“I will study this dumb deal!”
So thundered the tweeting thumbs of Donald Trump back in the first days of his presidency, complaining “Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why?”
It’s easy to forget now, but that 2017 tweet sent a shockwave through officialdom in Canberra. Here was a public fissure in the alliance relationship. It wasn’t the last.
Years later, Australia is still tangled in Trump’s warped tales of political persecution. The latest episode, revealed in a US media report today, claims Trump shared sensitive secrets after leaving office about the capabilities of US nuclear subs with Australian billionaire businessman Anthony Pratt,* leaked from the ongoing investigation into the handling of classified material.
Only nowadays, Trump’s antics barely prompt a shrug of the shoulders, so common are his claims of “witch hunts” or interference by the “deep state”.
But it’s worth listing the roll call of mentions that Australia has achieved in the Trumpian conspiracy. It makes for a bracing counterpoint to the regular invocations of shared values and unbreakable bonds in the relationship, and another reason to prepare for what his potential return to the White House might mean.
There was the telephone transcript leak of “worst call by far” with then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
The blame levelled against Australia’s former foreign minister Alexander Downer for setting in motion investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
Then demanding the US attorney general “looks at Australia” along with other countries in an investigation into the origins of the inquiry.
Followed by another Trump phone call leaning on former PM Scott Morrison to find out whether local intelligence agencies had worked against him.
But Trump never looked to Australia for advice on gun control in America – “very different countries with very different sets of problems” – and other commentators and leaders of the hard right in America regularly invoke “Australia” as if warning of some kind of dictatorship that restricts firearms. Ditto for the “Save Australia” from tyranny complaints in the United States against Covid controls during the pandemic that stemmed from the MAGA movement.
Indeed, after Ukraine and Russia, Australia or some characterisation linked to the country seems to feature regularly in the milieu of warnings about “globalists”.
Trump himself might be capricious enough to be placated over a round of golf. And officials might take heart that he was apparently talking with Pratt about the prospect of selling Australia submarines. But as a broader branding exercise, for a rowdy and increasingly unruly portion of America he has in thrall, this isn’t the kind of “mateship” reputation that Australians deserve to have.
* Correction: Anthony Pratt was the businessman named in the US report.