The reality is that the UK is now faced with a US president who is fundamentally at odds with the British view of the world. For all the forced smiles in the Oval Office last week, the May government certainly knows this. For political reasons, Boris Johnson, the British foreign minister, is having to talk up the prospects of a trade deal with Mr Trump.
Yet only a few months ago, Mr Johnson was saying that Mr Trump was “clearly out of his mind” and betrayed a “stupefying ignorance” of the world.
Were it not for Brexit — a cause that Mr Johnson enthusiastically championed — the UK government would be able to take an appropriately wary approach to Mr Trump. If Britain had voted to stay inside the EU, the obvious response to the arrival of a pro-Russia protectionist in the Oval Office would be to draw closer to its European allies.
Britain could defend free-trade far more effectively with the EU’s bulk behind it — and could also start to explore the possibilities for more EU defence co-operation. As it is, Britain has been thrown into the arms of an American president that the UK’s foreign secretary has called a madman.
In the declining years of the British empire, some of its politicians flattered themselves that they could be “Greeks to their Romans” — providing wise and experienced counsel to the new American imperium.
But the Emperor Nero has now taken power in Washington — and the British are having to smile and clap as he sets fires and reaches for his fiddle.