Golf Diplomacy? Trump and the Deal of Modern Politics

Ringing the freshly elected to congratulate them is the normal course of affairs for world leaders.  Donald Trump, as he has done with so much in the political parlour, upended that matter by baffling those who felt adding him to their phonebook would not be required.  Being the dangerous fool that he was made out to be, he was surely, in the oft used word of the Clintons and President Barack Obama, “unelectable”.

Having made a bet that the status quo would prevail with Hillary Clinton, Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull paid scant regard to making sure he had Trump’s contact details handy.  To do that would have shown acceptance of a black swan theory of US politics.

After November 8, a new state of affairs had come into play. How would this proud ally, and more appropriately servant, of US interests in the Asia-Pacific area and beyond contact the future US President?

The circumstances were pressing, and a delivering agent was sought.  Former Australian golfer Greg Norman became the interceding medium, suggesting that golf diplomacy would be the way to go. Fittingly, Australia’s own designated “Great White Shark”, Norman’s career title, would initiate contact with the Black Swan of US presidential politics.

Norman, Australia’s former golfing supremo and well acquainted with Trump, also an avid investor in the golf circuit, had suddenly become politically relevant. The other side of this was equally true: celebrity had become a politicised endeavour. In Trumpland, the value of celebrity as a political asset grows exponentially. The bookish expert, by way of comparison, diminishes.

The incident created a state of exaggerated importance on Turnbull’s part. According to Reuters (Nov 17), “The connection enabled Turnbull to jump the line of world leaders waiting to get the new US leader on the phone, well ahead of larger allies like Britain and Japan, after Trump’s surprise win”.

This turn towards the personal is interesting on one level. Trump’s cabinet and operations will be, as his business relations in the past, highly personalised endeavours, filled with the expected trust, rancour and overwhelming flavour of a dealing boardroom.

To have his ear will be significant; to be his acquaintance far more important than having a swag of degrees from an Ivy League college, or even be a prominent leader of another state. Theory will be avoided like the plague and abstractions deemed incomprehensible.

Turnbull’s response to this elevation of Norman to the unforeseen level of Trump whisperer barely hid the reality of his irrelevance as a politician. This was not Turnbull the politician talking as prime minister, but as a businessman thinking in the terms of a deal. He was, in short, behaving like Trump, channelling, reflecting, and mimicking accordingly.

“In diplomacy and policies, you use lots of networks,” he attempted to explain to the Australian press.  “All I can say is we have great networks, great connections and Greg Norman is a great Australian.”[1]

Norman also had the appropriate credentials.  He was “a great advocate for strengthening the Australian-American alliance. One of our greatest assets is the more than million Australians who live overseas.”

This is the age of the populist, personal leader, inevitable in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis.  It had been some time in coming, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was one of the first in the modern era to be such, is relevant, less from the perspective of a fanatical patriot than one of a calculating CEO running a board of craving directors who need placating. Deals and networks are everything.

A later addition to this world of charismatic pugilists keen on unsettling directness is President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, truly a figure after Trump’s code of brazenness. Out with the musty arrangements, long mouldering in the dark closet of assumed alliances shaped less by self-interest and imperial motivation; in with the unchartered, dangerous but independent new.

While catastrophic for such essentials as the rule of law (vide his anti-drug pushing death squads), Duterte has thrown punches at the traditional Manila-Washington relationship, while proving far more accommodating to China.

Academic reasoning and sober analysis fear the rise of such figures, and resort to the clichéd stables of theory about state behaviour, reason and managerial speak. These say little about the personal nature of the enterprise at hand: the charismatic leader has become the new norm of states, a condition that has seized the US with violent approval.

While golfing diplomacy has been a feature, and unstudied aspect of international relations theory, it is high time that it became one.  Trumpism does away with the traditional political playbook directed by experts of diplomacy and policy. The only one permitted in this house is Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist.

The policy now is: await the next initiative, the next decision, and ditch the battle plans that might have been cooked up decades ago.  Better to play golf, or dine at an appropriate venue to meet contacts.  It is a situation both terrifying and fascinating for the deskbound, rendering the chit-chat element of a blinded punditry nigh irrelevant.


[1] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-australia-norman-idUSKBN13C0ED

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It