(CNN)Anyone who needs confirmation that our world is in transition need only look at the images generated by the visit of President Donald Trump and his family and entourage to Great Britain, France and Ireland this past week. The clash of worlds jumps out not just between very old and very new money and power but between allegiance to democracy, which millions of World War II soldiers felt was worth fighting for, and to an authoritarian politics based on the leader’s proprietary notion of public office and insistence on loyalty at all costs.
Here is a selection of those images captured by photojournalists. They don’t convey every moment of the meeting, but they are consistent with what we saw in the media during the leaders’ appearances together.
Trump’s visit came at a dramatic and uncertain time in British politics. Prime Minister Theresa May has resigned, and her successor has not yet been chosen. Although Brexit has been pushed off to the end of October, several “deal” options are still circulating, and a second referendum on the issue is not out of the question.
More than ever, the monarchy is a symbol of continuity, and the 93-year-old Queen Elizabeth II, who has met 10 US Presidents, is quite a contrast with the agent of chaos that is Trump.
While he and the Queen got along well at the state dinner, with lots of smiles on both their faces, Trump’s displeasure at the official photo shoot with the Queen, Prince Charles, and Camilla was evident. Trump’s used to being at the center of things and dominating any space he’s in. Here he’s off to the side and at the mercy of others’ rules and protocol, and his face shows anger and even contempt for this objectionable situation.
In matters of performance Trump knows exactly what he is doing all the time. Doug Mills, a New York Times photographer who has been taking still images of Presidents since 1983, has said that Trump is so “camera-conscious” that sessions with him take up to 90 minutes, rather than the five minutes tops of every other President. Trump’s decision not to smile, which makes him stand out from all the others in the photo, was deliberate.
Trump’s decision to bring a large entourage on the trip, including his adult children and their spouses, his top advisors, and some cabinet officials was also deliberate. In 2014, President Barack Obama took his wife Michelle and his daughters Sasha and Malia with him when he attended a G8 meeting in Northern Ireland. Yet they stayed in Dublin during the proceedings, whereas members of the Trump clan were at the center of every festivity, and Ivanka participated in an official meeting, sitting right next to Secretary of State John Bolton.
Their exuberant group photo in formal attire in London, like the “pub crawl” sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. went on at taxpayers’ expense when the clan arrived at Trump International Golf Links in Doonberg, Ireland, a course that has consistently lost money and needed some publicity, sent a message about this administration’s flaunting of conflicts of interest that the equally image-savvy first lady Melania telegraphed on a trip to the Mexican border in 2018: “I really don’t care.” It’s not surprising Irish premier Leo Varadkar refused Trump’s request to come to Doonberg as “inappropriate.” They briefly met in the Shannon airport lounge instead.
Sandwiched between London and Doonberg was the emotional heart of the state visit: The commemoration of the lives sacrificed for freedom during the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when Allied troops made a daring amphibious landing on the beaches of Normandy that caused terrible losses but turned the tide of the war against the Axis.
Yet the irony of the occasion drew just as much comment. Here was a President who embraces despots, doubles down on defending “both sides” of the Charlottesville protests, unknowingly retweets Mussolini slogans, and has made his sympathies clear for white nationalist causes and right-wing politics around the world. Even as the scars of war linger on in the bodies and minds of the brave veterans present in Normandy, Trump is using his power as America’s President to subvert the rule of law and the cause of democracy in our country.
That is why the defining image of this trip, at least for me, is Trump insulting his political opponents (he called special prosecutor Robert Mueller a “fool” and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “a disaster”) with the graves of Americans who died to defeat fascism behind him. As memories of the war recede, the lessons of the consequences of authoritarian leadership must remain.