As soon as we arrived in Australia, we announced to everyone that we were refugees from Trump’s America. In Ulladulla, I went to a small AA meeting—with the always comforting mix of people, from sheep shearers to housewives and North Shore Sydney sorts here on holiday. When I said that we were escaping Trumpism, they all laughed in a kind of skittish solidarity. Even here, thousands of miles away and in a rural setting with little access to the internet or cell phones, one can’t entirely escape the terrifying news that the United States of America has gone insane and is attempting to jettison the last vestiges of liberal democracy. While Australians are happily going about their everyday lives in this salubrious summer season, safe and prosperous, the clouds of uncertainty and impending doom hover in the background.
Newspapers—and Australian papers are generally not known for their overly liberal views–are full of fearful analysis. The Australian Financial Review—the country’s equivalent of the Wall Street Journal—carries headlines such as “Turnbull scrambles to save TPP, condemns protectionism,” with grave warnings that “the prospect of some sort of trade war with China is now a very real risk.” Another article decries Trump’s “untruths”: “What we are witnessing is the destruction of the credibility of the American government”; for the writer of these words, the worrying aspect of this destruction is that American governmental honesty was the cornerstone for all other democracies. Without that model, then no government can be trusted anymore. No matter how one feels about specific issues such as TPP, the expression of these concerns is a vivid indication of the global impact of Trump’s irresponsible and impulsively demagogic decisions.
On the glorious upside of America’s global reach and the most positive aspect of globalization: the photo above shows the community bulletin board in the tiny beach town of South Durras, near Bateman’s Bay. Durras was our favorite summer spot when we lived in Canberra, so we had to make a nostalgic visit again as we drove down the coast from Sydney. Normally this bulletin board would announce community barbecues and town meetings. I was overwhelmed with emotion to see that even in this little corner of the country, women (and men) would be marching in protest of “Trump’s inhumanity.” Proof again that this is a global issue, not just sour grapes on the part of American “elites.”
I’m writing this (long-hand!) on January 26, Australia Day, which is in itself a politically vexed holiday on the national calendar. A combination of the 4th of July—barbecues and fireworks—and Columbus Day—a cringe-making imperialist celebration of European conquest of a “new” land, appropriately considered a “day of invasion” by the indigenous people so cruelly displaced by this arrival—the day really marks the end of summer holidays and the subsequent beginning of school terms next week.
We have been in four different communities along Princes Highway today, and none of them seemed to be celebrating much, at least not communally. I am choosing to see this as a positive step—that many Australians recognize the inappropriateness of festivities on this day, at least here on the South Coast, where many Aborigines live. (To be fair, Pearl Beach and many other places still have a community barbecue with traditional snags and onions and white bread grilled amid booths selling Lamingtons and hand-crocheted doily covers for toilet-paper rolls, and TV still broadcasts an Australia Day concert from Sydney). But it could also be a sign of the increasing unease, distrust and disconnect across all Western nations concerning the citizenry’s relationship to its governments. The shock of America’s descent into xenophobic extremism, the indecent reaction by so many Americans to a perfectly decent Obama presidency, is felt as strongly here as everywhere else. The whole world is girding its loins for the uncertainties and madnesses ahead.