Kishor Napier-Raman posed a question about the Australian political future when he wrote (crikey 15 January 2021) that: “The question is no longer whether Trumpian politics are on the rise in Australia, it’s now a question of how severe the damage will be.”
The reality is that this is the wrong question and that the right questions are about what is distinctive about Australian populism and right-wing politics; how much Australian political problems are home-grown; and, our continuing delusions about our relationship with the US.
Outright Trumpism in Australian politics is largely peripheral with the most fervent followers – Kelly, Christensen – being more embarrassing than influential. No-one other than them and a few fringe conspiracy theorists are supporting the Capitol rioters and promulgating misinformation about vaccines, COVID and other things.
Just compare our Prime Minister and Trump. Trump is a crude pathological liar and suffers from a deeply narcissistic personality disorder. Morrison is a world-class obfuscator whose lies and evasions are generally so subtle as to be worthy of a medieval scholastic or a centuries ago Jesuit before the order’s members got to be like Pope Francis.
Australian right-wingers campaign to incite fear of the Other – currently refugees, environmentalists, the ABC and other enemies – but then Australian politics has been infected by paranoia from the first European settlers’ fear of the French through the Russians, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Russians again, the Chinese again and immigrants yet again. There is nothing Trump can teach them about this.
Moreover, Morrison is a consummate trimmer able to shift appearances and policy positions while largely hiding the significant changes he makes like unwinding Banking Royal Commission recommendations and trying to destroy the superannuation system and gift non-industry funds by setting up a performance indicator which excludes overheads.
Often he changes rhetoric – the one word change to the anthem is a classic example – without addressing the underlying policy issues.
He is also hardly renowned for loyalty and will be no more loyal to Donald Trump than he was to Malcolm Turnbull.
The refusal by Morrison and others to condemn Trump and the insurrectionists is also probably a subservient reflex rather than any specific Trumpian philosophical commitment.
Nationals Leaders like Barnaby and McCormack who also won’t condemn Trump are simply lightweights and buffoons – particularly when compared with predecessors such as John McEwen.
Our former US Ambassador Joe Hockey, another lightweight buffoon who knew so little about US politics that he thought the normal DC voting patterns were evidence of election fraud, has gone relatively quiet on Trump but probably not quiet enough to help his lobbying business with a new Democratic administration. Thankfully we now have a smart politically astute Ambassador, Arthur Sinodinos, who will navigate the new reality better than Hockey could have.
The hypocrisy involved is also nothing new. To practise selective levels of outrage, or what aboutism, towards the Capitol insurrectionists is no different from the ongoing hypocrisy on so many subjects. Indeed, the hypocrisy about the Twitter and Facebook Trump bans merely reminds us how previously silent politicians can suddenly become defiant defenders of free speech. Where on earth, for instance, were they all when Morrison and the Murdoch media hounded Yassmin Abdel-Magied hounded out of the country for saying:” Lest We Forget Manus, Nauru…”.
Where also is Dave Sharma, another Twitter free speech critic, when people who criticise Israel or suggest it is an apartheid state are promptly accused of being anti-Semitic? And on that subject one bit of good news for Israel, if bad news for Trump and Netanyahu, is the recent death of Sheldon Adelson whose money had been an enabler of both.
Meanwhile, hunting down the remnants of Trumpism in Australia is less of a problem than ridding ourselves of delusions about the Australian-US relationship.
The emphasis on Trump distracts attention from the more fundamental underlying problems in our supine relationship with the US. Once that deference was to the UK but after the 60s it was transferred to the US and we got Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and self-destructive China policies as a result.
The very few 20th-century examples defying this supineness ranged from Curtin who recognised the Brits could do little to help us in WWII to Whitlam whose concern about Pine Gap led to the CIA and the US cooperating with others to undermine and get rid of him. In recent years the only notable exception was the mad Mark Latham moment when he named and shamed the conga line of suck holes.
The delusional view of Australian-US relationships is exemplified by a recent Peter Jennings article in The Australian: “Morrison should visit Washington soon after the inauguration to help shape Biden’s thinking about America’s role in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. If Biden is to develop a strategic approach that also serves Australia’s interests, we need to craft our place in that coalition effort. There is no more urgent Australian policy development task. Key elements of this strategy should be to shape a common response against Chinese economic coercion; a formalising of Quadrilateral defence co-operation which involves Japan and India; a shared condemnation of China’s dismantling of Hong Kong’s autonomy; an agreement to develop supply chains that shun Chinese forced labour; and combined planning to strengthen the defence of Taiwan.”
Morrison might get in among the formal obligatory phone calls Biden will take. He won’t get as much time as Angela Merkel, even if she is on the way out, and probably slightly less than Boris Johnson, but he will confront the problem encapsulated in one bit of Trump rhetoric – America first.
It is very probable that Biden will have other things on his mind in the immediate future after the inauguration. The suggestion he will organise a top priority visit from Scott Morrison to help him ‘craft’ his thinking about America’s role in the Indo-Pacific is the sort of thinking which suggests the delusions we associate with Donald Trump may be still prevalent in Australia.
More probably the first Biden-Morrison meeting will be an uncomfortable one where the major topic will be climate change.
So what is the danger of ongoing Trumpism in Australia and what damage can it do? Far less than we can and do ourselves.
Noel Turnbull is retired and blogs at http://noelturnbull.com/blog/