Politics

The view from Billinudgel

Mateship at what cost?
It is not in Australia’s national interest to become involved in Trump’s vendettas

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and US President Donald Trump. Photograph by Shealah Craighead for the White House

The conservative line in Australia about Donald Trump used to be that, really, he himself was not all that important. What mattered was the unbreakable link between Australia and the United States, our great and powerful ally.

Such was the strength and durability of the alliance that a single president – a single administration – was only a passing phase, one that could be managed without any serious consequences. And even when The Donald emerged as an archetype of mendacity, egomania and just plain craziness, Australia did not really need to worry, because the longstanding institutional stability of the most powerful and successful nation on earth would survive his depredations, and all would be well in the relatively near future.

But within this wall of reassurance was the implicit assumption that it would not be too smart for Australia to get too close to the dysfunctional White House, and that, above all, partisan domestic politics – the only kind Trump knows – should be avoided at all costs. The idea was to play the game with the US, not with the temporary POTUS.

However, it is now clear that Scott Morrison, normally a cautious ducker of policy risk, has gone over to the dark side and become an unashamed, even enthusiastic, acolyte eager to roll over and have his tummy tickled at the slightest gesture from the Oval Office.

Becoming involved in Trump’s demented conspiracy theories is not only stupid and inappropriate; at a time when the beleaguered and barely rational Trump is fighting personal vendettas against largely imagined enemies, it is seriously bad policy and endangers rather than enhances the national interest.

Morrison’s ambassador in Washington, Joe Hockey, pre-empted the grovel by telling Trump’s attorney-general last May that, sure, he would be willing to do anything within treason – sorry, that should be reason – to help out. Then, as Morrison was preparing to pack his bags and knee pads for his ritual obeisance, Trump rang just to confirm his riding orders: anything you can dredge up should be conveyed as soon as possible. This presumably included information about that treacherous pinko Alexander Downer, who triggered the Mueller inquiry.

And of course ScoMo said, sure, boss – whatever you say, it’s all part of our great history of mateship. Except that it isn’t – it’s all about subservience and servility and not even to the American nation, but to its deranged leader.

This is the Morrison mindset: the attitude that regards criticism of an individual as an attack on their entire country and its population. It’s a mindset that insists that any legitimate debate about, say, Member for Chisholm Gladys Liu and her relationship with Chinese Communist Party–associated bodies must be dismissed as a smear on the entire Chinese-Australian community. It is an echo of Morrison’s constant refrain when his own policies are queried: “Whose side are you on?” The taunt of the kindergarten – demeaning, dangerous and deeply stupid.

But that’s our ScoMo. This goes further than identity politics – it is a cult of personality, the arrogance that leads authoritarian dictators to declare themselves president for life. If the US–Australia alliance survives Trump and Morrison, it will be not because of them but in spite of them.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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