It was the sign that got me in. “Little Johnny & the Trumpettes, here tonight.” I have been following this nostalgia band of old, once powerful white men as they slowly gig their way through the RSL club network of country New South Wales.
Tonight, the band is 170 kilometres down the road at the Baradine RSL. The club’s front door is a time machine. Passage through it transports you back to the ’50s, a place of hard-working conservative Christians with not a Muslim in sight. Swallows keep returning to a mud nest above the piano. Blue Laminex tables stand on garish orange Lino. A faded picture of the Queen tilts to the right. Johnny & the Trumpettes feel right at home.
I am looking for Scotty (“Holidays”) Morrison. “He’s out the back tuning his spoons,” says Micky (“Cow gate”) McCormack. I want to see if he would talk to me about his time as Prime Minister of Australia and that notorious love affair he had with Donald (“I’ll be back”) Trump.
There he was. Sitting at a table that had either just come from or was going to St Vincent de Paul. In the frame was the scuffed honour roll, partly obscured when someone put a deck of plastic chairs in front of it. We will remember … indeed. Scotty was instantly recognisable with his scruffy trainers and his sweat-lined Cronulla Sharks cap, also tilted to the right. Try as he might he could not get two of his favourite tunes right on the spoons. “I wish I were in the land of Dixie” evaded him completely. He did a better job with Woodie Guthrie’s “This land is your land”.
He looked up. His rheumy eyes windowed emotions you don’t want to see displayed too often, pathos, bitterness, regret. I returned his glance. I was looking at the worst Prime Minister Australia has had since Billy Mc Mahon.
Little Johnny rushed in to tell Scotty that Joyce, the bubbly manager, had pushed some boxes around and cleared space on the stage. The band was ready to go. As he shuffled out, he took with him all the questions I wanted to ask.
Scottie, what was it with you and Trump? What stopped you doing due moral diligence on this man? You were one of only a few leaders who swiped right on Trump. Yes, there you are in the shameful company of bad men and despotic presidents; Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Hungarian President Viktor Orban, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. You and this nasty new international crowd you now hang out with, ideologically speaking, could not muster a single direct rebuke of your dear Donald and the failed insurrection he led.
Yet there was Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor saying:
“I deeply regret that since November, President Trump has not accepted that he lost, and did not do so again yesterday. He stoked uncertainties about the election outcome, and that created an atmosphere that made the events of last night possible.”
The chair of the powerful UK Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat, said: “The US Republic has inspired millions. Not today… The actions of Donald Trump threaten us all.” Similarly, Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven: “President Trump and several members of Congress bear substantial responsibility for developments.”
Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, wrote that the insurrection was a “totally unacceptable attack on democracy. A heavy responsibility now rests on President Trump to put a stop to this.” The European Union’s top politician, Ursula von der Leyen, said that “after four long years, Europe has a friend in the White House”.
Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, was the most forthright. “Five years ago, we thought Trump was a bad joke, but five years later we realized he jeopardised nothing less than the world’s most powerful democracy.”
This menage a deux between Morrison and Trump reminds me of the relationship Joe Lyons, our 10th prime minister, had with Benito Mussolini. Lyons, like many other Australian conservatives was beguiled with fascism from a distance. In 1935, after meeting Pope Pius XII, someone else who was “interested” in fascism, Lyons headed to the Foreign Ministry, where he spent 20 minutes with Mussolini. He caught up with the Italian dictator two years later in Mussolini’s grandiose office in the Palazzo Venezia. In 1938 Lyons wrote to Chamberlain saying that because he was on such good personal terms with Mussolini, he offered himself forward as a peace broker.
That is where the comparison between the separate enchantments of Lyons and Morrison goes. Lyon, despite his naivety, had a noble purpose. There is nothing noble about Morrison’s tawdry fascination with Trump. He campaigned for Trump in Ohio, he talked about a shared vision, he accepted Trump’s Legion of Merit, and he promised to go much harder in the UN against anti-Israel forces.
Like kids smashing windows and running off, Trump and Morrison poked a stick into the China beehive. China retaliated against our barley farmers and wine growers. Then last week it authorised its coast guard to fire on ships poking around the contested Spratley Islands.
Thanks to you Scotty, our future in the region just got a whole lot more insecure.
After the Baradine gig, Little Johnny and the Trumpettes temporarily come off the RSL circuit and are heading to Stapleton Avenue in the Sutherland Shire – where Scotty’s church, The Horizon, is. Little Johnny and the Trumpettes are doing a benefit concert to raise money for the descendants of the First Fleet who, apparently are still doing it rough. Bless them.
I am hoping to talk to Scotty about the days he would wake up on Sunday mornings, a born-again Pentecostalist. Go to The Horizon Church and receive the grace of the Holy Spirit and listen to readings from his inerrant bible. Then, a mere 24 hours later, he would go back to labouring in the Augean stables of modern politics. A Pentecostalist up to his knees in the grime of secret deal making, and turning a blind eye to the sins of others (are you still reading this Craig?)
Sounds like hypocrisy? You will be surprised at the answers I get.