President Donald Trump raised one of his favorite philosophical conundrums at a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron from the G7 summit on Monday: Where’s England?
In response to a question about whether the U.S. will value its alliance with the U.K. or the EU more post-Brexit, Trump started his reply, “We have been with, I guess you would start off by saying ‘England,’ right? I asked Boris, ‘Where’s England? What’s happening with England? They don’t use it too much anymore.’ We talked about it. It was very interesting.”
This is not the first time Trump has suggested he believes that England, the U.K., and Great Britain are interchangeable names, or that England is just the older name. In August 2018, he told a rally crowd in Pennsylvania, “I have great respect for the U.K., United Kingdom. Great respect. People call it Britain. They call it Great Britain. They used to call it England, different parts.”
A few weeks before that rally, he got into it with Piers Morgan in an interview for the Daily Mail:
Trump: We would make a great deal with the United Kingdom because they have product that we like. I mean they have a lot of great product. They make phenomenal things, you know, and you have different names - you can say “England”, you can say “UK”, you can say “United Kingdom” so many different - you know you have, you have so many different names - Great Britain. I always say: “Which one do you prefer? Great Britain?” You understand what I’m saying?
Morgan: You know Great Britain and the United Kingdom aren’t exactly the same thing?
Trump: Right, yeah. You know I know, but a lot of people don’t know that. But you have lots of different names.
Does he, in fact, know? Trump is right—and Morgan has argued— that a lot Americans may not know that the United Kingdom is the sovereign state made up of four constituent countries: England, Scotland, Wales (which are on the island of Great Britain) and Northern Ireland (which is not).
But a lot of Americans are not the president of the United States. A lot of Americans also don’t own a large golf course in a part of the U.K. that is not England. And most people, if they were continually confused by this over the course of several years, could ask someone or look it up.
But that is not Trump’s style. This is not the only country he talks about this way.
At another rally earlier this month, Trump tried awkwardly to dig himself out of an anachronism involving the Soviet Union:
We’re now the largest energy producer in the entire world. Bigger than the Soviet Union … formerly. “Remember the Soviet Union? When it was all together. Before they decided, ‘we gotta call ourselves Russia.’”
It does seem like on some level Trump understands that the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom contain “different parts,” but also can’t seem to shake the idea that “Russia” and “United Kingdom” are newer names that people now choose to use, rather than terms that refer to entirely different geographical entities. Perhaps, for him, they’re just politically correct terms like “African-American” or “LGBT” that he’s gathered you’re now supposed to use in order to be polite.
As it happens, telling the press that Prime Minister Boris Johnson should talk more about “England” is not all that helpful. There’s growing support for a new independence referendum in Scotland—where anti-Brexit sentiment is strong—and there are fears about what a no-deal Brexit will mean for the Northern Ireland peace process. Johnson has been trying desperately, and with limited success, to demonstrate that he’s committed to keeping the union together.
Then again, if the political fallout from Brexit is as bad as some project, Trump may get his wish to make England England again.