Emma Shortis, ‘There’s a lot of blame to go around for the chaos in the Capitol, but some belongs to Australia’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 08.01.21
Australians woke on Thursday to an unfolding coup attempt in the United States. One by one, leaders from across the world condemned what was happening in the US Capitol and called for peace. From Ireland, to Greece, even Boris Johnson in Britain, governments expressed their horror and dismay.
Our own government took a little longer to react. We shouldn’t pretend we don’t know why.
There is a lot of blame to go around for what is unfolding in the United States. Aided and abetted by extremists in the White House and in Congress, and white supremacists across the nation, Trump is orchestrating nothing short of an attempted authoritarian takeover of what we have been taught to believe is the greatest democracy on earth and the guardian of peace in our world.
But some of that blame also lies here, with us.
The Australian government’s relationship with Donald Trump got off to a rocky start. But once Scott Morrison assumed the leadership, Australia went all in with the man trying to steal the presidency.
In September 2019, Morrison told President Trump that “Australia will never be accused of indifference in our friendship to the United States”. He was right.
Morrison made those remarks at a rare state dinner hosted in his honour in Washington, DC. He was one of very few world leaders to receive such a prestigious invitation from the President. It came to him when it did because the Trump administration, with so few friends in the world, knew that the Australian Prime Minister would provide the President and his administration with valuable international credibility and support, and the photo op that he wanted. And that is what he got.
Australia’s former ambassador to the United States, Joe Hockey, was widely praised for his diplomatic skill in facilitating the invitation and for how close he had managed to get to Trump. And while Hockey played golf with the President, Australian parliamentarians gleefully wore MAGA hats and appeared on conservative television, expressing their unqualified support for the white supremacist in the White House and spreading his misleading theories. There was no rebuke from their leader.
The links between the Australian government and our right-wing media ecosystem are clear. While Sky News monetised and spread American conspiracy theories, Hockey went on Australian radio to say that Biden’s margin in Washington DC, for example, was “hard to believe”, and MP George Christensen posted on Facebook about “Democrat vote fraud”.
Elsewhere, leaders from across the world called on Donald Trump to concede defeat and ensure a peaceful transition of power. Asked to comment, Scott Morrison said only that American democracy was “great” and dismissed calls for him to say something meaningful as “divisive”. Called on at the time to condemn members of his own government for spouting conspiracies, he said nothing.
A few weeks later, Morrison was awarded a Legion of Merit for his trouble. The Prime Minister was “honoured” to receive the award that recognised how he had “strengthened the partnership between the United States and Australia”.
Australians cannot avoid the truth of our complicity. Morrison’s warm friendship with the President, our conservative media ecosystem’s promulgation of American conspiracy theories and giving a platform to US white supremacists – all of it helped Trump and the fascism he encouraged and unleashed. That can’t just be put back in the box.
Yesterday, Trump supporters flew Confederate flags in the Capitol. Even during the Civil War, that symbol of white supremacy didn’t make it to Washington, DC. But it has been held up, in similar fashion, by Australian soldiers serving alongside Americans in Afghanistan.
Australians are told that having such a close relationship with the United States is essential to the maintenance of our national security. But what kind of security is this? And what damage has it done to our relationship with the incoming Biden administration? There was never any security or strategic justification for the closeness of the Trump administration and our own government. The only reason for it was ideological.
It is only through an honest reckoning with that ideological closeness, and with our complicity in Trumpism, that Australians might be able to re-consider our place in the world. We did not have a binary choice between subservience to an anti-democratic white supremacist and abandoning the alliance. There were – and still are – other options.
Once, an American President assured us that the United States only wanted to make “the world safe for democracy”. Perhaps we should try to think about making our world safe from America.