Most Americans had not thought much—or, for that matter, heard much—about Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Then Donald Trump went nuts on Turnbull, reportedly cutting short a Saturday phone conversation with the leader of one of the closest allies of the United States over the past century after growling out a complaint that it was “the worst by far ”of his calls with global figures.
On a “day of diplomacy” featuring “cordial congratulations given to the new leader of the free world,” Trump’s conversation with Turnbull should have been uneventful. But the new US president blew up when the prime minister mentioned a deal that had been struck with the Obama administration to allow the resettlement of roughly 1,250 asylum seekers (mostly from Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq) to the United States.
That was the point at which Trump is reported to have—how shall we put this delicately?—lost it. According to the Time magazine report from Sydney: “The agreement, Trump reportedly told Turnbull on Saturday, ‘was the worst deal ever.’ It would get him ‘killed’ politically at a time when domestic sentiment was pushing him to secure American borders against would-be terrorists. Australia, by urging him to honor the deal, was seeking to export ‘the next Boston bombers.’” The Washington Post reported that what has been planned as a one-hour call was cut short after 25 minutes.
Reaction in Australia was intense. Television networks and newspaper labeled the incident “Phonegate.” Programs were devoted to debates about how best to respond to diplomatic “bullying” and commentators ripped Trump’s “offensive” behavior. Bruce Springsteen, having read the papers, opened his Melbourne show by announcing: “We stand before you embarrassed Americans tonight.” Then the American rocker played the 1965 Orlons song “Don’t Hang Up” as a way “to send a letter back home.”
Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democratic member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, tweeted: “Before @POTUS shows such disrespect again, he should consider only one nation has stood with us in every war of the last century—Australia.”