The unofficial American ambassador to Australia
Why did you vote for Trump?
Why so many COVID cases?
Is everyone in Texas a cowboy?
As a Texan who now lives in Australia, these are the questions my wife gets daily. Her accent, recognised when out shopping or speaking on the phone, is always greeted with these questions. It is an enduring press conference which burdens her every day.
The United States is always at the forefront of world news — dominating headlines, talk shows and radio feedback. For a long time, Australia was considered a junior America. The influence on the Aussie culture is strong. From young children wearing NBA singlets with Jordan or Bryant on the back, to hip hop music to the urban speak that they used to the TV and movie shows. Kids in Australia in the ‘80s and ’90s, we all wanted to be like Mike. Or the kids in Beverly Hills 90210. Or the Backstreet Boys. We all wanted to be American. America was seen as a country to aspire to. The land of the brave and free. Where you could make it in Hollywood or Wall Street. Dreams were made in Disneyland. People were happy — just look at the sitcoms.AUS wanted to be USA.
Australia and the United States have always been close. Both former British colonies, they have supported each other in times of war, Australia often being the first to commit to the USA, like an eager younger sibling hoping for praise and affection. Their leaders have always been united. Economic associations were formed. Big USA and little Australia. Arm in arm. The tide has turned. Under the Trump presidency, there are more shakes of the head here. More “I can’t believe he said that.” And a hell of a lot more — “WHY?!!” Put simply, Australians are losing their trust in the USA.
This is evident in the most recent Lowy Institute Poll, which asked the question: how much do you trust the following countries to act responsibly in the world? In 2011 83% of Australians surveyed trusted the USA; in 2020 this is down to only 51%.
Similarly, the question: how important is our alliance relationship with the United States for Australia’s security” has seen a sharp drop from 87% in 2012 to 71% in 2019. Australians are losing their love for the USA. Unfortunately it seems, American we are just not that into you.
As an American living in Australia, my wife is confronted with this growing dissatisfaction daily. Like she is the one responsible for making all the decisions. As if the US chose her as its ambassador to represent it, to defend the current state of affairs and to win over the Aussies.
Make Australia Like The US Again.
At first, the extent of her implied ambassadorship was limited to answering questions about guns. Each school shooting brought the same question. Why isn’t there more gun control? How often do Americans need to offer condolences to lost lives, yet they remain inactive?
The gun culture was foreign to us. This was one problem that Australia had fixed in its own backyard. Following the biggest mass shooting in its history, Port Arthur in 1996, Australia implemented strict gun control. There have been no mass shootings since. John Oliver did a piece on this for the Daily Show. We were proud to be shown in such a positive light on the world stage. We were showing our Big Brother the way. But nothing was done. The shooting continued.
“Why isn’t there gun control?
This was the question in 2014 and 2015 when my wife first emigrated to Australia. The shine of the USA light was beginning to fade, as we were incredulous at what could be easily solved. My wife had a well-worn speech about the power of the NRA and the bill of rights. Each time there was a shooting, she would give this speech. It wasn't her view but she tried to explain why things were the way they were.
It wore her down. The barrage comes from both the ill-informed and the educated. Perhaps the worst was the day of the 2016 election. My father had never texted my wife before. His texts take a long time to compose and are infrequent, yet as the world, as Australia, stood by in shock at the election result he sent his first text to her — “why are Americans so stupid?”
It was an extremely thoughtless text for which I severely reprimanded him — there have been no further texts in four years, but it was the feeling here at the time. How did a man, so often mocked and with such alien opinions and beliefs get elected? We didn’t love Hilary — but really, Trump? My father had simply voiced the thoughts of many. The country we had grown up loving was making decisions we couldn’t understand. My wife cried. She is a Democrat, one of a rising number in a traditionally Republican state, but over the following months, she got the same question over and over.
“Why did you vote for Trump?”
It was assumed as she is a Texan that she, personally, was the one who got him into power. There is a fascination with Trump here, and ordinarily shy people feel like they have the right to question my wife about him. Like she is Kayleigh McEnany. Ready to field their enquiries. At the grocery store. On the phone to her bank. When buying a coffee. Few conversations pass without the T-word.
At first, she would offer in-depth replies. Explaining the when, the how, the why. After four years, this is tiring. Now the answers are short and sharp. Yes. No. I don’t know. She has been worn down. It seems now we see only the very worst of the US in our media. Racist police, college kids having COVID parties, governors ignoring COVID. And of course, Trump.
I am drawn into this, a de facto American, trying to defend the place I call my second home. The media only highlights the racist and ignorant minority. The Americans I know and love are not like this. Trump does not speak for every single person. I have a What’s App chat group of close friends and have been subjected to a steady stream of disbelief and derision. They revel in Sarah Cooper’s satirical takedowns and gasp at the seemingly daily gaffes and missteps. I am often forced to refute some of the comments. Don’t let the actions of a stupid minority cloud your opinions of an entire country.
Once, I had to leave the group — tired of debating a losing cause. Australia is far from perfect. Very far. I have lost interest in our leaders who are uninspiring and self-centred. A few are racist; many are corrupt. We have a poor track record on Indigenous rights. We were slow to recognise same-sex marriage as a human right. There is so much we need to improve on. Yet, this seems to pale into insignificance to the daily media show we are treated to.
“Look at the disarray in the US! I’m glad we live here!”
Where I live in Australia, we went into strict lockdown when cases in our state got to 100 per day. Yet as some states in the USA receive thousands of cases each day, there is no lockdown. My wife has no answer for this. I wish America would return to the days of my childhood, that our union would remain strong. That the United State of America would reclaim its lofty status and be admired by all. And that my wife would not be grilled on the choices her country makes. She is not an ambassador. But she is Texan. And proud of it. As I am proud to be an honorary Texan.