Last night, reports emerged that Donald Trump had blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull via phone over a refugee resettlement deal. He ranted and raved about his electoral college win (please stop. please), rated the call against his other calls that day (it was the worst apparently), before abruptly ending the chat 35 minutes earlier than scheduled.
As an Aussie living in New York, both sides of my social media went into meltdown. Our Prime Minister, attempting to pretend everything was fine and normal, insisted on radio that the conversation had merely been "frank," but that the U.S. was standing by its commitment to resettle our asylum seekers.
A few hours later, just as I was in the middle of arguing with people whether Turnbull was acting in the best interests of the refugees by staying quiet and refusing to criticize Trump, Trump went and broke Twitter:
A lot of Trump supporters seem to be echoing those sentiments. It's all about the why. “WHY is nobody asking why Australia wants to get rid of these illegals?” There is suspicion. “There is a reason. What is it?” This is not helped by Trump accusing Australia on the phone of trying to send the U.S. the next Boston bomber.
So what’s the deal with the deal? Why are we Australians trying to foist refugees onto the U.S. that we are unwilling to take ourselves?
Australia has a refugee policy that is the source of national shame for many. Over the years Australian governments have struggled with how to deal with asylum seekers — those seeking international protection whose official refugee status is yet to be determined — arriving by boat to our waterlocked country. The majority of asylum seekers do not arrive by boat, and it’s not illegal to seek asylum in such a way, but successive governments have worked to deter people from doing so, allegedly because it is dangerous and many were losing their lives at sea.
The deterrent both sides of government have settled on is thus: “Asylum seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia.” Australia claims to settle around 13,750 refugees each year, but none of those who arrived by boat will ever be among them, according to the stance the government has taken.
However, this doesn’t exactly provide any answers for those who, desperate enough to try to reach Australia to board a "dangerous" boat, already have. Australia places these asylum seekers, many of whom are children, in secretive offshore "processing centers" in the Pacific Islands, where they live for years at a time in horrible conditions, many with no clear end in sight. Some attempt suicide, and reports of abuse are common. Many compassionate Australians want to #bringthemhere, but neither side of government appear willing to do so anytime soon. Other solutions to ending this human suffering seem few and far between. Innocent people live in misery and uncertainty.
That was before Obama and Turnbull struck a deal, in November, that the U.S. would resettle 1,250 of the refugees living in these horrific detention centers (with Australia accepting Central American refugees from a Costa Rican facility in return). It would be a one-off thing, because that whole “boat deterrent” argument wouldn’t work so well if it wasn’t. Australians such as myself have been watching what Trump will do closely following the immigration ban — whether one supports our government’s deal/shirking of responsibility or not, this was a way to end the travesty and find these innocent people a much-deserved home.
The White House said multiple times that they would honor the deal, in what I saw as some of the only good things this administration had done. Until yesterday. The future of the deal is now entirely unclear. Although our guys keep insisting it’s going ahead.
Trump supporters online seem to think Turnbull is trying to pass off our "illegal immigrants" because they are dangerous or a threat to national security. It’s not. It’s because Australia has tied itself to this unfortunate, inhumane hard line. There’s nothing dangerous or illegal about these people.
Trump himself is calling Obama-Turnbull’s deal “dumb” and asking “why?” as if a humanitarian deal needs to be advantageous in some way. He’s also saying he will study it (because he hadn’t before the call?) and repeatedly misquoting the number of refugees involved.
Far less important than the impact on human life at stake is the diplomatic and Twitter fallouts between the US and Australia, one of its closest if not the closest ally.
American Twitter leapt to Australian Twitter’s defense, apologizing on Trump’s behalf and making jokes about picking fights with boxing kangaroos and giant spiders.
And Republicans are falling over themselves to emphasize the importance of the Australian-US alliance. The diplomatic situation is so ridiculous it's almost funny, because Trump keeps contradicting Turnbull, because Trump is Trump, and because our relationship with the U.S. is stronger than this loon (for now).
But it’s also... not funny. I’ve been experiencing most of Trump’s reign of terror as a New Yorker. Mourning, freaking out, spending too much time on Twitter at 1am, showing up at impromptu protests, getting my friends to call their senators, and feeling a general sense of horror. But it was truly something else to hear Trump (allegedly) treat one's own Prime Minister like dirt. As much as we may dislike Mr. Turnbull (and many are openly enjoying this dressing down), he’s still our Prime Minister. We can talk shit about him, but to hear Trump show so little respect to our head of state* is deeply offensive in a way I would not have expected.
I have now experienced Trump as an Australian, as a citizen of one of the countries that "America First" Trump doesn’t respect enough to speak respectfully to its leader.
And my feelings are actually a tiny bit hurt.
But not nearly as hurt as my feelings for those poor innocent people living in hell who Obama took pity on and who Trump considers "a dumb deal."
*The Queen is actually our head of state, but that’s another story
Top image via The Simpsons, "Bart vs Australia"
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