I’ve just come home from a week in the divided States, where, more than a month after It Happened, virtually the sole subject of conversation remains the shock victory of Donald J. Trump.
I checked into a hotel in Florida on my first night, and the lady at reception, middle-aged, Hispanic and kindly, having ascertained where I was from, immediately launched into an anti-Trump diatribe. She asked me: “How do we look from Jerusalem?” But she didn’t wait for an answer. “I don’t believe that all those tens of millions voted for him. No way. The voting was corrupted. This is all a fix,” she told me in a torrent of unprompted protest. Then, pausing, “How many room keys do you want?”
By way of balance, a driver taking me to an event the next day told me that most of his friends, factory workers, had voted for Trump — because they feel their jobs are uncertain, that competition from Mexico is a real threat, and they didn’t think Hillary Clinton would do anything about that, whereas Trump just might.
I met with several people who claim to know him, some of them quite well. Some spoke positively of him; others really didn’t: He’s firm but fair. He’s deeply unpleasant and dishonorable. I have only the warmest memories of doing business with him. I stopped doing business with him. He’s no misogynist and he’s certainly no racist, and you’ve just been duped by the leftist media. He’s a man of jealousies and resentments, and that’s what he traded on and unleashed.
I well understand why some supporters of Israel were drawn to him
I heard the whole range. I don’t know what to make of that. I do know what I’ve seen of him — in a vast auditorium at an address in the spring, and endlessly on TV. The unpredictability, the playing fast-and-loose with the facts, the skilled whipping up of resentment and of enthusiasm.
I well understand why some supporters of Israel were drawn to him. “When I become president, the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end,” he promised an AIPAC audience in March. After two terms of caveat-filled backing, here was a man who pledged unstinting support for the Jewish state. Some of whose family is Jewish. Some of whose closest advisers are emphatic advocates of Israel.
The polls tell us that Jewish support went 70% to 25% for Clinton over Trump. But who’d believe polls after this election anyway? For what it’s worth, in what was undoubtedly an unrepresentative series of lectures and meetings, I encountered as many Jewish voters who were elated as those who were broken. And not one, not a single one, who was indifferent. As with America overall, there is no middle ground.
I’ve spent much of the past eight years critiquing — constructively, I hope, at first, and then with a mounting sense of futility — the worldview and consequent oft-misguided policies of President Barack Obama on Israel and the Middle East.
Obama affected to be shaping the region — he certainly blamed Israel aplenty — but often tried to stay away when American input was most needed. He was absent, deferring to the regime, when protesters sought to oust their Iranian oppressors. He failed to intervene effectively in Syria, not even when President Bashar Assad crossed the White House’s declared red line and began gassing the citizenry. He watched the Arab Spring from the sidelines.
He was the emphatic beneficiary of two terms of Obama
All of that was keenly felt in Israel, which yearns for a strong, potent American role in the Middle East. But in the US, Trump’s promise to make America great was primarily resonant on domestic issues. There were doubtless voters drawn to him by the notion that he would resurrect America’s global standing. But far more substantially, Trump won over Americans struggling to find and keep jobs, Americans hurt by industries in decline, Americans worried by immigration, Americans feeling threatened by Islamist terrorism, which the outgoing president refused to even call by its name. More negatively, he won support from Americans who were troubled by Obama’s liberalism, who regarded Clinton as more of the same, who feel themselves victimized and left behind.
No shortage of factors combined to facilitate Trump’s victory, first among them that he was battling the spectacularly disliked Clinton. But he was also the emphatic beneficiary of two terms of Obama.
My problem with the president-elect is not with his policies. I don’t know what they will be. I don’t know which parts of his campaign rhetoric to take seriously, and which to ascribe to bombast and bluster.
From a narrow Israeli viewpoint, maybe his presidency will prove beneficial. Or maybe not. Early signs are he’ll be sensibly less indulgent of Iran, worryingly more indulgent of untrammeled settlements. We shall see. That’s not my point here.
My problem is much more basic: It’s with Trump the man, the intolerant vulgarian, the multiple bankrupt, perpetually embroiled in lawsuits, demeaning to women. The incoming leader of the free world blames entire minorities for problems. I don’t think I’m being paranoid in taking exception, as a Jew, to his talk of Hillary Clinton and a global power structure seeking to destroy American sovereignty.
The Trump we’ve seen thus far is no role model for our children
President-elect Trump, the Trump we’ve seen thus far, is no role model for our children, beloved though he is by his own. And it is disheartening to wonder what proportion of our aspirational youngsters will look at Trump, see he’s won the presidency, and conclude that he is the paragon of success.
It’s quite the question, isn’t it? Which is better, an American president who at least seems publicly to want to embody the values we strive to inculcate in our children — principally to treat others in the way we would wish to be treated — but makes a hash of key parts of the job? Or an American president who embodies less-elevated values, but who might — I stress, just might — turn out to be more effective?
Not a question, though, for us Israelis.
Unlike the lady at reception at my hotel in Florida, I do believe all those tens of millions voted for him. America made its choice. We in Israel will just be among the many immensely impacted by the consequences.
For America’s sake, for the sake of all of us worldwide who look to America as the emblemizer and defender of our values and freedoms, Donald Trump will have to transcend himself. However implausible, we have to hope that this most profoundly troubling of candidates will somehow contrive to become, in the best sense of the word, presidential.