Several hours after the first polling stations in the US started closing their doors on the East Coast, I got a strange feeling of déjà vu. All the TV channels were still predicting that Hillary Clinton’s victory was a sure thing, and continued to belittle the clear indications that this did not tally with reality. I had the same feeling when the polling stations closed in the previous Israeli general election.
The following morning I experienced the second wave of déjà vu, when Democrats started reacting to the conclusive results, first with disbelief, and then a combination of rage and grief. This was the exact feeling in Labor circles in Israel back in May 1977 – the upheaval that brought the Likud to power for the first time in Zionist and Israeli history.
In the Israeli case the shock in 1977 had less to do with the identity of the new prime minister – Menachem Begin – and was more about the fact that the ideological approach that had been anathema for 40 years had won.
In the American case the shock has little to do with the fact that the Republicans won, but rather involves the identity of the president elect. Even the traditional Republican leadership is finding it difficult to fathom Donald Trump, though the extent of his victory will undoubtedly lead all the Republican congressmen, no matter how they reacted when Trump gained the Republican nomination, to toe the line.
Both elections have been an important lesson in what democracy is all about – whether or not one likes the results, and no matter how history will judge the consequences.
Though on both occasions I found myself on the losing side, after I got over the “virtual jet lag” caused by having gotten up at 2 a.m. to watch the election results live I started to take stock of the new reality, and to try to see some rays of light in the darkness.
There is no doubt that Trump’s victory was based on a correct reading of the current socio-economic realities of the US, even though I do not believe he has any idea how to change these realities, or that he will realize even a fraction of his election promises, including bringing the old jobs back to the “rust belt,” drastically changing all the trade agreements the US has with the rest of the world, building a wall along the border with Mexico or even moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Even the king of reality shows is rooted in reality, not pipe dreams.
The fact that Trump dared portray the American socio-economic reality and its maladies – which was enabled by his total disregard for political correctness, and his lack of qualms about lifting the mask of hypocrisy which is part and parcel of the “American dream” – is good news. However, the question that remains unanswered is whether his having done so will be followed by a sincere effort to change things for the better.
About the latter I am skeptical, largely because Trump himself and his extraordinary financial success are a product of this dream. Furthermore, a man who is a racist, a xenophobe and a misogynist, who declared bankruptcy four times, who opened a “university” that defrauded its students and who is flimsy about facts and the truth cannot be expected to lead a positive revolution, and it is difficult to see him bringing together all sections of the American society to enable healing.
The Israeli Right and religious circles in Israel are understandably in a state of ecstasy. Trump and his Jewish aides have stated time and again that in their eyes the settlements are not a hindrance to peace and that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people. Furthermore, the fact that Trump isn’t afraid to take on the liberal media turns him into a hero and ally in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s eyes. It is paradoxical that one of the only interviews given by Trump to the Israeli media (18 years ago) was to Ilana Dayan – Netanyahu’s nemesis – and he seemed to enjoy every moment of the verbal duel with her.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett has suggested that there is no longer anything to stop Israel carry out unlimited construction activities in Judea and Samaria, and that the two-state solution is now dead – as if it is Washington that calls the shots.
Interior Minister Arye Deri believes that now we are rid of the “bothersome” Reform and Conservative movements – apparently since all the Jews that surround Trump are Orthodox. But the fact remains that of the Jews who supported Clinton – 70 percent of the Jewish vote – the majority are secular, Reform or Conservative, and they aren’t going anywhere.
Despite the fact that Trump is a racist, xenophobe, misogynist etc. many American Jews and Israelis maintain that the only thing that matters is that he is “good for Israel.” I find such an approach repugnant.
Of course we must seek what is best for Israel, though we do not agree among ourselves what this is. What “good” will come to Israel from the likes of Trump, is yet to be seen.
The writer is a political scientist.