Exhausted after my second fair-dinkum bushfire in ten days, thinking that this isn’t even summer yet, I was in the mood for a good news story today, and found one. Unexpected, but very welcome, came the unlikely tale of a beleaguered Australian prime minister weathering a Washington blizzard to seek the help of a powerful ally. Between them, a deal was struck to accept an undisclosed number of UN refugees from a Costa Rican detention facility in exchange for resettlement in the US of the 1600 asylum seekers at Manus Island and Nauru. This was a big deal, and changed the immigration formula of our nation perhaps permanently. Australia will now accept 19,000 refugees per year, including a mandatory proportion from the ‘Northern Triangle’ being Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. To keep this secret from the media was well-played. It was a political masterstroke, perfectly executed, which may have resolved the most troubling problem of modern times. I have no doubt that it was our PM’s idea. This has all the hallmarks of the ‘real Malcolm’ — the one we hoped for, but the one so rarely seen. Bravo, Prime Minister.
But then the #trumpquake happened, and maybe all bets are off. Can we expect the President-elect to honour the promises of a man he so despised? Will he not take personal joy in ripping up every one of Obama’s pledges and carving the political landscape of the US into his own image? ‘I like to win’ he boasts in virtually every interview I’ve ever watched, so why would his first weeks in office be any different. Yielding to the will of a predecessor for the sake of good political form would be anathema to the man. Why would a despotic narcissist with a megalomaniacal bent abandon his xenophobic mass-deportation agenda to take on more aliens? It might explain why our PM is ‘sweating bullets’, as they say, and when asked for his opinion on Trump instead of echoing the sentiment of the Opposition Leader (‘He’s as mad as a meat axe’) went for something far more obsequious. All for nought?
Let’s not abandon hope just yet. Perhaps once Trump gets to consummate his hot bromance with Vladimir Putin, the two ‘alpha-males’ will get all maudlin and sentimental in the #afterglow and allow a few of the humane Obama-era deals to slip through. While deciding between them how to divide up the Middle Eastern oilfields by joint military annexation of those pesky Arab nations, maybe signing off on a few humanitarian policies might placate those media bastards, while they pursue their hawkish plans in stealth. Both The Donald and the Grey Cardinal know you can hold a dagger in your left hand even as you give a reacharound with your right. And here comes the fun bit: Trump thinks he can ultimately win against Putin. I can almost hear the bear laughing, even as Putin measures himself up for the throne of Europe.
War aside, the worst effect of the whitelash in the US will be the confidence it gives to hate groups around the world. Pauline Hanson, the wicked witch of the north, can’t wipe the smirk off her ugly face. No doubt she’s planning how she’ll redecorate The Lodge in 2019. I’m thinking red. But I can only hope that here, as well as overseas, what they call the liberal intelligentsia can mobilise a groundswell to counter this far-right surge. Malcolm Turnbull’s solution to the detainee problem was the tip of a bright iceberg of hope, subsequently overrun and submerged by a storm-wracked and blood-red sea of fear mongering, hate, and the lies of populists worldwide. Putin, Farage, Hanson, Trump don’t signal that the end of the world is nigh, only that it’s getting closer.