Welcome to America
Wherever you cross the US border — whether it be over the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls, or at JFK or Miami airports — a formal portrait of the President hangs in the customs hall. Every year for more than 30 years, I have entered the United States, watched over by Jimmy Carter, by a smiling Ronald Reagan, by Bushes both senior and junior, by old Bill Clinton, and — thrillingly — by America’s first black President, Barack Obama.
It’s a sign of authority, and of welcome, into the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. And now I’m wondering if it will feel quite so welcoming when, on next year’s trip, US customs and immigration at the border is overshadowed by a full colour portrait of the 45th President — Donald J. Trump.
One can be forgiven for feeling a little queasy, having watched the debates, the “town meetings” and speeches during this election campaign which exposed his raw opinions to the world in all their certain, gory detail. Donald Trump’s attitude to women, and guns, and immigrants, and foreign affairs are all sufficiently extraordinary to cause one to avert one’s gaze, even in portrait form.
A Trump portrait will surely loom more menacingly over an immigration hall than his smiling predecessors. And the hall will surely be more crowded, and the queues more slow-moving, given his promise to crack down on immigrants, to control the borders — even to build that wall against Mexico.
On US election night, despite the British heavyweights flown over to cover the polls from glassy New York studios, there is really no contest in terms of coverage — CNN, with wall to wall punditry and instantaneous voting trends, won hands down for this viewer. In particular, the “Magic Wall”, managed smartly by CNN national correspondent John King, had live coverage of the count, not only state by state but county by county — technology that had him predicting swing states earlier and more accurately than any other channel. Respect.
Over on the BBC, Andrew Neil was enjoying the freedom he is not allowed in the UK, where Downing Street minders will not let him near their wilting political charges. Andrew, dominating the discussion in a studio overlooking Times Square was, as always, completely on top of his game. Jokes came easily at first, but then — as with European referendum night — the numbers began to turn. A nagging doubt over Hillary Clinton’s support gave way to the increasing — and astonishing — likelihood of a Trump victory, as Mr Neil and his cohorts realised we were all watching history in the making.
America was rejecting the opportunity of a first woman president, and choosing a complete political outsider — billionaire, property developer, casino owner, reality TV show host — a man who had campaigned virtually policy-free on the slogan Make America Great Again, hashtag MAGA.
As the country split asunder overnight on our television screens — and protests erupted on the streets, even now, a day later — we realised the US would never be the same again.
So the picture we will all see on entering America’s borders in 2017 will be of President Donald J. Trump, looking down on visitors and would-be immigrants alike. Better make sure your papers are in order… welcome to America.
Robert Ballantyne is an Associate Partner at Charlotte Street Partners. He was previously the Business Editor at both The Times and The Scotsman. After his career in journalism, Rob was head of group communications at Stagecoach and Scottish & Newcastle before moving into consultancy.