Donald Trump’s tumultuous tenure as President of the United States has come to a predictably tumultuous end, writes James Devenish.
The last four years has seen the US pull out of some of the world’s most important treaties and international organisations, from the Paris Climate Accords to the Iran Nuclear Deal to the World Health Organisation.
The thorough destabilisation of the world order has emboldened some of the most dangerous authoritarian leaders to, without consequence, carry out actions that would have been unthinkable under any other administration.
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohamad Bin Salman authorised the murder of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a foreign embassy; Russia put bounties on the heads of American and British military personal fighting in Afghanistan; and China has impeded the sovereignty of Hong Kong and is committing an ongoing genocide against Muslims in Xinjiang province.
Amidst the chaos of Trump’s foreign policy, Scott Morrison was able to walk the line and remain in Trump’s good books. Whilst the Coalition government has regularly condemned human rights abuses and stood on the side of democracy, there is an uncomfortable truth sitting at the heart of why Scott Morrison and Donald Trump had such a good relationship where other world leaders did not.
Both Morrison and Trump are cut from the same populist, nationalist and ideological cloth. Australian political culture permits only the ‘friendly bloke next door’ sort of nationalism that ‘Scomo’ embodies, but the threat is no less real – especially when it comes to climate change policy.
Under the Trump administration, our PM could use the shield that his big brother provided to be “loose with the truth” when it came to Australia’s climate plans. Morrison has refused to commit to long-term emission reduction targets, stopped providing money for the global climate fund and was inexplicably absent from the UN climate action summit last year.
At summits that Australia did attend, we were accused of cheating by using accounting tricks to meet emissions targets.
Following the failure of the 2019 Madrid summit to reach global consensus, one of the architects of the Paris Climate Accords said Australia’s actions showed our government was willing to “destroy the whole Paris agreement”. All this in the midst of one of the most destructive bushfire seasons on record.
As Donald Trump begins the long march into the annals of history, the Coalition government is going to have to face a world more motivated than ever to commit to effective and reformative climate change policies. No longer will Scott Morrison have the shield of the US alliance to hide behind.
President-elect Joe Biden came to power on a platform of transformational climate change action. In an interview before the election, Biden went so far as to say that it would be him that would hold progressive climate groups to account for their demands and not the other way around. The next US administration is serious about the threat of climate change – whilst our government plainly is not.
This fracture between the Democrats and Australia’s climate change policies has been noted by major forces within the party. In a speech last year in Melbourne, former Democratic secretary of state John Kerry, in a thinly-veiled swipe at the Coalition government, said “we just can’t sit on our asses and leave the political process to Neanderthals who don’t want to believe in the future.”
The great history of American and Australian mateship that Scott Morrison talked of when hosted by Donald Trump at The White House will be put at a crossroads in the next four years. If the Morrison government continues to act as a global disruptor on climate action, Australia will become isolated and placed on the global sidelines along with dictators, despots and other environmental truthers.
The ‘quiet Australians’ that Scott Morrison says he represents have been screaming for meaningful action that will prevent a summer like 2019 from ever again occurring. As an incoming US President joins that chorus, it is essential that the government listens and leaves the era of Trumpism where it belongs.
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