Speed Reads

Trump v World

In Australia, Trump's hostility is being viewed as deliberate bullying

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's week was turned upside down when The Washington Post, citing "senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange," reported late Wednesday that his phone call last Saturday with President Trump had ended abruptly after Trump got angry over a deal he inherited to accept 1,250 refugees. Turnbull said in a news conference on Thursday that he always stands up for Australia, these conversations are private, and "if you see reports of them, I'm not going to add to them." It's the top story in Australia.

On CNN Wednesday night, The Australian's Sarah Martin said "the reaction here has been one of shock and disbelief, not only the fact that the details of this high-level conversation have been leaked to the press in the U.S., which is obviously extraordinary in itself," but also that there was "a hostile exchange" at all. Australians "certainly see ourselves as one of the United States' most dependable allies," she said, and this "farcical" conversation is "raising concerns here about the temperament of the new U.S. president, and of course I don't think Australia is alone on that one."

On Sky News Australia, reporter Laura Jayes said senior sources in the Australian government confirmed that "Donald Trump did hang up mid-conversation, after 25 minutes, his tone was described as 'yelling' across the phone," she said. "I also understand that the view from Malcolm Turnbull was that Donald Trump is a bully, and to confront a bully you need to bully back," so "he wasn't just sitting there being berated by Donald Trump."

Kristina Keneally, a political commentator, suggested that Trump was trying to humiliate Turnbull, a fellow multimillionaire businessman. The revelations "could have only come from the White House, they are clearly damaging to Malcolm Turnbull, they are clearly in service of Donald Trump and his political agenda," she said. "When you're facing a bully, you've got to decide your tactic."

The stakes for Turnbull, who narrowly won re-election last year, are high. "It sounds almost as though Trump was 'negging' the PM like a particularly low-rent pick up artist," said Andrew Street at The Sydney Morning Herald, referring to a tactic where a man deliberately tries to seduce a woman through confidence-sapping backhanded compliments. "A leader can endure being disliked; few have survived becoming a figure of outright ridicule."