What's real in politics
Will the real Donald Trump stand up. Opps. He doesn’t seem to be ready. We don’t know. It may take some time. We may never know.
We’re not yet sure who is the real Barack Obama or Benyamin Netanyahu. Going back in history, we can ask the same about Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, and all the rest, including Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.
Successful politicians must be actors, hiding their true feelings while seeking support for election, the enactment of legislation, or the implementation of what the legislation appears to require.
An expert on Roosevelt published a classic biography subtitled “The Lion and the Fox.” The point was that the great man had at least two contrasting personalities.
Lots of Israeli supporters see Barack Obama as a vicious opponent, a Muslim wannabe, who might still do what he can to harm the Jewish State for the sake of Palestinians.
Yet aid to Israel reached its height during his administration, and Israelis involved in the security services say that bi-national cooperation was never as good.
If Muslims got disproportionate attention from Obama, they did not gain from his presidency. Middle Eastern elites began to ridicule him after his Cairo speech of 2009 demanding equality and democracy in the region, and have drifted even further as Arab Spring turned into the chaos of Arab Winter, with Obama, Kerry, and other Americans waffling about what to do about the chaos and bloodshed, and not yet speaking candidly about Islamic terror.
Us older folks remember Richard Nixon, described as an anti-Semite who admired Israelis and Henry Kissinger.
Immediately after Trump’s victory, Israeli rightists were celebrating their victory, and claiming that Palestinians had missed the train of history.
A few days later, the cartoonist for Ha’aretz showed Trump saying he will work for a peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians, Bibi on the floor being given an infusion, and Sara in a rush with a glass of water.
The President-elect has already backed down from campaign comments about charging Hillary with a crime, ending Obamacare, and the mass expulsion of illegal immigrants.
His initial appointments look very conservative, but they are a long way from accomplishing anything.
Bibi is a caricature of the politician who excites extremists and acts as a centrist. The combination invites criticism from both, but also toleration from both. It goes part of the way to explaining his success in maintaining office, despite being warmly derided by the chattering classes in the media of Israel and other western democracies.
Bibi has been a champion of settlers, but has worked to limit construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He stood against government colleagues who wanted a full invasion of Gaza in 2014 and the total defeat of Hamas. He spoke forcefully against the American and international agreement with Iran, then worked to get a multi-year commitment of increased aid while Obama was still president.
Us old men remember Tonto, the Indian sidekick of the Lone Ranger. He existed in pre-history when it was possible to keep minorities in their place, and portray them as stereotypes. Tonto’s enduring wisdom was to say time and again that white men speak with forked tongue. For those not in tune with radio dramas of the 1940s, that meant saying one thing and meaning something else.
Politicians even more than ordinary people speak with forked tongues. It’s essential for obtaining and exercising leadership among people with clashing interests. You must be a lion and a fox, i.e., forceful and sly, sneaking around until you can accomplish something with the power at your disposal.
Trump will have a problem with the Congress controlled by his own party, many of whose leaders opposed the outsider who defeated party loyalists in the primaries, then embarrassed many of them with his style after the convention.
There has been even sharper opposition from demonstrators, most of whom appear to be young members of the upper crust establishment, chanting that Trump is not their President.
Among the things to be seen are not only what Trump pushes seriously as his policies, but whether the anti-Trump enthusiasts will leave the streets, calm down, and perhaps work to refashion the Democratic Party so that next time it selects a candidate who appeals beyond the racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities who are fashionable with the politically correct.
An Internet friend sent me the following, originally published as an editorial in the German-Jewish newspaper, Der Israelit on Feb. 2, 1933.
“We do not subscribe to the view that Herr Hitler and his friends, now finally in possession of the power they have desired for so long, will enact their proposals; they will not suddenly divest German Jews of their constitutional rights, lock them away in race ghettos, or subject them to the avaricious and murderous impulses of the mob. They not only cannot do this because many other crucial factors hold their powers in check, ranging from the Reich president to some of the political parties affiliated with them, but they also clearly do not want to go this route, for when one acts as a European world power, the whole atmosphere is more conducive to ethical reflection upon one’s better self than to revisiting one’s earlier oppositional role. Operating as a European world power means that one seeks an enduring place in the harmonious exchange of peoples of culture. And beyond that, it is clear that their powers no longer seem demagogic appeals designed to heat up mass gatherings of the Volk as strictly necessary. The new Prussian Minister of the Interior [Hermann Göring] can perform a far greater service to the old comrades in arms and party friends by rejuvenating the huge, state civil service along National Socialist lines than by making open concessions to the brutal manifestations of hatred of Jews.”
I don’t expect Trump to go extremely bad. Yet my reasons resemble those written by German Jews in 1933. He may not believe much of what he preached during the campaign, and American institutions should be strong enough to work against the extremists (including the anti-Semites) who supported him.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus), Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Irashark@gmail.com.