8/13/2017 Trump- Worse than we feared?
It feels strange sitting in Tel Aviv writing this article. For so many years, Americans have looked towards Israel and Israelis and wondered how they manage. Americans commonly inquire — “How are you able to deal with the many threats that surround you?” Now, as I sit here, I worry less about my friends and children locally, and more about my friends, children, and grandchild in the US. I live in a city with an operational missile defense system in place. I live in a country in which an armed Nazi sympathizer could not march down the street. While our country does have enemies who attempt to use vehicles as weapons, my Prime Minister, (whatever I may think of his deficits,) does personally visit the victims of any attack and ensures them that that the state will bring the “terrorist” to justice.
I have been writing about American history for most of my life. Never has there been a period when circumstances have gone wrong, so quickly. Here, I'm not referring to any unexpected acts, like a sudden crash of the stock market, but to self-inflicted wounds.
The decline started in the first minutes of the administration, at the inaugural address of the new President. Instead of conveying a speech that tried to inspire, sought to bring the country together, President Donald J. Trump delivered a dark address, depicting an America I did not recognize. It was a speech seemingly designed to spark the anger, instead of extinguishing the ambers of division and bring the country together.
On his first full day in office, President Trump took the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the treaty created to balance the economic growth of China. This one action, taken without any consultation, began a rapid slide of American standing in the world. As an Israeli that makes me worry.
Israel’s second biggest strategic asset — after its military — is its friendship with the United States. While that friendship remains strong, anything that diminishes America's standing in the world, weakens Israel. During his short tenure, to-date, the list of actions taken by President Trump that weaken the US is long. The soft-power developed and harnessed by the United States over the course of many decades and administrations has swiftly and suddenly been eliminated, as the official policy of the US government abruptly moved away from supporting democracy and democratic values to supporting what are considered as “American interests”.
People across the globe no longer have confidence in the United States. People no longer trust the word of an American President who has been proven, again and again, to make up his own facts. From a local perspective here in the Middle East, the US under Trump seemingly ignored Israel’s concerns as it negotiated a ceasefire with Russia on Syria.
For reasons no one has been able to explain, the Trump administration appears to believe American and Russian interests are aligned — and while Israel and Russia have good relations, Russian actions in the Middle East these past five years have been antithetical to Israel's interests.
Israelis' biggest concern is that Trump has reversed the dictum of one of America’s most successful Presidents, Teddy Roosevelt — i.e., “Speak softly, but carry a big stick”. Trump speaks loudly, without necessarily having a big stick prepared. While there is a chance, albeit very small, that Trump's policy on North Korea will be successful, the two more likely outcomes are either a failure to deter North Korea's nuclear ambitions — in a scenario that will turn the US into a paper tiger — or a devastating war with unknown consequences.
Events this past weekend took America to an even darker place. The site of gun toting Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us” is enough to put a chill in the body of any Jew with a glimmer of historical memory. No one thinks America is about to turn into Nazi Germany. However, Jews always fear that antisemitism lurks just below the surface — and recent events certainly increase that fear.
The “Trump effect” on American politics has led to a strengthening of the extremes, and a hollowing out of the middle. Jewish history has shown us that when the extremes get stronger the danger to Jews and minorities increase. While the most overt antisemitic statements and actions seem to be wielded by those on extreme Right (even with my low journalistic profile, I have been the subject of numerous antisemitic attacks.)
That being said, we must not completely ignore the antisemitism that appears to have developed in the extreme Left as well. Though we must be careful not to create a false equivalency, as the most dangerous antisemitism emanates from the Right (and most cases of political violence have been executed by Right-sympathizing loyalists), it is important to note that extremists on either side are dangerous. Jews (and the Jewish state) often end up as the target. And President Trump continues to fuel the flames of extremism. The fact that the current White House, includes advisors such as Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka makes it near impossible for the White House to credibly claim its hands are clean, given their clear connections to the alt-Right.
Of course, Trump still has his supporters in Israel, who like many on the Right in America have managed to ignore his failings and continue to believe in their leader. Despite the fact that the Trump administration's promise to move the Embassy to Jerusalem has been proven to be just talk, his faithful still seem to prefer a President who continues to demonstrate his incompetence and indirectly stokes the fires of antisemitism, to a President who might show any sympathy to the Palestinians.
For many, the election of Trump felt like a nightmare. With slightly more than six months into Trump's presidency, that nightmare just seems to be getting worse with the passage of time. The Trump Presidency may be at an inflection point from which it may never be able to recover. However, if there is any hope for change, the administration must take clear and decisive action.
In the wake of the recent violence in Charlottesville, Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League stated on Sunday: “We call on the White House to terminate all staff with any ties to these extremists. There is no rationale for employing people who excuse hateful rhetoric and ugly incitement. They do not serve the values embodied in our Constitution nor the interests of the American people.”
Listening to Greenblatt would be a first step towards a new direction.