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Britain’s obsession with America

British front pages after President Trump’s inauguration. Jack Taylor/Getty

Liz Truss’s programme can be summed up in four words, says Janan Ganesh in the FT: “Reaganism without the dollar.” Ronald Reagan was free to slash taxes safe in the knowledge that the dollar was the world’s reserve currency, and that there was a “near-limitless demand” for American government debt. But as we have learnt this week, this is not true for the UK. Truss is suffering from a common delusion: Britain’s elites are so engrossed in America that they “confuse it for their own nation”. This gets reflected in our politics: picking a fight with the EU or thinking Washington will eagerly sign up to a trade deal is superpower behaviour, not that of a “midsized archipelago”.

Largely to blame is the “distorting effect” of a shared language. Because our ruling class can so easily follow US politics, they get lost in it. It wasn’t always so: the British establishment used to be firmly anti-American. In Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh crowbars in a scene on a cruise ship “for the express purpose of mocking Americans”. Some of this tendency was “sourness at the imperial usurper dressed up as high taste”. But at least its proponents were under no illusions. Tories like Harold Macmillan and Ted Heath were quicker than much of Labour to see that Britain belonged with Europe. “The snobs understood that America was alien, and inimitable.”