Even when said in jest, there must a particularly icy sweat coating the brow of anyone to whom Donald Trump can say “you’re worse than I am” with any grain of truth. This is one of the key phrases our media has latched onto in its coverage of the full transcripts — leaked by The Washington Post — of that infamous call concerning Australia’s refugee resettlement deal with the US.
The 24-minute conversation has a rambling, surreal quality of any Trump experiment with language (he describes himself as “the world’s greatest person that does not want to let people into the country”), and his hazy acquaintance with sentence structure seems to rub off on the usually eloquent Turnbull when, according to the transcript, he says “So we would rather take a not very attractive guy that help you out then to take a Noble [sic] Peace Prize winner that comes by boat. That is the point.”
It contradicts Trump’s denial of any tension during the call — a denial he made at a press conference during a gala commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea back in May.
“We had a great telephone call. You guys exaggerated that call. That was a big exaggeration. We’re not babies,” Trump said at the time while Turnbull sat at his side, his smile frozen solid.
Cameron Stewart writing in The Australian calls the conversation one of Turnbull’s “finest moments” as Prime Minister, which we ought to hope isn’t true. Here’s a few of Crikey’s favourite moments:
On Australian & US obligations under the deal
Turnbull: Yes, the agreement, which the Vice President just called the Foreign Minister about less than 24 hours ago and said your Administration would be continuing, does not require you to take 2,000 people. It does not require you to take any. It requires, in return, for us to do a number of things for the United States. I am asking you as a very good friend. This is a big deal. It is really, really important to us that we maintain it. It does not oblige you to take one person that you do not want … We will then hold up our end of the bargain by taking in our country 31 [inaudible] that you need to move on from.
This are also, in this passage, a few indications that Turnbull and co haven’t been entirely honest with the public about the deal. Assuming the “inaudible” word after 31 is “people”and not, say, bananas, it would contradict Dutton’s firm statement back in February that the deal was not a people swap, and that the arrival of Central America refugees was unrelated to the people being sent the other way.
Trump is presented with Australia’s refugee policy’s deliberate inhumanity, loves it
Turnbull: Secondly, the people — none of these people are from the conflict zone. They are basically economic refugees from Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. That is the vast bulk of them. They have been under our supervision for over three years now and we know exactly everything about them.
Trump: Why haven’t you let them out? Why have you not let them into your society?
Turnbull: Okay, I will explain why. It is not because they are bad people. It is because in order to stop people smugglers, we had to deprive them of the product. So we said if you try to come to Australia by boat, even if we think you are the best person in the world, even if you are a Noble [sic] Prize winning genius, we will not let you in. Because the problem with the people —
Trump: That is a good idea. We should do that too. You are worse than I am.
Turnbull drops in an old catchphrase, like he’s a character saying the title of the film
Turnbull: Let me explain. We know exactly who they are. They have been on Nauru or Manus for over three years and the only reason we cannot let them into Australia is because of our commitment to not allow people to come by boat. Otherwise we would have let them in. If they had arrived by airplane and with a tourist visa then they would be here.
Trump: Malcom [sic], but they are arrived on a boat?
Turnbull: Correct, we have stopped the boats.
Turnbull admits no one in the camps has done anything wrong
Trump: Give them to the United States. We are like a dumping ground for the rest of the world. I have been here for a period of time, I just want this to stop. I look so foolish doing this. It [sic] know it is good for you but it is bad for me. It is horrible for me. This is what I am trying to stop. I do not want to have more San Bernardino’s or World Trade Centers. I could name 30 others, but I do not have enough time.
Turnbull: These guys are not in that league. They are economic refugees.
Trump: Okay, good. Can Australia give me a guarantee that if we have any problems – you know that is what they said about the Boston bombers. They said they were wonderful young men.
Turnbull: They were Russians. They were not from any of these countries.
Trump: They were from wherever they were.
Trump, presented with Australia’s refugee policy asks a question Australians have been asking for years
Trump: What is the thing with boats? Why do you discriminate against boats? No, I know, they come from certain regions. I get it.
Trademark Turnbull Agility!
Trump: I have no choice to say that about it. Malcom [sic], I am going to say that I have no choice but to honor my predecessor’s deal. I think it is a horrible deal, a disgusting deal that I would have never made. It is an embarrassment to the United States of America and you can say it just the way I said it. I will say it just that way. As far as I am concerned that is enough Malcom [sic]. I have had it. I have been making these calls all day and this is the most unpleasant call all day. Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous.
Turnbull: Do you want to talk about Syria and DPRK?
Malcolm’s fawning sign off
Trump: It is important to you and it is embarrassing to me. It is an embarrassment to me, but at least I got you off the hook. So you put me back on the hook.
Turnbull: You can count on me. I will be there again and again.