Speculation is mounting that Theresa May, emulating Richard Nixon’s epoch-making visit to China, may be planning a visit to Washington with a view to laying the foundations for a trade deal between the UK and US. She has already been to China for the G20 meeting in Hangzhou, where Xi Linping has told her that China is open to a trade deal with Britain. No such overtures have been received from the US; on the contrary. Barack Obama had said in April that a Brexit vote would mean that Britain went “to the back of the queue” for a deal with America. Since then Britain has indeed voted for Brexit, and President Obama, possibly piqued at the outcome, has repeated his disapproval. The “back of the queue” is still the designated place for the UK. Since China is signaling that the front of the queue is on offer, this is a strange moment in Anglo-American relations.
Strange, but not unforeseeable. President Obama has never been a fervent admirer of Britain. His Kenyan father’s anti-colonial record is well known, as is his dismissal of the Churchill bust from the Oval Office. He has shown no understanding of English literature; while not ostentatiously attached to Shakespeare, he has hosted a White House party in which James Earl Jones delivered Othello’s Act I speech to the Venetian Senate. It is fair to assume that President Obama wishes to be associated with the liberal side of Shakespeare. There is not much to be gleaned from the President’s forays into literature, though his visit to South Africa to commemorate Nelson Mandela obliged him to quote Mandela’s favorite lines from a minor English poet, W.E. Henley: “I am the master of my fate: / I am the captain of my soul.”
For Mandela, Julius Caesar (which he pored over in Robben Island) was the greatest play in the canon, as it was for the American Revolutionaries. It does not appear to be Obama’s constant reading.
However, the Constitution lays its hand upon the future of Anglo-American attitudes. If the next President is Hillary Clinton, she will have to free herself of Obama’s legacy. I have seen her in the Shakespeare Globe theatre in Southwark, and her husband is a Rhodes scholar in Oxford. I do not see an anti-British bias there. As for Donald Trump, he evidently has nothing against Britain—he owns a large chunk of it in Scotland, the Turnberry golf course and hotel in Ayrshire and his mother, as he tells us, was Scottish whose first language was Gaelic. I think that whatever the outcome of the Presidential election, Anglo-American attitudes are set to converge.