How have we managed it, when even the kindly Canadians have been transformed from trusted friends into foes?
The answer: Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister. Like Trump, he was a prominent businessman before politics. Like Trump, he is a man who likes to think of himself as a deal-maker. Like Trump, he has a strong sense of his own abilities.
Many have referred to President Emmanuel Macron as “the Trump Whisperer” for the surprisingly close relationship the French leader and the U.S. president seem to have forged. That’s despite Macron’s failure to shift to Trump’s position on almost anything — from how to deal with Iran to the matter of European steel exports.
Australia has succeeded where France has failed. It’s time the garland was handed over. Turnbull is now the true Trump whisperer.
Why does Turnbull do so well with Trump? Perhaps only Turnbull, himself untroubled by self-doubt, realizes the amount of pure, unadulterated fawning that may be required.
Turnbull endorsed the meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un, praising Trump’s “strong pitch” and his “very personal approach.” He talked admiringly of Trump as a “very persuasive, very powerful deal-maker.”
Notably, Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, found herself unable to match this level of praise, instead casting doubt on whether the “war games” should be canceled: “I would not be taking my foot off the throat of North Korea until I saw very concrete steps that this time they were genuine.”
Of course, it’s not all down to Turnbull. There are other, deeper reasons that Australia is the last ally standing.
We really have been America’s best friend — fighting alongside the United States in every major conflict for over a century. Australia hosts important U.S. military bases, most particularly the facility at Pine Gap, which, legend has it, contains at least one room that only Americans can enter.
More to the point, given Trump’s obsessions, we have a trade surplus with the United States, buying more from the United States than we ship back. We also have golf legend Greg Norman, who plays golf with Trump, and seems to be our hotline to the Oval Office.
Add to all this, though, our special advantage in this era of sycophancy.
We’ve been doing it for years. The rise of an American president so hungry for praise, so desperate for compliments, is perfectly aligned with our skill set.
Back in the 1960s, Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt visited Lyndon Johnson in the White House and used the president’s campaign slogan (“All the way with LBJ”) to express our unquestioning devotion.
It wasn’t just talk. Holt then proceeded to send successive waves of young Australians to fight in Vietnam. In the end, almost 60,000 Australians, including ground troops, air force and navy personnel, served in the war. More than 500 died, and more than 3,000 were wounded.
More recently, Prime Minister John Howard proudly embraced the role of America’s “deputy sheriff.” Again, the leader walked the walk, committing troops to fight in U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
Both sides in Australian politics are in lock-step about the U.S. alliance. When the call comes, we always seem to answer “yes.”
So, practice makes perfect. Stand aside, France; stand aside, Canada. When history produces an American president in need of constant, craven praise, you’ll find the necessary experience is located Down Under.