Fran O'Sullivan: Trump's ability to stir makes NZ smaller

So many apologies and The Donald has yet to step foot in the Oval Office.
US President-elect Donald Trump certainly knows how to create drama. Photo / AP
US President-elect Donald Trump certainly knows how to create drama. Photo / AP

Five days into my sojourn in Washington DC and I am biting back the temptation to say to my American interview subjects: "Stop apologising."

Donald Trump is still an unknown quantity in this epicentre of global power.

The Republican President-elect has coarsened national debate. Presidential fiat by Twitter is taking some time to get used to.

It's certainly not a mark of civility, which is how things normally get conducted in Washington.

While controversial, Trump's Cabinet appointees ( "the billionaires") are expected to make a decent fist of the Senate hearings where they will face a tough grilling before their nominations are confirmed.

Yesterday, news broke that the Russians were alleged to have compromising evidence of sexual indiscretions involving Trump.

This is an extraordinary claim.

The New York Times reported it was unable to confirm the claims.

Trump responded on Twitter: "FAKE NEWS - A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!"

Extraordinary also was the fact that intended Attorney-General Jeff Sessions was quizzed about the infamous Access Hollywood tape that revealed Trump's sexualised comments about a married woman. When Sessions was asked yesterday whether grabbing a woman by the genitals was considered sexual assault, he replied, "Yes".



Credit: Twitter / @realDonaldTrump

The sheer drama that is playing out in Washington makes it obvious that any attempts in NZ to whip up a political firestorm on minor issues will fail.

Yesterday, the NZ Taxpayers Union promoted a so-called news break on continuing Government contributions to the Clinton Foundation, or more particularly a project run by the Clinton Health Access Initiative.

Leaving aside that I wrote about the NZ donations after Clinton's defeat (this is not new) the point is that the decision by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to continue to pump funds into the initiative is not going to "risk even more damage to New Zealand's ability to wield any influence in the US", as the Taxpayer's Union executive director Jordan Williams claims.

New Zealand barely rates at all in this tumultuous time in US politics.

It would be preposterous to suggest otherwise.

At the most we have an asterisk against our name as one Middle East expert suggested yesterday when talking about the UN resolution on Israel that NZ proposed.

To think otherwise is simply the conceit of a small, distant nation.

What's clear is that the election talking points still prevail.

On arrival last Friday, I engaged one of the border officials in small talk. He was happy to see a NZ journalist heading to DC to have a look at the incoming administration.

"We need change," he said, pointing out that most of the Texan border officials were ex-US military. This was a precursor to a debate about failed Democratic candidate Clinton.

Benghazi still runs deep: "Had I seen the movie?" "Yep" I responded. He had also watched it but wasn't quite sure if it was correct. This segued into talk about the state of the US, particularly when it came to domestic issues.

Obama was due to sign out as President, but look at the murder rate in Chicago (it is off the scale) "that's where he came from".

He was just stating a fact.

The black female Uber driver in Washington was also direct: "I am embarrassed Donald Trump is our President," she said driving me to a book store gathering where experts David Cole, Todd Cox and Michael Waldman were speaking at Prose and Politics' first teach-in on the state of civil liberties and civil rights in America.

The gathering was there to learn how they defend their foundational democratic rights and values - a teach-in that was advertised as helping the country to navigate uncharted and uncertain political terrain (reminiscent of the anti-war movement of the 1960s). It is clear Washington is still bifurcated when it comes to political power and trade.

I plan in the coming fortnight to shed more light on how NZ's strategic interests can be enhanced.

But it is a crowded shop right now.

- NZ Herald

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Head of Business for NZME

Fran O'Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s. She is a former Editor of the National Business Review; has twice been awarded Qantas Journalist of the Year and is a multiple winner of the Westpac Financial Journalism Supreme Award.

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