Leo's Trump cards
Ahead of the Taoiseach's White House visit, Bill Linnane advises how to navigate everything from the welcome to the small talk with Melania
There aren’t many countries that get to hold their national celebration in other people’s countries. It’s like forcing your neighbour to host your birthday party, even though they will be cleaning green hair dye and sick off their sofa for a month.
The fact we are given access to the White House on an annual basis is something to be celebrated, even when the occupant of the Oval Office is the very stable genius Donald Trump. Last year Enda Kenny went over and delivered a stern lecture to President Trump on how St Patrick was an immigrant, although technically St Pat was a kidnap victim, one who wrought his own revenge on Ireland by killing all our snakes and making us Catholic.
This year, obviously, is going to be different. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is a thoroughly modern leader, so there is hope he will be less like the school principal mode adopted by Kenny and more like the hip young teacher just out of college who is going to change the way we learn with a fresh new approach, but ends up having a nervous breakdown instead.
How should he handle the challenges of being a thoroughly modern leader facing into a social encounter with a US President that is stuck in the 1950s? How will Leo navigate the minefield that is the current Oval Office? And what sort of socks should he wear?
1. The welcome
Forget the shamrock. For years we have been bringing a bowl of these cheerful little weeds to the White House in the hope no one points out a bouquet of flowers from Aldi would be much nicer. Perhaps a more fitting plant to represent the Irish people would be a jar of Japanese knotweed.
Like the noble knotweed, we are a notoriously invasive species — we show up everywhere and are almost impossible to get rid of, even with fire. Just as those signs on the roadside warning about the presence of knotweed are largely ineffectual, the ‘no Irish need apply’ signs from the days of yore had almost no impact, and we cheerfully rolled into America with a “how’s she cuttin’’ and centuries later we are still there. In case our jar of knotweed gets confiscated by security, we can always just hand over some four leaf clover, since no one in America seems to know the difference between it and shamrock anyway.
2. The road trip
Varadkar was off to a good start in his choice of destinations in the run-up to the main event in Washington. First he visited ‘The County Kerry of America’ — Texas. Just as Kerry has been teetering on the brink of secession for a century, so too has Texas. Texas also has former governor Rick Perry, current Secretary of Energy, who says switching to renewable energy from fossil fuels is “immoral”, habitually enforces pro-life policies, and advocates for the teaching of “intelligent design” (a clever rebrand of creationism) in schools. All he needs is a flat cap and Texas becomes a home away from home for Varadkar.
3. Avoid confrontation
Trump is notoriously touchy, so perhaps it might be best not to mention the meeting Varadkar had with members of the Choctaw nation. Instead of telling the president he met with Native Americans, why not simply tell him he met with nativist Americans, the racist bedrock of Trump’s target demographic?
If anyone should present Trump with images of Leo wearing a native headdress or smoking a peace pipe, Leo can just call it fake news and blame the lamestream media/Obama/Isis/Dems. On a similar vein, it might be best for Leo to go by the Irish version of his name, Leon De Varad, which is both easier to say for someone who struggles with bigly words, and also has the bonus of sounding slightly Russian, which should set Trump right at ease.
4. Greeting Melania
When greeting a head of state’s partner, it is rarely wise to make comments on their appearance, such as Trump did with Emmanuel Macron, telling him that his spouse was ‘in such good physical shape’. When meeting Melania, or whatever lookalike has been hired to replace her this week, it might be more appropriate for Leo to ask if she is being treated well or if she has any messages she would like delivered to the outside world.
Dr Varadkar could also give her some useful medical advice on caring for a senior citizen.
5. Conversational topics
Trump’s notorious locker room talk will hopefully not be a feature of this encounter, but just in case, maybe Leo should have some alternative topics prepared. Brexit could be brought up, but the myriad complexities of it might be a tough one to explain to a simple man who likes his steak well done with a side of ketchup, so maybe just use the analogy of Friends: everything was great, the show was a hit, morons everywhere sang ‘Smelly Cat’ at each other. But then it all came to an end and Joey got his own show and it was rubbish as it soon became clear that Joey only worked with others around.
So Friends is Europe — Ross and Rachel are the Republic and the North of Ireland, Theresa May is Gunther, Joey is Britain, Boris Johnson is Smelly Cat and all of this only worked as one great show with many annoying characters. Just like Europe.
The aforementioned cremated steak and ketchup is just one of the delicacies Trump enjoys, along with meatloaf (the dish, not the singer... we hope), KFC and up to 12 Diet Cokes a day. As a GP and cosmopolitan urbanite, Varadkar will struggle to sit through any such gorging without expressing concerns for Trump’s intestinal well-being, so perhaps it might be best to skip dinner altogether.
Just tell Trump he has given up food for Lent before producing rosary beads and mumbling a few decades while Trump inhales a pizza in one go. While the medic in Leo may be pleased Trump is a teetotaller, he will probably need to go to the White House with a naggin in his stars ’n’ stripes socks just to get through the day without losing his mind.
Going for a jog with Justin Trudeau may be good for both international relations and the human heart, but it seems unlikely Trump is going to be donning his lycra onesie and going for a trail run through Yosemite with Leo.
It might be best to adapt the more achievable exercise goals of Jane Austen characters, and take a turn about the room rather than do anything that might require effort or be in any way beneficial to the human body.
Staying indoors is also a healthier option as it makes it harder to get shot. Also, given Trump’s fear of steps, it might be best to hang back a bit in case he tries to grasp Leo’s hand, as he did with Theresa May. We want to keep him on side, but we have our limits.
8. Business deals
Should Trump bring up Ireland’s tax issues, as he has done in the past by naming us as a tax haven, it would be best to simply play poor Paddy and claim the money was only resting in those corporate accounts and that Leo will look into it before he gets home, and that if the kind Mr Trump was looking for a few strong lads to help build that wall of his, Leo happens to know a few thousand Irish who are already in America just waiting to help out if only they could get their visas sorted.
9. A pensive mood
Perhaps the biggest stumbling block to a cordial meeting in the White House will be the fact that current VP Mike Pence belongs to the hard right of American fundamentalism. Pence, who calls his wife ‘Mother’, says that gay marriage heralds a societal collapse, opposed the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy of the American military and fought laws that tried to end employment discrimination against LGBT people.
Our Taoiseach has vowed to raise the issue of gay rights with Pence and we wish him the very best of luck with that as, once again, Pence is a man who calls his wife ‘Mother’.
10. The return
When you are a guest, it is customary to invite your host over. In this case, however, we should all be burying the Child of Prague upside down in the garden and praying this doesn’t happen. It’s already going to cost us a few million to host the coolest Pope ever — the last thing this country needs is the most unpopular president in American history showing up.
That said, our access to the White House is a remarkable feat and something to be cherished, so if Trump coming here to play a few rounds of golf and argue with the locals in Doonbeg is what it takes to get him to relax about our taxes, then so be it.