Irrespective of whether he wins November's presidential election, Donald Trump throws into question the nature of Australia's relationship with America, including the ANZUS alliance.
How is it that a country like America, with so many talented people, can produce a presidential candidate such as Trump? In a two-horse race, he may come within a hair's breadth of becoming president.
Is the Trump phenomenon the same as that which saw Tony Abbott become prime minister? Or which saw right wing candidate Norbert Hofer go close to winning the recent Austrian presidential election? Or, indeed, that which has seen Malcolm Turnbull go from a small l Liberal to right wing conservative in the space of six months?
A common theme with politicians like Abbott and Hofer, and others like Marine Le Pen or Geert Wilders, is the demonisation of asylum seekers and immigrants, particularly Muslims. They ascribe to and seek to maintain a status quo which has gone – the supremacy and dominance of the white population. But Trump is more. He is a xenophobe with, potentially, a huge military arsenal under his command. And he would have an "army" of rednecks, including members of state and federal police, the border force and members of the US armed forces, backing him internally.
Australia rushed to America's side in Vietnam. It was a war which should never have been fought. It was entered into because of an American commitment to winning the Cold War. The analysis which saw Vietnam as another domino in an increasingly Communist-dominated Asia was flawed. But as a part of Australia's premium payment for the US defence insurance policy, our government supported the US war, in the process conscripting young men to fight overseas.
It was a policy overseen and endorsed by Robert Menzies, Australian prime minister from 1949-1966. Menzies was an avowed admirer of the US, and of the British monarchy. To this day, the Sydney Institute and other conservative institutions, such as the Institute for Public Affairs laud his memory and achievements.
Turnbull embraces the American Alliance, but the unequal nature of the arrangement and the huge power imbalance between the two countries means it's not an alliance of equals. It is on American terms and always has been.
Australian military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan achieved nothing positive or of lasting gain. Instead we have seen the rise of Islamic State and the resurgence of the Taliban both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. American diplomacy relies on military power, and without it they believe their ability to negotiate is weak.
American pressure forced the Australian purchase of the F-111 and now the F-35, it pushed the construction or purchase of larger submarines resulting in the Collins Class lemon, and now a new generation of submarines. They made acceptance of the Pine Gap spy and control facility a test of the Alliance. Operation of that facility and access to the information it gleans is entirely on their terms – hardly an ideal strategic outcome for Australia.
Turnbull says he could work with Trump, but how could anyone? The man is disagreeable and offensive.
Paradoxically for a Republican, Trump has tapped into white blue-collar and redneck fears of a loss of economic and social standing; they fear being a minority in their own US of A. This mood and Trumps fostering of it is dangerously destabilising and could lead to social unrest, whether Trump wins or loses the genie is out of the bottle.
Where would the US head with Trump as president? Trump does not like China, and may ramp up efforts to counter what he sees as unreasonable Chinese trade policies and its regional expansion moves. For Australia it remains all the way with the USA, for better or for worse.
Many years ago Australia, through its key federal public departments, universities and independent think tanks, might have sought to act as a broker or to convene a permanent regional structure for ongoing dialogue to reduce and redirect tension. Nuanced and subtlety no longer seems to figure in Australia's strategic thinking.
Now it appears as if we are irretrievably bound up in the fate of America, like a vassal state tied to a tottering Roman empire.
Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat.