What with the cost of living crisis, an all-out war in Europe, and schools seemingly dissolving in the rain, there’s not much left of what Fleet Street used to call the “silly season”. But Donald Trump’s public invitation to Meghan Markle to debate with him the question of whether the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been “disrespectful” to the Queen is certainly… well, bizarre, even by his own often outlandish standards.
It’s not, sadly, going to happen, but you have to admit it is an enticing prospect. There are no two figures on the global stage in style, substance and symbolic power than the 45th president and the former Suits star, and the clash of ideas that would erupt on the stage would be a spectacle to enthral the world.
At a time when so little seems to bind humanity together, the world would at least be as one as the Markle-Trump confrontation commanded a record-breaking audience. From Yucatan to Pyongyang, from Borneo to Malmo, it would be as if John Lennon’s “Imagine” had at last come true. Billions would willingly pay, queue or sell a kidney to see the pair tear chunks out of each other.
We already know what Trump, rather arrogantly, thinks he knows. December 2021, he said that Meghan had been “disrespectful” to the royal family and insisted that her husband had been “used horribly”. He previously said he was “not a fan” of Meghan’s and wished Harry “a lot of luck” in another attack on the couple.
The couple chose not to respond, but they’ve made their own case in the famous interview with Oprah, the Netflix docs and the prince’s borderline paranoid but entertaining memoir Spare. So there’s a lot of material to talk over during a more-heat-than-light TV debate.
It would be the greatest show in earth. The body language. Their respective dress. The zingers. The reaction shots of Harry and Melania. The audience groupies chanting “lock him up”. For an hour, planet earth would stand still. No wonder Trump fancies the idea. So do we all.
Of course, the main drawback with Trump’s chosen subject for discussion is that only one person could ever know whether the Queen was disrespected, and she is very sadly no longer with us. We can all speculate about what she made of the Sussexes in her last years, but the fact that Trump chatted to her majesty during a banquet on subjects far removed from her family’s private lives doesn’t really qualify him to pass judgment.
He simply isn’t in possession of all the facts, though that’s never stopped him before. The Duchess, and Harry even more, have more claim to know her late majesty, but, such was her habit and the nature of the role she played, only she ever knew what she was really thinking.
Maybe, if one day her papers are published, we may learn a little more. The official biography, when it arrives, may offer a few hints. Bit for the foreseeable future, no one is able to definitively refute Trump’s allegations, which suits Trump down to the ground.
A better subject for debate might be the meaning of “woke”, and whether it’s a good thing. In any other hands it would be wearily predictable, but Meghan v Trump would illuminate the cultural Grand Canyon that disfigures so much of the political and cultural life of the most powerful nation on the planet. It wouldn’t settle anything, but it might just make Americans, and the rest of us who find ourselves unwillingly caught in the culture wars crossfire, to think a little more about what’s at stake for all concerned.
What’s wrong with woke, if all it means is an awareness of social and racial injustice? How can cherished “traditional” values thrive in a woke world? Can we start to agree on what society stands for, and agree to respect democracy and rule of law?
Churchill had an old saying, “jaw jaw is better than war war”. We can only ever achieve reconciliation via reason, argument and indeed debate. Maybe Trump-Markle isn’t so a mad idea after all.