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Trump Speaks His Mind. Turnbull Should Do Likewise

We know he has far more powerful views than he utters, but our Prime Minister has become more timid than ever.

01/02/2017 1:51 PM AEDT | Updated 01/02/2017 4:02 PM AEDT
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"The great irony here is, for all his sins, President Trump rose to power by plainly, clearly, speaking his mind, a quality so many Australians wish Mr Turnbull would regain."

It all seemed so amusing when it was first mockingly mooted all those years back.

Can you believe it? That reality guy with the big orange comb-over, a string of glitzy hotels and ex-wives -- each younger, and more subdued than the last -- wants to be President of the United States!

So silly did the idea seem that even The Simpsons had made an hilarious episode about the possibility. Laugh? We thought we'd never start! An alleged tax evader, a notorious sexual harasser, a vain bully boy property developer with a series of bankruptcies to his name, in the White House?

Don't worry, it'll never happen... Until it was 2017, and it wasn't funny any more.

Now, each day we wake to yet more astounding Trump moves unprecedented in American history, and even of any major democracy. Executive orders are flowing like champagne as the billionaire in the baseball cap sits in the big chair, and with Sharpie in hand autographs yet another official decree as Trump's promised vision for America takes shape.

Yesterday -- Trump's 10th in office -- began as he declared his "pause" on the immigration of people from seven Muslim-majority nations was off to a good start.

That was, of course, until the acting US attorney general Sally Yates refused to uphold Trump's proposed immigration ban, and directed the Justice Department not to defend any court cases lodged by people who had been detained. The President saw it as betrayal, and got his first chance -- possibly of many to come -- to utter his immortal TV catchphrase: "You're fired!"

Yates' 30-year career as a government prosecutor, finished. As Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader described it, "She would not enact the executive order in the belief it was illegal. Perhaps unconstitutional." He added, "it was a profile in courage."

It now emerges that the President's executive order was written on a whim, without ever being checked by constitutional lawyers, and rushed through with such speed that even the national security team expected to enforce the new rules was left in the dark.

Trump's defence came, as it so often does, in a tweet: "There's a lot of bad dudes out there!"

Meantime, the new President has told his defence chiefs they have 30 days to come up with a plan to eradicate ISIS. Seemingly, because they weren't already working on that outcome. Who knew?

Everything he promised at the election -- a wall between the US and Mexico, dumping Obamacare, no more Trans Pacific Partnership, a reigniting of the fossil fuel industry, a ban on Muslim immigration -- is on track. Except of course for that silly promise that he would finally reveal his tax statements to the American people. Turns out now, it won't happen. Who's gonna make him?

He has already laid the legal groundwork to sell off some of America's cherished national forests, repeated his belief that torture works ("absolutely"), and restricted funds for global health assistance groups that provide abortion services.

And then there are the simple civil liberties of tourists wishing to visit the US, with Trump reportedly considering an order that all visitors disclose a full list of all the websites they visit as well as their mobile phone data and personal phone lists. If they don't? Entry will be denied.

Meanwhile, the wider world is refusing to sit meekly by and watch, with protests continuing unabated. In Britain almost two million people have signed a petition urging Prime Minister Theresa May to stop the President's proposed state visit. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he intended talking to the new President about the immigration bans and why his country would welcome those escaping war who didn't pass the new "extreme vetting" process, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel felt the need to give Donald Trump a quick run-through of his obligations under the Geneva Convention during their phone conversation on the weekend.

Even Barack Obama broke with the long-standing tradition of post-Presidential silence, saying the current protests against the immigration bans are to be encouraged, and exactly what he expects to see when American values are at stake.

In these difficult times, this country needs strong leadership, of a different kind to that shown by President Trump.

And then, some of the biggest surprise voices adding their weight to the debate: Fox News heavyweights Lachlan and James Murdoch, declaring "We deeply value diversity and believe immigration is an essential part of America's strength," followed by Prince Charles, reminding the world to recall the lessons we learnt through events like the Holocaust.

Here in Australia, with the Manus Island and Nauru refugee resettlement deal with the US appearing to remain in place (as long as they pass "extreme vetting") our own Prime Minister has been treading remarkably softly, if not silently, refusing to criticise the Trump immigration ban, saying that a wise Prime Minister chooses his moments to give advice to American Presidents. And, he says, those moments should always happen behind closed doors. But as his time in the top job has so far shown, Malcolm Turnbull has enough trouble just keeping the right of his own party in line, so how on earth he would gain any ground in a head to head with Donald Trump is anyone's guess.

So the PM is staying silent.

But former US Ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich -- renowned for one of the most impressive tenures in that job in recent memory -- feels no such need, believing that the times have changed, and strong decisive leadership is what is desperately required right now.

"The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality," he said yesterday, attacking the immigration ban, and those who won't. And that presumably includes our Prime Minister.

Of course, the great irony here is, for all his sins, President Trump rose to power by plainly, clearly, speaking his mind, a quality so many Australians wish Mr Turnbull would regain. We know he has far more powerful views than he utters -- and yet now, in the face of President Trump's sweeping, unprecedented power -- seemingly with little regard for all those troublesome legalities of the US Constitution, our Prime Minister has become more timid than ever. Not even anything to say about the leader of our key ally advocating torture as a legitimate means of warfare?

In these difficult times, this country needs strong leadership, of a different kind to that shown by President Trump. We need our leaders to say out loud what needs to be said: that while this is the path America has chosen, a sane Australia will not.



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