The transcript of the conversation between Malcolm Turnbull and Donald Trump [here] is a
fun frustrating read. It speaks volumes about both men, and none of it good. You could analyse it for hours, not for its newsworthiness (zero) but for the pale light in which it casts both leaders. For anyone curious as to how international politics is ‘done’, here’s your primer.
Their motives are all foregrounded: Turnbull desperately needed a win at home, and Trump wanted to avoid looking weak. Both are canny businessmen, but Turnbull has the advantage of intellect. He may be the smaller dog in the fight, but there’s plenty of fight in this dog. He ducks and weaves, nipping, assuaging the President’s monolithic concern that this is a bad deal for him personally, for the Trump Inc. brand; but Turnbull is also staggeringly disingenuous.
The Australian PM instructs Trump to publicly honour the agreement in principle, without asking him to privately commit to the agreement in practice. This lets Turnbull announce a huge win back home, then quietly fudge the fact that the US ended up taking none of the detainees. Win-win for them both, if not for anyone else. So, 1250 people spent three years behind barbed wire only to serve the ‘higher interest’ of our PM’s re-election prospects? Excuse me while I vomit. I hate politicians.
The US President won’t like this transcript either. He is whiny, petulant, stubborn in that anti-intellectual way, and surprisingly ignorant. He’s not across his brief at all, and when Turnbull patiently (I would say, desperately) tries to inform him, resists the truth. 1250 economic detainees who have already been subjected to extreme vetting are not 2000 dangerous Muslim extremists. And how telling that not a single humanitarian concern was expressed by either man — not one word.
But I’m politically naive; Malcolm was getting slaughtered in the polls, and Trump faced a whitelash at news of more brown people ‘invading’ their nation; Oz could deport every white nationalist in the country to the US and they’d be welcomed with open arms, but brown people? Trump well knows how the alt-right would spin it — 2000 dangerous Muslim extremists! — and because he owes them big, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.
But, did Trump swallow? Malcolm sure acted like he did, basking publicly in the brief afterglow he enjoyed when the news broke. But, swallow or spit, Trump clearly didn’t find the experience much to his taste. Politics leaves a nasty taste in your mouth, doesn’t it, Mr President? But I have to ask — why all the theatrics? It’s not like it was his first time.