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Fair to say America isn’t gripped by Liz Trussmania. Here’s what she can learn from Mr Bean | Emma Brockes

Fair to say America isn’t gripped by Liz Trussmania. Here’s what she can learn from Mr Bean | Emma Brockes
Fair to say America isn’t gripped by Liz Trussmania. Here’s what she can learn from Mr Bean | Emma Brockes

‘I know the name,” texts a friend when I ask if she knows who Liz Truss is, but like most Americans can’t quite put her finger on why. “Like 8%,” guesses another when I ask her to put a number on how many of her countrymen she imagines know of Truss. The standard response, in my extremely unscientific poll of Americans as to whether or not they know of Truss, however, was: “No, should I?” – the answer to which, of course, depends entirely on whether you want to understand why the Tory party is polling around 20% or whether you happen to be Liz Truss.

Truss, the only one of us to suffer that particular misfortune, was in Washington DC this week trying, like so many minor British celebrities before her, to catch the eye of the Americans. At the Heritage Foundation, a rightwing thinktank that hosted the launch of Truss’s book Ten Years to Save the West, she came bearing a “warning”. Not an ideal ice-breaker, perhaps, but one clearly tailored to an audience receptive to the frisson of the term “forces of the global left”.

She then provided a perfect illustration of how British people try to win over Americans. “I like to think of the United States of America as Britain’s greatest invention,” said Truss, a piece of comic rank-pulling that relies, for the joke to land, on the delusion that Britain is central to American thinking or penetrates American consciousness at all. Even the sorts of Americans who show up to events at the Heritage Foundation must have been politely baffled by this.

Still, it’s possible Truss did better than the other British export trying and failing to win over Americans this month. Blur’s performance at Coachella last week – and particularly that of Damon Albarn – delivered the timeless drama of a man’s idea of himself crashing into a rival and more widely held view. “You’re never seeing us again, so you might as well fucking sing it,” shouted Albarn when, during a rendition of Girls & Boys, he tried to get a call and response off the ground and the crowd remained largely unresponsive. “Know what I’m saying?” he added savagely. And they did, apparently, rewarding his yelling, sneering and eventual tip into bitterness by continuing to withhold their approval.

The challenge for Albarn, Truss and all the others who have tried to charm this particular away crowd is to project a jaunty, offhand confidence that somehow disguises the scale of the need and the fear of rejection. It can make for an odd spectacle, bad jokes and terrible sycophancy. “The world felt safer when Donald Trump was in office,” said Truss this week, and you wondered at her shamelessness – not because sucking up to Trump is unusual in America, but because, coming from a British person, even a former Conservative prime minister, you assume that she is able to see Trump marginally more clearly than her American counterparts, and that at some level she knows that we know this.

There is, however, one thing that may work to Truss’s favour in the US. British critics of Tony Blair used to hammer him for a smoothness that struck some as pseudo-American, and which contributed to his currency – or at least legibility – in the US. Margaret Thatcher’s strident persona had about it a force that, particularly since she was played by Meryl Streep in the movie, has been claimed by some in the US as “American” in flavour.

But Truss has something that can land equally well coming from British people trying to break the US: an effortless, almost Mr Bean-like social awkwardness that invites in Americans a rival condescension, and is frequently utilised by British people abroad. Truss’s odd syntax, lame jokes and occasionally unnerving eye contact may stand a better chance of landing in the US as charming eccentricity, or an extension of the standard-issue bumbling Brit.

Although, of course, in this case, it’s all moot, because no one knows who she is. The New York Times didn’t cover Truss’s book launch in Washington, nor did the Washington Post, and the book currently sits outside the top 4,000 on US Amazon. Her warning, whatever it was, will go not only unheeded but unheard – with no one more profoundly, one assumes, than Donald Trump.

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