Not all of us were wrong. Some of us did not discount Donald J. Trump’s prospects of winning the US presidency. Some of us thought he performed well enough in the debates to legitimize his candidacy among wavering voters, and recognized the appeal to bitter and frustrated Americans of his proffered no-nonsense solutions to their ostensible ills. Some of us internalized the spectacular animus to Hillary Clinton — as the figurehead of a loathed establishment, and as a woman.
Not all of us placed great confidence in the opinion polls that relentlessly forecasted a Clinton victory. Watching from these shores — where the reputation of public opinion surveys was battered by the wrong call in 1996 that had Shimon Peres elected prime minister, was further eroded by inaccuracies over the following two decades, and was buried with risible exit polls in 2015 that saw Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union handsomely beating Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud — it did not seem particularly implausible that the experts had it all wrong, that their samplings were inaccurate, that too much faith was being placed in their algorithms.
But as America voted decisively on Tuesday to be led by Trump, none of that makes the result any less dramatic.
The American people have spoken, loud and clear. They have chosen, eyes wide open, a man with no political experience. But okay, he could surround himself with expertise, and could prove to have the kind of gut instinct for the right calls that made Ronald Reagan (who, of course, was not just a movie actor, but had governed California) such a successful president.
They have chosen a president strong on punchy soundbites but short on detailed policies. Again, though, he will be able to reach out in any and every direction for the wisest input as he oversees America’s path ahead domestically and internationally.
They have also chosen a person strikingly lacking in grace. A rabble-rouser. A candidate who vowed to jail his opponent. A nominee who incited against nations and faiths. A leader some of whose supporters’ behavior lapsed into anti-Semitism, and some of whose own oratory and campaign material went dangerously close. A man with an awful history of rhetoric, and allegedly of behavior, regarding women. A figure beyond the pale for some in the leadership of his own party. It’s fanciful to expect that he will now undergo a personal metamorphosis.
The people have spoken, proving yet again that democracy is truly the worst form of government, as Churchill noted… except for all of those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
For Netanyahu, the crowning of an ally with a shared worldview
If the pollsters are to be believed — though why would they be? — Israelis would have preferred a president Hillary Clinton. In part, I imagine, that was because of distaste for him; after all, they told the same pollsters, they thought his policies might be better for Israel than hers. In part, too, they presumably figured they’d know where they’d be with her. For us, as for America and the rest of the world, it’s a blank slate now. The president-elect has no governing record, no voting record, as an indication of future behavior.
We in Israel have always prized three qualities in American presidents. First, as a country dependent on our alliance with the US, we look for a president who has gut empathy for the Jewish state — an appreciation of our legitimacy, and a personal commitment to ensuring our survival. Second, we hope for a president who is deeply aware of the challenges we face in the ruthless Middle East, a region where not everybody wants to live and let live, and where many are being brainwashed to kill and be killed. And third, we seek a president who will reliably have our back — at all times, but especially in our hours of need. We don’t ask the citizens of any country but our own to risk their lives in our defense, but we do rely on American support — militarily, diplomatically, economically, morally — to ensure that we are capable of defending ourselves.
Has Donald Trump evinced an emotional affinity for Israel? Does he recognize the evil that men can do in this and other parts of the world? Will he be reliably in our corner?
On the first two questions, even many of his critics would acknowledge that the reasonable answer is yes. On the third, we will gradually find out — as we, America and the rest of the world become familiar with a reality that many self-styled experts refused to so much as contemplate: President Trump.
Rather desperately, Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog rushed on Wednesday to depict the victory as evidence of a global shift that will ultimately benefit him, describing the election result as part of an “economic, social and leadership tsunami, affecting many countries, that will also lead to change in Israel.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it can be safely stated, sees Trump’s win rather differently — as the crowning of an ally who shares his belief in projecting strength, and who broadly shares his thinking on the Iran nuclear deal and the Palestinian conflict, the two issues at the heart of his frictions with President Barack Obama.
Within hours of victory being confirmed, indeed, various coalition members were hailing president-elect Trump as one of their own. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked tweeted her happy anticipation of the Trump-promised relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And Education Minister Naftali Bennett declared that “the era of a Palestinian state is over,” given Trump’s position to this effect “as written in his platform.”
Well, maybe. Or maybe not. Because Herzog is right about one thing. Trump’s election to the most powerful office in the free world is a tsunami, all right. And there’s simply no knowing its consequences.