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.