Convivium Weekly: Our wrap-up of notable news, ideas, and images— sent by email. Get Convivium Weekly delivered to your inbox.
Was it only a year ago that President Donald Trump, on his second trip to Europe, delivered in Warsaw one of the most outstanding speeches ever given by an American president?
Given at the monument to the Warsaw Uprising, the address had the marks of Trump’s distinctive rhetorical style. Speaking of the twin invasions of September 1939 – Nazis to the west, Soviets to the east – he said, “That’s trouble. That’s tough.”
Not exactly Churchillian at that point, but the oration as a whole was a soaring hymn to the power of the spirit, of witness to truth, in the history of Poland’s proud fight for freedom, for independence, for their nation and for God.
That was then. The recent European comedy of errors was not strictly speaking, theatre-wise, a comedy. It did not end well. But it was full of moments of buffoonery and slapstick, the principal one of which was the president meeting the Queen. Let Peter Hitchens – permit me to quote him at length – set the scene:
“For many of us here in Great Britain, the supreme moment of President Donald Trump’s visit came when he attempted to inspect a parade alongside our Queen. Somehow it went mildly but definitely wrong, with Mr. Trump first surging ahead of Her Majesty, then halting unexpectedly to gaze at the assembled Coldstream Guards, as they sweated frightfully in their scarlet tunics and bearskin hats. The tiny 92-year-old monarch, who spends large parts of such visits concealing a keen sense of the ridiculous behind a mild frown, could be seen peering around her towering, bulky, and clumsy guest, trying to work out which way he might veer next.
There was, it seemed to me, a slight but real danger that, if she miscalculated, he could knock her down, even trip over her. She looked as if she was assessing a large and rare marsupial, not exactly dangerous but skittish and unpredictable, with which she had just been presented by a loyal tribe of subjects. You could almost see her thinking, “What does one do with this? What does it eat? Will it be noisy?” We were all very proud of her.
She was, as it happens, untroubled by this sort of thing and will already have put it to one side. Mr. Trump’s disruptive, loud presence had no power to upset or dismay her. She is the last surviving representative of an England which was once so rich, so powerful, and so unshakably stable that it regarded all foreigners as funny and temporary.”
Perhaps Her Majesty did ask herself: “Will it be noisy?”
Well, it was. Noisy might just be the perfect descriptor for Trump; everything is always on, always at maximum volume. There is no mute button.
Which is why the moment with the Queen was so precious. Unlike the press conferences with the clueless Theresa May or the cunning Vladimir Putin, where they had to work out what they might say after the latest noisy eruption from Trump, at Windsor Castle there was nothing to be heard from either Trump or the Queen. For the president it was a temporary status, for the Queen rather a permanent one. Rarely does she speak, and then usually to say nothing.
Which is marvelous blessing on occasions calling for public rhetoric. Yes, at times the great oration is called for, but more often than not the less said the better. In this noisiest of noisy presidencies, the silence of the Queen was refreshing.
It reminded me of a scene from the magnificent series The Crown, which tells of the accession and formation of the young Elizabeth II. After returning from her post-coronation six-month Commonwealth tour, she summons her sister, Princess Margaret, to upbraid her. Standing in for the Queen when she was overseas, Margaret had delivered more than a few speeches that were too opinionated, to self-referential, too bold. Margaret had made noise.
The Queen tells her sister that she was too flamboyant, too much the individual, too little the representative of the silent crown.
“You give them nothing,” Margaret retorted, rejecting the Queen’s suggestion to keep quiet. “That’s what silence is.”
“No,’’ Elizabeth replies. “Silence is the absence of noise.”
Blessedly so. Trump’s 2018 visit to Europe brought noise on every side, from those for and those against, with every action having a more than equal and opposite reaction. The volume just kept getting louder.
Silence was needed. Silence was welcome. And silence, as provided by the Crown, was golden.
Convivium means living together. We welcome your voice to the conversation. Do you know someone who would enjoy this article? Send it to them now. Do you have a response to something we've published? Let us know!