Lights up and trumpets sound! Here’s our annual silly-season Madeleine awards, for the use of symbol, stunt, prop, gesture or jest in international affairs.
The prize is named after the former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, honouring her penchant for sending diplomatic messages via her lapel brooches.
The Madeleine last year went to the Pope for the sublime symbolism of using a small black Fiat 500L as official vehicle for his Washington visit—the smallest car in the motorcade to the White House. Take that, gas guzzling Secret Service SUVs!
Before the main Madeleine, here are the minor awards.
First, the George Orwell prize for double think and euphemism. Last year’s Orwell went to the Thai junta for the term ‘attitude adjustment’—throwing critics in jail with a bag over their head. This year, the Orwell goes to China for that wonderful phrase, ‘hurting the feelings of the Chinese people’. Hong Kong University counted 143 instances of the phrase in the People’s Daily since 1959.
As The Economist commented, the public’s supposed outrage allows China to put aside its principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. Strangely, though, the Communist Party rarely lets the people express feelings for themselves: spontaneous public outbursts threaten ‘the party’s control, loss of which would truly hurt.’
Next, celebration of an ‘OOPS!—I-wish-I-hadn’t-said-that’ blunder. The OOPS! essence is encapsulated by Tony Abbott’s confession he wasn’t ‘the suppository of all wisdom.’ Tony nearly won a second OOPS! for promising an Oz-footy-style shirtfront of Vladimir Putin.
An amazing presidential candidate won last year’s OOPS! by broadening our understanding of the prize. Rather than blundering gaffes, Donald Trump perfected the Reverse OOPS! The more outrageous Trump was, the stronger he became. The OOPS! concept is challenged by ‘post-truth politics’, but a new winner is clear.
Hillary Clinton, this OOPS! is for you. Along with better email protocols, Hillary wishes she’d never dumped voters into her basket of deplorables: ‘You can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.’
And now, the final contestants for this year’s Madeleine…
Beijing put in a good effort with its G20 summit, which’ll be remembered for lack of action and lack of a stairs. When President Obama landed in China there were no stairs waiting for him to emerge from the door at the front of Air Force One. ‘Very rude’ of the Chinese, as Queen Elizabeth II might mutter. Much more fun was the moment at the Rio Olympics closing ceremony when Shinzo Abe popped up as Super Mario.
The Madeleine runner-up last year was Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, for answering questions using only emoji characters: the world’s first political emoji interview.
Bishop again ran strongly, especially her diplomatic words when the world reeled at hostilities erupting between Angelina and Brad. As the Brangelina break-up brouhaha blazed, the Foreign Minister was well-placed at the UN in New York, observing to Strewth: ‘This is one of the worst celebrity crises in recent memory. We call for calm and for both sides to exercise restraint, de-escalate tensions and avoid any unilateral action that could put at risk the stability of the global celebrity order.’
Kevin Rudd’s campaign to become UN Secretary-General had strong Madeleine potential, especially thanks to the high-quality insults thrown at The Kevin. Tony Abbott set the tone: ‘Not even I hate the UN that much.’
The purest venom came from Kevin’s ex-colleagues in the Labor Party. Pamela Williams noted that the UN was seeking a woman from Eastern Europe to be the next Sec-Gen, drawing this quote from a Rudd arch enemy: ‘Kevin Rudd could become a woman—but not an East European woman.’
Another great spray was by former NSW Labor Premier, Kristina Keneally: ‘The man is a psychopathic narcissist and that’s not just my opinion, that’s the opinion of a whole range of people who are currently sitting in the parliament. I can think of 12 Australians off the top of my head who would be a better secretary-general and one of them is my labrador so let’s be blunt here, she has a lot more empathy than Kevin Rudd.’
Want a friend in politics? Get a dog. Although there’s no bar on psychopathic narcissists winning high office; it’s often a standard trait. Which brings us back to The Donald.
The judges recalled Tom Lehrer’s lament: ‘Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.’ How do you do political humour when Trump is President and Boris Johnson is Foreign Secretary? These men are living punch lines. The hair, alone, does half the job.
Heterodox hairdos define many pollies on the popular right, from Boris to Berlusconi. The manic manes and tormented tresses signal a leader not beholden to the smooth styles of despised elites. Musing on hairstyles and populist politics, Ian Buruma remarked that hair branding is also a mark of dictators, from Hitler to Kim Jong-un: ‘Standing out is of course the point. The strange hair, or shaven head, makes the popular leader instantly recognizable.’
The Donald has the hair. And then there’s Trump on Twitter—the man who, it seems, could start a nuclear arms race with a tweet. The funniest response tweet to Trump on nukes was this: ‘Good news is Obama changed the nuclear codes to 145 characters. Trump can never use them.’
From the inauguration on 20 January, we’ll discover the Trump presidency, 140 characters at a time.
So the 8th annual Madeleine Award goes to the hairdo that twittered into the White House.
Let us pray.