(Image: Private Media)

What do you want to say to your many Australian supporters who wish you nothing but the best in November 2020? … There was a wonderful smile on our prime minister’s face when you were taking on part of the fake news media today.

Paul Murray to Donald Trump, September 23, 2019

The Australian’s “alternative” political voice Peter van Onselen gave — as is his wont — a veneer of impartiality to the confused paper this weekend with a column headed “Trump apologists suddenly discovering their inner conviction”.

He referred vaguely to having worked beside some, and when called out on Twitter for not naming names he implied the paper had not allowed him to do so.

Indeed, just as a series of Trump staffers decided the last fortnight of his administration was the time to take a brave stance and resign, many of the virulent Trump supporters in the media are belatedly joining the chorus of condemnation and ignoring their complicity in what has occurred.

The Australian ran an editorial from The Wall Street Journal calling on Trump to resign and blaming him for inciting the riots, presenting a Damascus-style conversion. Veteran political columnist Paul Kelly joined the chorus with a column headlined: “Dangerous demagogue proves he was never fit to rule”.

This was the same Kelly who on the eve of the election in November appeared on Sky News claiming Trump was on the cusp of a “miracle win” that would prove all those leftie pundits wrong. His piece marked something of a full 360 for him — on election eve 2016, when Kelly appeared to believe like everyone else Hillary Clinton would win, he compared Trump to a gangster and described him as a threat to democracy.

Greg Sheridan attempted a similar “having his cake while scarfing it down”. After the scenes at the Capitol building, he said Trump was “always a contemptible and unworthy character. For any serious conservative, voting for him was always a 51-49 decision”.

Of course Sheridan concluded voting for Trump was always ultimately justified, so nothing he’s written in the past four years — say, that Trump’s combination of “actually delivering on his promises, strong nationalism, earthy persona, cut-through attack lines and unpredictable showmanship” looked set to deliver him victory last November — is invalid now.

But Kelly and Sheridan, the quality press public intellectual types they are, always played this game, hemming and hawing about Trump’s character, divisive rhetoric, shredding of norms while insisting that wasn’t important because his policies were so good.

Compared to the Sky News crew, when it comes to normalising Trump they are amateurs.

As former-many-things Mark Latham wrote in May 2017:

The elites can’t live with the idea of a knock-around guy, a white straight man, occupying the office held by their hero Barack Obama and, up until November 8, seemingly gifted to their heroine Hillary Clinton … At least in Trump, a real-life personality holds the presidency — complex, multi-layered and endlessly interesting.

Andrew Bolt — who has walked back in recent days — described Trump’s possible reelection in these gleeful terms: “How we laugh. Donald Trump could be reelected! If true, it’s the sweetest victory of all, against the bullies and elites who most needed to be thrashed.”

Indeed, one of the many phrases horrifically overused in the past four years has been “Trump derangement syndrome”, as handy a catch-all response to any criticism of Trump as “fake news”.

Irony expert Chris Kenny not at all dangerously argued concerns about hydroxychloroquine were down to Trump derangement syndrome, while blogger Cory Bernardi told Peta Credlin: “Whatever Trump does [mainstream US media] just don’t want to give him any credit or recognition … It’s always bad.”

However, none of Sky News after dark’s carnival barkers can hold a candle to Trump’s most assiduous Australian lickspittle, Miranda Devine. She has been unwavering, unequivocal from the start, arguing before his 2016 victory “Trump has his problems, but compared to Clinton, he is a paragon of virtue,” and after it that “a great force has arrived to rescue Western civilisation and its name is Trump, Donald J. Trump”. She’s never let up since.

After his coronavirus diagnosis, she wrote in the New York Post: “If the president bounces back on to the campaign trail he will be an invincible hero …” and so on. She has not been turned by recent events. You have to read her most recent columns to believe them. Or not.

Indeed most of Sky has stood firm, as you would expect, given its increasingly conspiracy-based business model. Bernardi has pushed the “this is all the left’s fault” line, and god knows what will have happened by the time the Outsiders clown car comes shuddering back on to our screens in late January, given it was leading the baseless election fraud claims before the break.

A sign of where some might be heading came from former Liberal pollie and Trump groveller Joe Hockey who Sky breathlessly appointed as its “US political contributor” in November.

After the election he endorsed the baseless election fraud claims peddled by his mate in the White House. By last Friday he was telling The Australian Financial Review he was “appalled” by what had happened and blaming Trump for inciting it all.

An interesting twist has come from Trump’s expanding cloud of social media bans. Yesterday The Australian ran an editorial criticising Twitter, Facebook and others, claiming their move must be “thwarted” and (irony experts to the last) that it “smacks of dictatorship”.

For more on how Murdoch helped give us Trump, go here.

Peter Fray

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