GRAHAM FREUDENBERG. American Malaise and Malice.

The key to the Trump presidency is its malice. Trump daily mocks Lincoln’s noble intent: “with malice toward none”. There is now not a country or region in the world untouched by Trumpite malice, defined as the irrational desire to do harm or mischief, fuelled by a sense of imaginary grievances.Australia cannot expect to be exempt.  

The United States is becoming a nation with a gigantic chip on its shoulder. It is a nation whose president declares “America has been ripped off”; a president who has overturned more than 75 years of an American-led push for an international free trade regime; and who now tweets “A tariff war is easy to win and we will win it”.

This is the pathology of an empire in decline.

Trump’s ignorant contempt for the rest of the world was an essential ingredient in his election. He exploited the absurd notion that America has been hard done by; that its unparalleled sacrifices have been unrequited and abused by its ungrateful beneficiaries. It is this mythology that feeds American malice. It is entirely comparable with the myth of the “stab in the back” – the myth exploited so brilliantly by Hitler that Germany was not defeated in 1918, but was betrayed from within by Jews and socialists.

The depth and reality of malice as a prime driving force in this presidency is shown, not only by the tariff decision itself, but also the spitefulness and crudity of Trump’s announcement. So much for the Declaration of Independence and its appeal to “a decent respect for the opinion of mankind”.

Trump not only exploits this notion of an ungrateful, anti-American world, but personifies it.

Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury has been wrongly dismissed as a catalogue of scandal and gossip. It is much more than that. It is a serious and searching account of the American malaise. Its central theme is the pervasive malice seething through Trump’s dysfunctional administration.

Of course, the book’s publication itself shows the undiminished strength of freedom in the United States. In itself books like this provide a powerful antidote against despair about the United States and its future.

But it is false comfort to think that the Trump presidency is just a passing aberration. As John Menadue pointed out here recently, Malcolm Fraser described the United States as a “dangerous ally” years before a Trump presidency was remotely conceivable.

Clearly, Australia, with most of the world, is at the opening stage of a profound review of international relationships.

It is ludicrous that the long and complex relationship between Australia and the United States should still focus on ANZUS – a treaty stitched up in 1951-52 to induce Australia to accept a “soft” peace treaty with Japan. Not one of the following military actions in which Australia has been involved since 1950 (Korea, Malaysia, Konfrontasi, Vietnam, the two Gulf Wars and Syria) has been remotely connected with ANZUS. The network of bases and intelligence installations are not mandated by ANZUS. ANZUS involves only the obligation to consult according to constitutional processes. How does Trump interpret this when he has no concept of American constitutional processes, except, perhaps, to make the world safe for the Second Amendment? No Australian, not even if Prime Minister, knows the full nature and extent of the commitments made on Australia’s behalf or in Australia’s name.

The urgent task for any Australian government must be to disentangle the reality of our commitments from the rhetoric. (I suppose I provided as much of that rhetoric as anybody, especially when squaring the circle in opposing the war in Vietnam while upholding the alliance.) A good starting point for this long overdue revision is to get the vocabulary right. It is absurd to keep on talking about an alliance which not one in ten members of the US Congress and not one in ten thousand American voters know of its existence. And in fact, ANZUS literally does not exist. It hasn’t existed since New Zealand withdrew in 1985 . The reason why we persist with an anachronistic acronym is not force of habit but sheer embarrassment. For what is ANZUS when you take out the “Z”?

By far the most destructive result of Trump’s malice comes from his wholesale repudiation of the policies and undertakings of his predecessors, above all Obama. The tariff war, NAFTA, the repudiation of the multilateral Iran nuclear deal, Jerusalem as capital of Israel, four within this category of repudiation with malice. Above all, there is his drive for the expansion of the American nuclear arsenal. Trump’s evident enthusiasm for the many tens of thousands of Hiroshimas in the 4,700 strategic nuclear weapons in the US arsenal-use of any of which would constitute a war crime-risks global catastrophe. . Literally at the stroke of a pen, it sets aside every law, every convention, every standard which suffering humanity has ever devised, however inadequately, to mitigate war and to condemn aggression. His new program contains not a scintilla for the sane defence or security of a nation unrivalled in its power for world domination and destruction, a nation under no credible threat from anyone. It cancels out every effort by every president since Kennedy to limit nuclear arms, most notably and successfully by the saint of the Republican right, Ronald Regan. The acronym NNP, which for two generations has stood for “Nuclear Non-Proliferation” now means in the Pentagon “New Nuclear Program”.

Authorising commanders in the field to use nuclear weapons raises the supreme question for Australia of criminal complicity through the use of installations on our territory. Such are the horrific implications of being ”joined at the hip”.


Graham Freudenberg AM is an Australian author and political speechwriter who worked in the Australian Labor Party for over forty years. He has written over a thousand speeches for several leaders of the Australian Labor Party at the NSW state and the federal level. These have included Arthur Calwell, Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke, Neville Wran, Barrie Unsworth, Bob Carr and Simon Crean.  In 1990 he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in recognition of his service to journalism, to parliament and to politics.  In 2005 he was inducted as a life member of the NSW ALP.

He is the author of four books to date:  A Certain Grandeur – Gough Whitlam in Politics, 1977;  Cause for Power – the Centenary History of the NSW Labor Party, 1991;  A Figure of Speech (autobiography), 2005; and Churchill and Australia 2008. 


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4 Responses to GRAHAM FREUDENBERG. American Malaise and Malice.

  1. Bob Weis says:

    Well said Graham – I am totally of the view that we have been witness to the end of the American age and it starkly draws for us to grow up as a nation and take responsibility for ourselves and particularly in our region.
    We have played the junior partner for too long and need to be aware that America First means America Only and that the massive hole left in world politics is rapidly being filled by the EU, China and in the future India, Brazil and Indonesia.
    The dangers that Pine Gap leave us exposed to and the awful undisclosed our explained issues around the secretive TPP agreement are issues that need to be decided by an Australian parliament that has explained them to the Australian people.
    Meanwhile, Putin plays his games at which he is very good – all that KGB training hasn’t gone to waste as he becomes the largest criminal on the world stage. The amount of evidence of corruption, extrajudicial killings and much much more make it difficult to believe that he can share a platform anywhere in the world, be it G20, or other forums, without being taken into custody and charged.

  2. Michael Flynn says:

    Australia must support the 2020 review of the NPT treaty as a party and an independent state and Article VI that says the nuclear powers will eliminate nuclear weapons. President Putin said recently that Russia has the capacity now to end all life on earth. He says he supports the UN. We in Australia now have to persuade the US to sign up to and implement the nuclear weapons ban treaty that will shift the norms about war. A Shorten Government should welcome the work of ICAN and follow the advice from the Nobel Prize committee that the nuclear powers now have to do the heavy lifting. I hope the US does not order us to stay away from this issue as happened in the UN process for the ban treaty. As sovereign state should sign up not follow wrong directions. We are moving towards nuclear war somewhere. This is a real problem. A start would be to help Ukraine improve its relations with Russia. Australia could act without US approval !

  3. Tony Mitchell says:

    Thanks again Graham. But let’s look on the bright side. With the World awash with US armaments, Ministers Bishop, Pyne and Payne are now eagerly promoting our own nation as an emerging supplier of quality weapons of war. Wonderfully beneficial to jobsandgrowth, the GDP and suchlike, we will soon be told to feel proud of the bombs, guns and bullets bearing the distinctive kangaroo logo. And to value-add, we can do you a nice line in D I Y coffins;…….. with a discount for volume of course. Hell, we might even start a trade war.

  4. mark elliott says:

    careful graham! aussies don’t like people who think.whilst it’s a great post there is too much truth in it for public perusal. now who is playing footy on the box tonight!!

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