ABC’s Q&A program on Monday night was entirely dedicated to US politics, and parallels were also drawn between the US and Australia, with rising public dissatisfaction having led to the emergence of more fringe candidates.
Besides Carr, the panel included US anti-poverty campaigner Linda Tirado, US author and satirist PJ O’Rourke, international security analyst Lydia Khalil, and US defence and politics analyst Crispin Rovere.
Guests initially discussed the prospect of Trump having access to nuclear weapons. O’Rourke described him as a “toddler” but Rovere, who is writing a book on Trump, said his approach to nuclear weapons was “entirely mainstream and entirely consistent."
Carr said Trump’s suggestion that it would not be a bad thing if Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia had nuclear weapons was “very worrying.”
This was “unravelling” the security arrangements in the Asia Pacific which Australia was part of through the Australia, New Zealand, and US (Anzus) treaty, a collective security agreement in place since 1951.
“We would be in the peculiar position of watching a President Trump unravel arrangements that have been considered vital to avoiding nuclear exchanges in the region in which we live and … it would really challenge us,” said Carr.
Carr noted the potential fallout should the US go through with ideas raised by Trump, suggesting it would threaten the strength of the treaty, but did not say Australia should walk back from it if Trump wins.
“I’m suggesting first of all, the alliance works both ways, it is a running argument,” said Carr.
“And we would be obliged to seek every opportunity to tell the Americans that inaugurating a trade war with China by putting a 45% tax on American importsfrom China would be disastrous, and telling them, as I believe, as a respected ally of the United States, that withdrawing nuclear protection from Japan and South Korea would compel those countries to acquire their own nuclear weapons. Australia has something to say, and we can say it,” he said, adding that he would be uncomfortable with Australian warships alongside a Trump-led US fleet in Japanese waters.
He said the treaty was more important than any single presidency.
Khalil, who is also a Lowy Institute fellow, said she believed the treaty was strong, but she was not “blase” about it.
“I spent a lot of time in my career in the Middle East and for the first time in my life I have seen those authoritarian tendencies come through Trump,” she said.
“This idea that ‘I alone can fix it’, that line he said during his convention – that’s very worrying to me. Maybe because I spent so much of my time looking at other regions of the world where this is very easy to open up, and democracy is a fragile thing, open society is a fragile thing … no international security person in the United States has come out in favour of him. They’re saying he is a threat.”
“Win or lose he’s already set us back on the international and security front,” said Khalil.It followed her earlier comments that Trump lacked an articulated position on anything, which she said made him a dangerous presidential candidate.
O’Rourke warned that perhaps Trump was not the real threat, but that his candidacy seemed to spark “an impulse to like a demagogue.”
Carr agreed Trump could be “the harbinger of something to come. It may not be this Trump, but it could be the Trump in four years time, as America becomes a society shaped by global forces that Washington can’t control.”
Responding to a question about rising popular discontent with the Australian, US and UK establishments and support for Brexit, Trump, and newly reelected senator Pauline Hanson, Carr said there was a “self-correcting process” and Trump as president would result in “an enormous rethinking”.“The sense of betrayal will be very rapid. How does somebody implement the promises that he has made? I think we’ve seen a self-correcting process in the rise of the Green party in Australia. Its support hasn’t continued to rise,” he said.
“And look at Clive Palmer, who was seen as a bit of a demagogue, I guess. The public looked at him, the public was entertained for a period and then the public dropped him. There is no alternative here but to trust in the good sense of the voters.”
Tirado said Australians were looking at their version of the rise of the Tea party, and it would be problematic when Turnbull has to negotiate with the One Nation senators over important issues like the economy and royal commissions.
“When we don’t have the choices of pushing it one way or the other, that leads to a lot more people feeling disenfranchised”.
Khalil said the political elite had “ignored the losers of globalisation”.
“We see it here in Australia with Pauline Hanson. But you have a prime minister here who talks about innovation and how wonderful it is to be an Australian. But for many Australians, innovation is scary and no one is addressing these concerns of voters. There is a crisis with the middle class in the States – there’s opiate addictions, high mortality rates and no-one outside of it are addressing those concerns. They have a voice in Trump – a narcissistic, crazy one, but they have a voice in Trump.”