“Extravagant professions of loyalty and devotion to the United States strike a somewhat awkward note for many Australian ears. How do we imagine they sound in the capitals of our neighbours?” … great powers regard deference as no more than their due”. Malcolm Turnbull 2011
An eerie light suffuses politics this week. A super moon, as astrologers term a full moon or a new moon which coincides with the closest approach the moon makes to the earth; super-charging lunatics everywhere and fertilising the bumper crop of nonsense that thrives in our post-truth, post science era.
Public-spirited newspapers such as the UK’s Daily Telegraph warn readers that “some even see the super moon as an omen of disaster or a warning of something momentous coming towards us”. Spookily on cue, moon-raker Donald Trump, President-elect of the dark side of the United States, bares his buttocks, mooning truth, justice and the American way causing a rash of local copy-cats eager just to be offensive or, like our PM with his sneer at elite media, keen to spin The Donald’s win to his own advantage.
There is something richly attractive in the elevation of a political illiterate; an irrational, unstable narcissistic con-man described by those who know him as a dangerous sociopath, a man whose response to criticism is petty and vindictive; a bigot and a sexual predator, a compulsive liar who is capable of doing anything who will deny everything. Especially if he’s about to become the next President of the United States of America.
A conga line of suck holes comprising Prime Ministers, Presidents, and sundry other aspiring petty despots and international heads of state rush to kiss Trump’s rump. Of course it’s risky. There are no protocols. No holds are barred. Someone’s bound to get trampled in the crush. Or “Trumpled”. Shinzo Abe, Japan’s perpetually bewildered Prime Minister appears terminally dazed and confused after meeting The Donald in person, a state not helped later when he surfaces in Peru, forced to wear a silly shirt and having to pretend to believe in free trade when Japan plays favourites; grants favourable credit terms to selected industries.
Never to be outbid, a pumped Malcolm Turnbull even jumps the queue, we discover Thursday. Our agile PM, Trump’s satellite of love down under, gets Aussie battler Greg Norman’s help with the pussy-grabber’s mobile number, gushes Daily Telegraph’s Sharri Markson whose breathless, exclusive, expose also stars Joe Hockey who moonlights as Australian ambassador to the US in between picking up his parliamentary pension. Murdoch media go wild over this victory. There’s a whiff of another class act, Alan Bond and his America’s Cup win about it. Paul Hogan eat your heart out. Call that a contacts list?
Oozing Aussie ingenuity, Turnbull rips the ring-pull lid off a can of true-blue larrikin can-do: skolls its contents. The silver fox rolls up his sleeves; takes off his favourite tie with the motif of the man lifting a weight above his head; wrangles protocol to the floor of the diplomatic jungle. We’re in like Flynn. Whoarr! Hourly bulletins recycle moonbeam Markson’s gatecrash story. Shark. Hockey. Trump. Whoarr! Plucky little Australia makes its own luck. Turnbull, as always is soon heard boasting, taking credit for someone else’s bonzer brainwave.
“In diplomacy and politics you use lots of networks and all I can say is we have great networks, great contacts and Greg Norman is a great Australian,” NBN disaster architect Turnbull grates after DFAT’s frantic efforts to get Trump’s number failed. At least Norman will be grateful for the plug. Estimated to be worth a paltry $300 million, The Shark is doing it hard after being boned by Fox for choking on microphone after only a year as a golf commentator. Norman became “speechless” over Dustin Johnson’s meltdown on the 72nd hole of the US Open, where he three-putted to hand Jordan Spieth victory.
Clearly Norman had no relevant personal insights to bring to bear, unlike Trump who can tap his YUGE real estate career and the world of the reality TV host to finesse his education in realpolitik and comes thoroughly prepared to be leader of the free world.
Our PM is in The Donald’s ear for a whole fifteen minutes on TPP, ISIS, trade and regional security, throbs The Daily Tele whose readers love romantic fiction featuring celebrity super-heroes in a two-dimensional post-truth universe. No need to explain that Trump knows nothing about foreign affairs and less about Australia. No reason to suppose a man with the concentration span of a gnat understood not a word of Turnbull’s unctuous toadying.
No-one in DFAT reads the New York Times which points out that Trump clearly intends to carry out all of his campaign threats to make war on America; bulldoze the status quo and reverse eight years of liberal domestic policies and also to overturn decades of bipartisan consensus on the United States’ proper role in world affairs.
Turnbull’s shark-assisted call comes to nothing in the end. Yet the PM’s dial a Donald stunt does help to boost our cultural cringe towards the US, as Paul Bongiorno notes. PM media mavens publish photographs of our Fizza standing erect as he talks on a clunky landline to the President-elect. The handset looks like it’s recycled from a Blue Heelers set. If the call were to set up a meeting as Turnbull passed through New York en route to the APEC wankfest in Lima, Saturday, his mobile diplomacy turns out to be another dud.
In what has become his signature political move, the PM chokes. Despite being in the vicinity, he receives no invite from The Donald. Turnbull blames bad timing. Trump, indeed, may well be strapped for time. He must now a find $25 million to settle out of court a six year fraud case brought by six thousand students who enrolled in Trump University only to be denied any of the real estate secrets the proprietor promised. Trump also has to pay a million dollars to the state for violating the state’s education laws.
New York’s Attorney-General, Eric Schneiderman paints a helpful sketch of Malcolm Turnbull’s newest bestie, if only the PM were capable of listening. “Donald Trump fought us every step of the way, filing baseless charges and fruitless appeals and refusing to settle for even modest amounts of compensation for the victims of his phony university.”
Schneiderman skips racist abuse. Trump also attacked Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the Federal District Court judge hearing the case for not only being a hater, a total disgrace and biased, but also a Mexican. The Judge is a US citizen born in Indiana who is of Mexican heritage.
Suddenly, Turnbull’s judgement is in the spotlight again – and for all the wrong reasons. What makes his Trump snub worse is his rush to delude himself that The Donald is someone else. He’s all over Trump like a rash punting on a fellow huckster, con-man and shyster failing to keep his promises. He won’t ban Muslims, make NATO pay for its bases or impose tariffs on Chinese imports as if not following through with lunatic threats will improve his suitability to be president.
Local media eagerly spin the Coalition line that Trump will turn out to be just another Ronald Reagan with bad hair and a Twitter account. Shorten, however, sticks to his barking mad call only to cop abuse from Turnbull for endangering national security. Mostly MPs backflip. Mouth that roars, SA submarine builder Christopher Pyne now raves about Trump’s defence build-up “signalling immense opportunities for Australia”. In March, he said, a Trump Presidency terrified him.
Incredibly, Australian media present Trump’s out of court fraud settlement as a victory for the President-elect. No matter that the students who were conned may get only half their money back. No matter that the case raises issues of probity which go to the heart of his suitability to be any kind of president. The settlement allows Trump or Trump University to accept no fault, surely something contradicted by the payout, niggardly as it is. Will this prevent Trump from assuming The Presidency? Don’t bet on it. One Nation’s Rod Culleton is overcome with envy. Malcolm Turnbull plays the Trump card when Leigh Sales asks hard questions.
Sales cheekily asks Turnbull if he got real with Trump, bowling the PM’s own “frank and forthright” cliché back at him. Sales has the nerve to imply Turnbull might ask the President-elect what will become of the 1600 refugees on Nauru and Manus we now torture afresh with promises of a new life in Trump-land. A “frank and forthright” PM, moreover, would also deplore Trump’s misogyny, views he called “Loathsome …(which) deserve the absolutely universal condemnation that they’ve received.” But that was last month.
Instead, the silver-tail sneers at ABC elitism, a Trump tactic. Turnbull, an MP who owes everything to his membership of more elites than you can poke a stick at, counters Sales’ questions by mocking the ABC for being an elite media organisation which indulges itself and wastes funds pursuing the truth; fruitlessly attempting to hold the government to account. Why, he implies, is the ABC not more like Markson’s rag? Devote itself to seeking endless ways to praise the Coalition; relay government propaganda and attack Labor?
Saturday’s Daily Tele spares no hyperbole, painting Bill Shorten a bigger threat to world trade than Donald Trump.
“Elite media” features bigly in Trump’s limited political lexicon. Like paranoid Peter Dutton, Trump maintains that there’s a conspiracy against him in his rants against the dwindling band of responsible journalists still left working in the US whose work appears in the few remaining independent news outlets such as The Washington Post or The New York Times. Like Turnbull and his government, Trump’s real beef is with being held to account.
Turnbull airbrushes Trump’s unpopularity. Around half of all eligible US voters did not bother to vote; and of those who did, half voted for Hillary Clinton, meaning The Donald won only a quarter of the vote. Fifty million Americans, it is estimated, cannot bring themselves to even register to vote. Sales doesn’t ask how our PM can continue to claim that “the American people have spoken.”
Unchallenged also are MPs who insist billionaire Trump’s win is a victory for ordinary people, a spin happily encouraged by mainstream media and seized upon by Eric Abetz, George Christensen, Corey Bernardi and a crush of attention-seekers, nutters and trouble-makers infesting the lunar right of the Coalition or our own dark side of the mooners, the odd-ball cross-bench created by Turnbull’s double dissolution. Yet they, too, claim the same about their own nonsense; they are not using their position to promote their own lunatic views, they are just saying what ordinary people are thinking.
If romancing the Donald can be tricky as back-flipping and denying it, Immigration has been thrown into chaos by the implications of Trump’s victory on a secret refugee deal with strings attached it has cooked up with a clearly underwhelmed Obama administration.
Is it a cruel hoax? Will the 1600 refugees we currently torture by indefinite detention, abuse and neglect on Manus and Nauru Islands be relocated to the US in return for our government taking refugees from Costa Rica? Obsessed with secrecy, the Turnbull government will make public no details of the proposed swap, a deal which will never receive President-elect Donald Trump’s approval. Our Prime Minister is vague on the details. Peter Dutton says nothing but manages to confuse the issue. Barnaby Joyce says on Monday’s ABC Q&A that he knows because he’s on the joint security committee. But he can’t tell. At least it makes him feel important. The situation would be laughable if we were not playing with peoples’ lives.
Instead of real details, the nation is treated to a preposterous fantasia of military might. Maps are shown with images of boats. “More sea-craft will be deployed than at any time in our history since World War Two”, puffs our Prime Minister, as if we are at war with asylum-seekers – as if we are to believe the tired old fiction that demon people smugglers will exploit any opportunity to pursue their vile trade and will suddenly launch a thousand ships now that our nation has shown its hand. Or half-revealed its plan.
A weak, indecisive leader and a poor communicator, a puppet if not a total tool of his reactionary right wing, who is now less popular than his bone-headed predecessor, PM Malcolm Turnbull is making a desperate, dramatic attempt to cut through. Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, the great vacillator, is making a last ditch attempt to convince us that despite his surrender to the right, despite his total capitulation to the National Party, despite all his dithering over tax policy, he’s really a strong and decisive leader.
Yep, Turnbull is one hell of a tough guy, underneath the leather jacket wearing public transport is fun nerd with the Apple I-watch guy. No-one mucks around with MT, he’s out to show us. Monday he’s got tough guy written all over his unsmiling face which is only a whisker away from sulky. He bares his bottom teeth. He sticks out his lower jaw. Points with his chin. He makes great show of being resolute and committed.
Peter Dutton up behind him somewhere stares manfully at the back of Turnbull’s neck.
Turnbull will be tough on border protection, whatever that means. Moreover, he’s got all of Tony Abbott’s puerile slogans off pat just to show us that he, too, can militarise compassion or make war on the UNHCR. No-one lectures Turnbull on how to out-posture Abbott.
In a high camp production number not out of place in an episode of Border Patrol, Turnbull unfurls his new cut jib on national television with a whole set from Border Force Central Command behind him including a rear-admiral in tropical rig naval uniform who looks as if he may fall flat on his face if someone doesn’t put a ship’s wheel in front of him soon.
Incredibly, elite ABC reporters find no queue of asylum-seekers in Indonesia. They interview refugees from Afghanistan but no-one is prepared to risk years of processing on a sea-voyage with a fifty per cent chance of failure. The tsunami of opportunist refugees appears just another lie; a shonky justification for Turnbull’s show of force.
It the PM wants to show he’s a strong man, he will need real strength to put things right with refugees on Nauru and Manus whose mental health his government has already stretched beyond breaking point; whose hopes he has now cruelly aroused but must now surely dash. Even Trump will tell him to forget about any other country, Australia must now step up and assume its legal and moral responsibility.
Having failed to wedge Labor on its absurd bill to ban asylum seekers from even visiting Australia, there is only way forward for the Turnbull government. Resettle all those on Manus and Nauru on the mainland; bring them home without delay. Drop the posturing. Stop dreaming. Forget Trump. A strong leader can be compassionate, democratic and responsible. A little bit of independence won’t hurt a bit. Try to act like a real Prime Minister.