

As far as Queen stories go, a popular one is her service as a mechanic during World War Two. This time, however, with a stagnant economy casting an ever-darker pall over festivities like the Jubilee, it will be the Queen keeping calm and carrying on, with the fixing up left to the rest of us.