The pleasant looking woman sitting on the wooden bench directly across from me several weeks ago in the shiny, new red cable car in Wellington, New Zealand had a good ear in quickly picking up American speech.
“Things don’t seem to be going so well back home now, don’t you think”? she asked me in her distinctive Kiwi accent.
“Yep, things seemed to have changed overnight,” I replied. “From what we’ve seen on television in the last few weeks, I’m not sure I recognize my own country anymore.”
“Yes, I’m sure of that,” she responded.
As our tour group traveled more than 8,000 miles around Australia and New Zealand in January and February and heard some of the commentary about America on television in these countries, some of us realized that things had indeed changed.
Make that changed dramatically – with the emphasis on drama.
For example, we watched in disbelief in our hotel room in Sydney as Australian newsreaders informed us that our new president exchanged angry words over immigration policy with the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and abruptly ended the telephone conversation. The flare-up with Australia’s leader came just days after Trump, in what was later described as a joke, had earlier informed Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto “that he would deploy troops to Mexico if the Mexican government failed to control “bad hombres down there.”
Never mind that Australia is one of our country’s greatest friends, sending its armed forces to fight side-by-side with us since World War II in Korea and Vietnam, along with major assistance to us in Iraq and Afghanistan, where some of our other allies did not bother to venture.
Isn’t it bad form to hang up on such a good friend? Worse yet, Trump has yet to say a bad word about Vladimir Vladimorvich Putin and the Kremlin, someone who is not a good friend.
In the precious little time we had available to take a peek at social media during this grueling yet immensely rewarding trip, we learned a bit more about the growing uproar back home precipitated by our uncouth and undiplomatic president. Since we have returned from Down Under, we’ve learned that President Trump, in his new budget proposal, aims to cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and State Department to pay for a 10% increase in the military budget.
How appropriate that this very undiplomatic, uncouth individual who, in the space of a week insulted both the President of Mexico and the Prime Minister of Australia, created a toxic international climate but wants to cut funds for our environmental and diplomatic efforts. As with many of his ideas and policies, he has it bass ackwards. If anything, the federal budget needs to be increased to ensure that the toxic waste he is creating does not accrue in the Oval Office. Moreover, civility in international relations needs to be a constant – two compelling reasons to increase the budgets of State and the EPA in the Age of Trump. As for the civility he sorely lacks, Trump probably doesn’t know that it was Sir Winston Churchill himself who observed that “to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”
Just after the flap with the Australian Prime Minister, our tour director, in an exercise of diplomacy, pointed out some past and present history of the two lands Down Under as we observed part of the Royal Australian Navy in port while we navigated the beautiful Sydney Harbor.
“Because of the small size of the New Zealand Navy, the Australian Navy protects New Zealand and the United States protects both,” he informed us. With Australia somewhat unsettled geopolitically as a result of Trump’s verbal behavior, it’s clear that Aussies and Kiwis, knowledgeable about the role of ANZAC in the past World Wars and the current ANZUS Alliance, now have some doubt as to what the future might hold. And with the growing Chinese presence being felt in nearby waters, the uncertain trumpet being sounded by Trump is unnerving to our friends.
As with every trip one might take to an international setting, the opportunities to acquire more knowledge of history and geography abound. Our experience during more than three weeks of rigorous travel was no different. We learned, for example, that Wellington is the windiest national capital on our planet. However, as we watched Australian and New Zealand television on a few evenings after a long day of touring, it seemed that the strong and ill winds that have been gusting from Washington since January 20 might surpass in velocity the otherwise pleasant breezes that come from the beautiful New Zealand capital.
Which gets us back to that important January date.
In March of 2016 we, along with another couple, booked our trip to explore these two distant lands, with a departure date of January 19. We had a general idea about this long and intricate exploration of these two countries but had no idea about exact dates for our extended trip, other than those for departure and our return to Columbus in mid-February.
But when we received our itinerary detailing the January 19 departure date, it showed us arriving in Melbourne on January 21. Cue the Twilight Zone music when you approach the International Date Line. Conveniently, January 20 is not listed.
The fact that Donald Trump was going to be sworn in as President of the United States while we were conveniently out of the country was fun enough inasmuch as we wouldn’t be tempted to watch the spectacle on television. But the realization that January 20 disappeared from our itinerary and thus our consciousness, made our adventure that much more fun.
It is now my pleasure to inform friends that I was able to escape from Donald Trump for more than three weeks. But it was even more fun to be transported through a time warp that erased a date on the calendar and enabled me to block him out, however slightly.
Except for the nice lady on the cable car. Her question directed at me suddenly caused that date to reappear on my internal calendar.
Never mind. My wife and I have finished unpacking and editing the vast number of photos that were taken, and we will, at least, hope that Windy Wellington recaptures its rightful place as the most windblown national capital of them all. That will be a good thing.
Denis Smith is a retired school administrator and a former consultant in the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office. He writes about education issues as well as politics and constitutional reform.