fb-pixel Skip to main content
Yvonne Abraham

About that call to Australia . . .

President Donald Trump spoke on the phone with Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnball from the Oval Office.
President Donald Trump spoke on the phone with Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnball from the Oval Office. Alex Brandon/Associated Press/File

Lordy, I’d love to see the full transcript of that call between President Needs A Nap and Malcolm Turnbull, prime minister of Australia.

Was there small talk? Maybe they discussed the time difference.

“Mr President, we’re 16 hours ahead of you here.”


Maybe that’s what sent President Trump into the snit where, in between boasts about his election victory, the leader of the free world yelled at the man who heads my homeland, reportedly telling him that, of all the conversations he’d had with world leaders that day (there were five), this was “the worst call by far.” Burn!


Turnbull had asked the president to confirm that a deal he’d made with the previous administration — that the United States would take in some of the refugees Australia has been keeping in indefinite and inhumane detention on a remote Pacific island — still stood.

Trump appears to have freaked out about the political damage the agreement, which he thoughtfully described as “dumb,” would do. He has a point. After all, it wouldn’t look good for him to accept the desperate souls Australia has rejected at the very moment he and Co-President Breitbart are slamming America’s doors on tens of thousands of others.

Trump abruptly ended the call, expected to last an hour, after 25 minutes. Later, his people explained the hissy fit by telling CNN that the president was fatigued after a long day of diplomacy. Poor baby. Being president is hard. They make you work on Saturday and everything. Dumb deal!

It says something about the daily firehose of unhinged narcissism and incompetence that is the Trump administration that the disastrous call with Turnbull seems kind of minor, even funny. And it is, compared to, say, escalating tensions with Iran, or possibly botching a raid and incurring the unnecessary deaths of Americans and civilians in Yemen. Also, Australia has a lot of cute and funny stuff, like wombats and Vegemite, which take the edge off the horror.


But appalling it is. Not just because the president behaves like a sleep-deprived toddler on the world stage, but also because of the breathtaking ignorance his conduct betrays. Australia has given the United States a lot over the years, sending tens of thousands of soldiers to fight and die alongside American ones. Australia hosts some joint defense facilities, too, and is a key intelligence ally. What kind of fool would want to make such a faithful friend angry?

The other thing is, Trump and Australia have way more in common than he seems to grasp. A lot of people in Australia fear and dislike Muslims just as much as he and his supporters do. And if anything, Australia has been even more heartless with refugees than he has (so far). For years, desperate asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iraq, and other broken places have been making treacherous, sometimes deadly, journeys through Asia and across the ocean to seek safety in Australia.

A lot of Australians hate this. This is, after all, a country that had the White Australia Policy, which for decades allowed only European immigrants. Polls show that the majority of Australians are just fine with the government’s restrictive refugee policy, or would like it to be even more severe. Even wombats can’t make that cute.


To placate voters, Amnesty International says, Australian officials have intercepted boats at sea and actually paid predatory smugglers to turn their death-trap vessels back. Since 2012, other vessels overloaded with asylum-seekers have been headed off and their passengers sent to brutal offshore detention camps, where human rights groups say their treatment amounts to torture. Many Aussies are fine with this, too: Imprisoning and mistreating people indefinitely is seen as a good deterrent to anybody else who mistakenly believes one of the richest and most lightly populated countries on the planet is capable of compassion.

The 1,250 people whom the United States agreed to screen for entry as refugees are among that desperate horde, and they’re stuck. Who knows what will happen to them now? Thursday afternoon, the White House grudgingly said it would honor the deal, but we’ve been here before.

Whatever happens, the president would do well to avoid alienating Australia further. As the rest of the world recoils at his transgressions against decency and humanity, friends — especially non-Russian ones — are going to be pretty hard to find.

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.