How Trump's servile meeting with Putin has left Australia exposed
A handful of days before the 2016 Presidential election I was in a pickup on the way to a coal mine near the border of West Virginia and Kentucky.
The guy driving me was a life-long Democrat turned dyed-in-the-wool Trump man and we were talking about why he desperately wanted the Donald to be president.
“He’s said some terrible things about women,” I ventured.
My driver turned his gaze from the road for a moment and fixed me with a fierce stare.
“He could have sex with a five-year-old boy, I would not care,” the man spat through his Appalachian accent.
He was bone-deep angry and it wasn’t hard to see why.
His West Virginian county of Logan had been decimated by job cuts, poverty, drug abuse, a lack of basic services and a loss of human dignity. In the minds of the 80 percent of Logan County voters who backed Mr Trump that November both major parties had betrayed them.
It didn’t matter that Mr Trump had no real solutions. He was a disruptor and that was enough.
The system was long broken in Logan County so the voters wanted someone who was going to break it for everyone else.
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The louder the screams coming out of Washington, the mainstream media and foreign capitals at Mr Trump’s unconventional – and at times unhinged – behaviour, the more the mob in Logan County is convinced that their man is doing his job.
But they are also American patriots. So, perhaps, their president’s dismal turn in his self-serving and servile meeting with Vladimir Putin will test their resolve.
Hopefully, it at least gives them some pause for reflection.
Russia stands accused of attempting to influence the result of a US presidential election and the process for running those is detailed in the US Constitution.
The president takes an oath of office to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”.
So Donald Trump betrayed his oath in declaring that he accepts Mr Putin’s word over the evidence of his own intelligence establishment.
And it isn’t just one US intelligence agency that thinks Russia meddled in the last American election – it’s all of them.
The House Intelligence Committee and Mr Trump’s handpicked national security advisers agree. All also agree it would have to have been ordered by Mr Putin.
Mr Trump has since backflipped on his comments, but the damage has been done.
No American president has ever done anything that approaches Mr Trump’s sell-out. If Barack Obama had done it then they would be burning his effigy in Logan County tonight.
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The president hasn’t just betrayed his country – he has betrayed his allies. Mr Trump’s performance came on the anniversary of the downing of MH17, where 298 innocents died, among them were 38 Australians.
Recently the Dutch and Australian governments formally accused Russia of the crime. A joint investigation led by the Netherlands found Russia responsible.
But then Mr Putin denies it so it’s a fair bet Mr Trump wouldn’t accept it.
Mr Trump’s behaviour and repudiation of norms should send a chill through Australia.
He cuddles up to dictators on the world stage as he dumps on his democratic alliances. He praises Mr Putin and Kim Jong Un as he embarrasses Britain’s Theresa May, humiliates NATO countries and abuses Canada’s Justin Trudeau.
Who could be sure that this mercurial president won’t one day turn on this country? Even if he doesn’t, his trashing of the world’s rules will eventually do this nation great harm.
As we come to terms with an ever more assertive China, Australia’s only strategy is to keep repeating the mantra that everyone should abide by the “international rules-based order”.
There are two big problems with that. First, China didn’t write those rules, doesn’t like them and, reasonably, believes it’s time for a rewrite.
Second, the nation that did write them, and has defended them for 70 years, is now ruled by a despotic man-child who’s busy tearing up the road map.
Donald Trump is at least as big a threat to the rules-based order as Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin, and the advantage of the other two is that they are at least consistent.
Australia is deeply exposed. We need to define a strategy for these dangerous times and there is no sign we have one.
And it has to begin with this chilling question: if the United States cannot trust the American president, how can Australia?