He is utterly repugnant. There. I have already expended one adverb and one adjective. Need I say more about the character of POTUS? There is a point – we may have reached it – at which the avalanche of insults directed at Trump ceases to have any meaning, so often have we heard it all before. Important, though, in view of what follows, to establish my own credentials in the matter of POTUS. At the risk of repeating myself: yep, the guy is a disgrace to the human race.
And yet – this is one of those 'and yet' pieces – the reporting of the president's visit to Scotland fell short of a faithful reflection of what happened. I can say this with unusual certainty because I live and work in the vicinity of Prestwick Airport, his point of arrival on Friday 13 July and of his departure two days later. Air Force One, the world's most famous plane carrying one of its most divisive public figures, taxied past my window, scarcely more than a stone's throw away. Not – I hasten to add – that I threw any.
Those of us in the eye of the storm had approached Friday the 13th with a certain queasy anticipation. The date itself seemed weighted in premonition. We had mentally prepared ourselves for a security nightmare, for the inevitable bomb threat (I had dutifully memorised the questions we had been instructed to ask the caller), for the predicted army of protesters, and for the world's media clamouring at the door of Liberator House demanding to speak to the besieged editor of the Scottish Review.
None of this transpired. Friday the 13th at the office was a complete non-event. I have no memory of what we did to pass the time, but I do remember leaving the building with a feeling of thumping anti-climax. I had been looking forward to covering a real story for a change, finally making a name for myself. By mid-afternoon I had to accept that there was no story. Unless you think – as I'm inclined to myself – that the absence of a story was a sort of story in itself.
I went home – no great distance – and observed events unfold at Windsor. The old queen was standing nobly in the heat, barely protected by a makeshift canopy, while she waited for POTUS and his unsmiling consort, FLOTUS. And then I heard – on Sky TV, I think – that, after tea and buns with the monarch, the president would be 'leaving the UK' – for an unspecified destination which I took to be our own dear Scotland. The BBC was more specific: Air Force One would soon be heading 'for Glasgow Airport.'
By early evening, still no sign of Trump; it emerged that he had been held up by his pal Piers Morgan. But on the far side of the airport – which we perversely insist on calling Prestwick – something unexpected was going on. The perimeter was now lined. The police were out in force, but not in any aggressive way, for the mood of the crowd was benevolent, even sunny. It had the quality of a hot summer night family party, so impromptu that the cops hadn't thought to impose parking restrictions on either side of a rather minor road. For a few hours, the result was traffic chaos.
The sightseers had a long wait for their moment of history. It was 8.40pm before Air Force One finally touched down. Not, however, to a chorus of jeers, nor to the spectacle of placard-brandishing protesters. The opponents of Donald Trump had stayed away, having ventured no further than Glasgow's George Square, and the media were nowhere in evidence. Had any journalists bothered to turn up, they might have been puzzled by the neutral, perhaps even benign, reception for the unseen POTUS and FLOTUS. They would have had copy for a decent sketch, if nothing else.
The aircraft continued to taxi out of sight. An ultra-discreet disembarkation then took place, before a comical motorcade through the narrow high street of Maybole – still no bypass – and onward to Trump's Turnberry 'resort' (as we must now learn to call it).
The last time we had a presidential procession in these parts, in 1959, Dwight D Eisenhower lifted his hat and shouted 'Hi-ya, folks' to an adoring crowd at Prestwick Airport before being driven off in an open-topped limousine down the coast road, avoiding the Maybole bottleneck, to his apartment at Culzean Castle. Crowds along the route continued to cheer, and several times he stood up in the car to give them a wave.
After dinner at Culzean, it was reported that Ike 'played a little bridge.' And then, on the Sunday of his visit, he joined a congregation of 450 in the village church at Kirkoswald, built 12 years before the inauguration of the first POTUS, where Souter Johnnie, a friend of Robert Burns, was buried in the kirkyard.
Like Trump, Eisenhower was a keen golfer. In the company of the club pro, Ian Marchbank, he negotiated the Ailsa, the tougher of the courses overlooked by the Victorian railway hotel. 'When are we coming to the easy holes?', he implored his playing partner. There were no easy holes. The leader of the free world gamely signed for an 89.
Since Dallas – JFK was shot only four years later – no president has been allowed anywhere near an open-topped limousine. You never know who might be lurking in Dunure. And it is also true that Trump, during his own rounds at Turnberry, faced an additional handicap that Ike never had to endure: a crowd of protesters on the beach. The journalists didn't put a number on this crowd, and are anyway hopeless at arithmetic, but to me it looked pretty small, perhaps no more than a few dozen, plus bagpipes.
We had – I'm boasting now – a much bigger crowd in the environs of the
airport on the evening of Friday the 13th. But here's the difference. Over the weekend of Trump in Scotland, we were regularly invited to witness the strength of the opposition to POTUS in the cities and, less convincingly, at Turnberry itself; the footage was endlessly replayed in one news bulletin after another. Of the happy, informal party on the fringes of the airport, however, we saw and heard nothing.
To have recorded, even incidentally, that the people of Ayrshire gave Trump a respectful welcome, and had a ball at the same time, would have risked disrupting the media narrative, with its dominant, unchallenged theme of outrage and indignation. So the fact that the locals – other than the few on Turnberry beach, who might or might not have been local – were unfailingly polite has become the unreported story of Trump's Scottish visit.
Still, it may be worth reporting it now – if only as a tiny service to the truth. It doesn't make the object of the story any less repugnant.