The Death of Diplomacy

In the northern hemisphere people may not be much aware, if at all, of the storm brewing in our cappuccino cups in Australia. Since I am in Australia at the moment it is difficult to escape it. What follows is written on the far south coast of New South Wales, in a small town.

President Trump rang the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull last Sunday. The scheduled hour-long call was, apparently, abruptly terminated by Trump, who, having harangued Mr Turnbull, then hung up on him at the 25-minute mark. Mr Trump, employing his gift for the most superlative of superlatives (no one has superlatives like him, he has the best superlatives), called it the worst call he has made so far to a world leader.

Donald Trump, Reince Priebus, Mike Pence, Sean Spicer, Michael Flynn

At issue was the deal made by the Obama administration to accept between 1,000 and 2,000 illegal immigrants detained on Manus Island and Nauru. Given his recent moratorium on receiving refugees from certain countries, many of which are represented in these two island-camps, the deal was obviously an awkward one for him. Mr Trump has Tweeted (of course) that it was a dumb deal. One suspects that the Australian PM, also a conservative businessman, reminded Mr Trump that a deal was a deal. One can imagine Mr Trump saying that it was not his deal.

The spokesmen are saying this was a robust conversation, a diplomacy-speak admission that Mr Trump did shout at Mr Turnbull. Australia is arguably the staunchest of US allies, and the Phonegate affair has put this historical relationship in some doubt going forward. This is not the way to treat long-term loyal allies.

Of course, in the Catholic Church, we have become accustomed to (if not quite used to) hearing Pope Francis launch his own tirades, against the curia, the pharisaical upholders of the moral law, airport bishops, promethean neo-Pelagians, et al. While Pope Francis does not use Twitter in the same way as Mr Trump, he does have a similar terse, minimalist style that packs a lot of shock-and-awe into a few choice words.


Both Francis and Trump have a lot in common. Both are set on over-turning the status quo in the running of their institutions, not least by by-passing the established channels. Pope Francis and President Trump have surrounded themselves with special advisers rather than the established officials. Francis will sack and re-assign at will (the CDF 3 for example), much as Trump uses executive orders and sacks acting attorneys-general who do not play ball by his rules. Both by-pass the usual channels for getting their message out: Francis uses his daily Mass homilettes and Trump uses Twitter. While Francis has now re-fashioned the Vatican press office to his own ends to get these homilettes out, Trump’s use of Twitter subverts the mainstream media by addressing people directly through social media, and the mainstream media must play catch-up. It is very clever; there is method in his madness.

We are watching a revolution in politics and governance, both in Church and state. Sir Humphrey Appleby’s day is done. Perhaps this was inevitable. Diplomacy and its rhetorical apparatus of understatement or verbose non-statement worked in an era when time was needed for the behind-the-scenes working out of deals and negotiations. Diplomacy speak, and the professionals who spoke it, bought leaders this time, and could control the release of of news in their own time. Today news breaks in real time, Twitter can break news before CNN, and the management of information is thereby taken out of the professionals’ hands. Trump, and to a lesser extent Francis, both seek to embed this new reality.

This brave new world order has implications we have yet to see develop. When negotiations and stratagems are played out in real time before the face of the world there is a reduced capacity to control reactions. Australian politicians of all stripes are mortified by Trump’s treatment of the Australian Prime Minister. But their reactions will be nothing compared to those of many John and Jane Citizens as they see this sad saga played out before them. Why should we cow-tow to the USA?, they might ask; why should we host their military bases, listening posts and other secret installations when they treat us with such scant respect? We can be sure China will act in some way to take advantage of this contretemps. They may succeed to some degree.

Perhaps we are seeing, paradoxically, the simultaneous death of democracy in the form we have known it, and the reassertion of papal monarchy in the guise of populism and pastoral primacy. Or, more precisely perhaps, we are witnessing the emergency of an interventionist, elected monarchy in both Church and state. Either way, we should be worried. Popes have traditionally been rarely seen, and more rarely heard. They were above the cut and thrust of ecclesial politics, at least in the eyes of the faithful, and this went a long way to ensuring the respect and veneration accorded their august office. Likewise, state leaders tended to be, or at least strived to be, statesmen, presenting to their people calm and crafted words that reflected the consensus arrived at in the often stormy scenes behind closed doors. The people did not need to see the storm talks; what mattered was the more or less calm and enduring results.

Time will tell if this is all for the good. For now, my optimism is very, very muted at best.

Join the Conversation

  1. it is a scary plain to which our sights are now cast Father—and the fact that this current Pope and this current President have perhaps more in common than not in their leadership styles is sobering.
    Donald Trump is not a conventional politician as I have often said. In fact, he is not a politician at all. He is a business man pure and simple.
    He was voted into office by a weary lot who have grown numb to the politicians of either party.
    That we are a broken system is not lost on any of us… most know that what was policy or customary may need re-righting—to be set back straight.
    It is a backwards by design approach—knowing the desired end but having to go back to the beginning and working back forward…
    It will be painful and at times seemingly reckless.
    But as this man who was elected as a non conventional politician goes about his non conventional ways, I sit back and pray we all survive.
    But I will say that I was disappointed in Bruce Springsteen for apologizing on behalf of the United States while performing a concert in Australia…I am tired of our entertainers using their platforms for political agendas—-just sing to the people for heavens sake allowing those in attendance to forget for just a brief time that the world is topsy turvy….

    And on a personal note Father—I ask for your prayers for my dad…he is in the last stages of his battle with cancer. I sit with him daily watching him hurting and afraid—We don’t have much longer together and I pray for him to be at peace and not to be in pain—that he may not fear the journey that will follow the life that he has known for the past 89 years…
    It’s been a difficult past three months….
    Blessings Father and enjoy your time at home…

  2. I have been following this story with some interest and I noticed this comment in the Guardian’s article: “The deal with Australia does not commit the US to unconditionally accepting any number of refugees from Australia’s offshore detention islands. The deal only commits the US to allowing refugees to “express an interest” in being resettled in America. Any, even all, refugees may be rejected during the “extreme vetting” process.”
    I am really puzzled how it is that Iranian refugees ended up on some islands so far from home?
    Link to the Guardian:

  3. I live in Colorado and we are inundated with illegals (almost all third world neo-Christian pagan) and refugees (these almost all Muslim). Unlike Australia, we have a huge open border with the South and it is a sieve for human traffickers and drug cartels. We’ve had enough. Why should we take Australia’s problems (a very small one comparatively)? A deal is not a deal if it is unjust burden on the nation’s people and made in bad faith (without the people’s consent or knowledge). Australia needs to repatriate these people just as Trump is trying to do; not cowardly shift the problem across the Pacific. The real shame is that Trump has to clean up the mess our traitorous leaders created. Diplomacy is dead because the current batch of leaders (including Australia’s) killed it and the victims are fighting mad.

    1. Are you aware that Australia was not dumping illegals on you, but swapping them: your detained central Americans for our detained miscellaneous (including Middle Easterns)? A cowardly shift of the problem overseas? Really?

      If this is the rhetoric America’s old allies are going to hear from now on, there will not be many of them left soon. Just saying…

      1. If this is true, then we will keep our problem and Australia can keep theirs. Explain why Australia is so anxious to “exchange” illegals. Would it not be more cost effective to just keep the ones they have and we keep our own? Why the “trade” and why is Australia so upset about the US cancelling it? It would save us both money. Otherwise, the cost of this swap is leveled on the citizens. Surely you see this does not make any sense. “Swapping” illegals? Seriously? Please, give me one benefit to either nation’s people other then diplomacy demands it. Neither Obama nor Turnbull thought this through and justice dmands it be rescinded.

        1. Look, this is not the issue I was highlighting. Why was Australia upset? Because we were hearing that our Prime Minister was shouted at and hung up on by the US President, a supposed ally! Why the deal in the first place? How would I know?! And it is not germane to the point I was making. While there is certainly Trump Derangement Syndrome among liberals, there seems also to be a bit of Trump Deification Syndrome in the air as well, and that is even scarier.

      2. Father Hugh, the Americans who voted for Trump did so overwhelmingly because of immigration. This deal was made after the election and in secret. Either way, civility with the enemy (the liberal Freemason modernists) and cowardice is what got us into this mess. We no longer care how these feckless leaders treat each other since they no longer care how they betray their people. The only people being nice were those holding Christian values. We are tired (both Aussies and Americans) and most of us do not want these anti-Christians within our borders. These illegals must be sent back home or we will have a Visigoth sack of Rome replay. Australia is not nearly the mess my country is (40 years of massive third world immigration). Call this desperation. Call it self-preservation. I would not call it Trump Deification Syndrome. If he does not succeed and the US fails, the alternative for the world is too ugly to contemplate. It seems to me, diplomacy is now just a globalist weapon to pummel Christians into submission. Finally, it’s entirely possible Turnbull deserved to be treated rudely. What kind of leader runs to the media and cries about it? The few facts we know about the phone call came out of Australia and Trump responded accordingly. Is it possible Turnbull is no better than Trump? Australians do not want our MS-13 gangbangers any more than we want your potential Jihadis. This kind of diplomacy is wrecking both our countries. Not sure it’s worth defending. The real question comes down to this: Is bad diplomacy better than no diplomacy? As you say, only time will tell.

      3. I stand properly rebuked on how the phone call was leaked. No one seems to know. It’s still a really bad deal for Americans (Australia sending us refugees they have rejected and expecting us to happily take them) and “diplomacy” is forcing us to accept it. Leaders of both our countries cannot continue to use diplomacy to harm their people and Obama was the absolute worst offender.

        1. It was not explicitly or consciously made as a rebuke, but a clarification. It reflects my frustration that the illustrations have taken the focus rather than my principal point, which is the phenomenon of Trump and Bergoglio and how similar they are and what trend they embody.

      4. Bergoglio and Trump (and most world leaders) are the offspring of Modernism and their fruits will be most unpleasant. The people I know (especially Catholics) in the US are just trying to survive with faith intact. Trump might give us some time (unlike Clinton), but no true-believing Catholic thinks he can do more. I live in a nation where civil war is an increasingly accepted proposition and read that Europe is little better. How can the Church be so blind?

    2. Fr Hugh, what is your source for the refugee deal being a “swap”? I’ve looked everywhere including the infamous CNN and can’t find that info.

  4. Well … what a kerfuffle ! It seems that human beings are now to be stripped of their humanity by being referred to as “illegals”. We’ve heard this language all before. How awful that it should intrude itself in so ugly a form onto your blog, dear Father.

    But back to the substance of your post.

    What we are witnessing and which you have described has been termed “authoritarian populism”. How President Trump and Pope Bergoglio would HATE to be lumped into the same category. Are they polar extremes … or perhaps the two ends of a horseshoe : which draw ever closer, and look so much the same … and yet never meet.

    1. How is referring to people as “illegals” stripping them of their humanity? That’s a little dramatic. The word is short for illegal immigrant, a legal term, not an insult. I suppose you prefer undocumented immigrant which is a SJW preference. Either way, they are breaking US law which is easily remedied.

    2. Typing on a phone forces one to abbreviate, as it is no easy feat. If you think I intend to strip refugees, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants of their dignity and humanity then you insult me.

  5. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful blessing for mankind if Twitter were permanently shutdown? It is not clear to me that it is a form of social media which works to the good. But as is well-known to you, dear Father, my views are rather Old World. Blurting out electronically whatever comes into my mind doesn’t seem – to me at least – necessary or desirable.

  6. Wow. Trump lost his temper with Turnbull: important stuff indeed.
    Btw, Obama issued more executive orders (; and in his last days, just to upset the coming president? but, being the darling of the press and the social democrats worldwide, nobody put up a riot – even when he attacked Libya for no reason at all, etc etc. Now we assist to a general meltdown because there’s a 90 days ban with several exceptions. OK?

    As to your point about Trump’s similarity with the Pope, it’s only superficial imo: mainly, Trump has almost all the establishment against (think off the bureaucratic professional class, who has an immense practical power), he has to play in attack or, at least, he has determined (probably correctly) it’s his only chance in order not to be bridled by “the system”.
    The Pope has almost all the establishment on his side (Scalfari, his favorite “leaker”, is the embodiment of the powerful anti-Catholic left which dominates in Europe) so his outbursts are only nominally transgressive, in fact they are really PC: they are a controlled version of what the progressive party in the church has been already saying for years, more or less openly.
    Most importantly: one is merely the president of a big country, the second should be the faithful vicar of Christ.


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