Trump Shock: Some Thoughts from Tel Aviv

the evening of November 8th, I went to the Election Night Celebration in Tel Aviv hosted by American Ambassador Dan Shapiro and Ms. Julie Fisher, at the upscale Dan Panorama Hotel near Jaffa.  One of the topics of conversation was how long would the Ambassador stay until President Clinton would decide to appoint her own envoy, since Shaprio is an Obama political appointee. I even won a prize in Elections Bingo, one of the six games for guests organized by the Embassy staff, while the rock band Even Yerushalmit (Jerusalem Stone) played well-known American rock songs in the background. When the Reuters TV correspondent looked for a Republican to interview at the party, she couldn’t find any, so she had to make do with former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. from the Likud, Zalman Shoval. תוצאת תמונה עבור ‪Tel Aviv, Election, Party, Shapiro, 2016‬‏

American Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and “Uncle Sam” at the Embassy Election Party in Tel Aviv. (Photo: U.S. Embassy in TLV)

I went to sleep that evening assuming that Hillary Clinton was going to be elected, though in the middle of the night I had nightmares featuring Trump, and when I woke in the morning, I was afraid to turn on the TV. Perhaps I heard something. But I knew that I had committed to giving two radio interviews on the results between 8 and 9 a.m.

How could Trump possibly win?

One night before Election Day, I gave a presentation to the Meretz Party branch in Jerusalem explaining about the American elections.  My analysis was that after their defeat in the 2012 elections, the Republicans had to do a soul searching, and carry out a fundamental reform of their party if they wanted to win future presidential elections. The WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) majority in the American public was diminishing, and would become a minority in another few decades. The Party had to open up, and become inclusive, more pluralistic, a big tent representing all segments of American society.  And that is what Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio probably would have attempted to do. Instead, the party nominated Donald Trump, who decided to do the exact opposite.  To focus primarily on the “White Tribe”.  How could he possibly win?

And Trump was essentially a one-man show.  All he had working with him were his family, Giuliani, Putin, Wikileaks and rogue FBI agents.  And it turns out the arcane Electoral College. While Clinton had her husband Bill, Barack and Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Hollywood, the mainstream media, a serious national political infrastructure and twice as much funding.  Plus 30 years of experience as a first lady, senator and secretary of state.  How could she lose?

Of course, there was also the total out of proportion vicious slandering defamation campaign against Hillary Clinton, crooked Hillary, lock her up, etc.  And the fact that Hillary doesn’t have the charisma and rhetorical abilities of President Obama and President Clinton, and Trump’s ability to speak in catchy sound-bites.

So now we have a President Trump. Still a word combination that is hard to digest.

תוצאת תמונה עבור ‪ President Trump‬‏

Vice President-Elect Pence,  President-Elect Trump and one of his sons when the results came in. (TV photo).

We don’t understand the other’s pain

On those morning radio interviews on November 9th, among the things I said were that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party in general didn’t fully grasp the level of pain that the less educated whites in the American heartland were feeling, left behind by a globalized economy, who appear to be unable to adjust to the changing nature of American society.  Plus Trump has clearly aroused the demons of racist anti-black sentiment following 8 years of the Obama presidency.  And also it appears that many people in contemporary America are still not ready to accept a woman as president.  American society in 2016 is much less egalitarian, liberal, open and tolerant than we assumed. We who live in Tel Aviv, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Berlin, Paris, London, etc. We who live in academia, the media, the arts and other liberal enclaves.

On the following day, I went down to the southern town of Sderot near the Gaza Strip, which has suffered so much in recent years from Hamas bombing and neglect.  The goal was to participate in a Peace Day organized by the Peace NGO Forum, a network of over 100 Israeli peace and human rights organizations.  The day was devoted to “Society in the Shadow of Threat: A Lack of Personal and Social Security as a Central Obstacle to a Peace Discourse.”  The topic and lessons from the discussion are very relevant, not only for the situation in Israel/Palestine, but also in Trump’s America, and in Europe as well.

תוצאת תמונה עבור ‪Sderot‬‏

Sderot near the Gaza Strip. (Photo: Weather Forecast Com)

Two observations/recommendations for the future

Dr. Irit Keinan, who gave the opening keynote presentation, talked about how multiculturalism is perceived as a threat to many people, who retreat into a nationalistic tribal identity for security. She concluded with the following two observations/recommendations (these are my interpretations of what she said):

  1. We all tend to live in our own self-reinforcing bubbles, on Facebook, our social circles, and the media we’re exposed to, whether it’s The New York Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC, NPR, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker and other liberal magazines and journals, in the U.S., or Haaretz in Israel.   We have to enter into the world of the others, to learn what they are thinking, and to enter into a genuine dialogue with them;
  2. Although we will continue to believe in multiculturalism, that doesn’t mean that we should accept a post-modernistic “all narratives are equally legitimate” point of view.  And just as the right rages, we should be ready to produce anger (not hatred), at the attack against and in defense of the liberal, humanistic values that we believe in. Anger, which is channeled into constructive, organized action.

Two very different German views

So now we have four years of Trump.  In the past few days I heard two very different responses to the result of the elections from progressive Germans temporarily based here.

One said that, like me, she was afraid to turn on the TV to see the results of the elections. And went into a state of shock when it became clear that Trump had won.  She also expressed concern about the repercussions for Europe, given all of the anti-refugee and nationalistic xenophobia which is spreading across the continent, with the rise of hyper-nationalist forces and leaders.

The other response was very different.  “Who would you have voted for if you could?”  I told him I could, and did, for Hillary Clinton.  He responded “How could you?   Clinton is a war mongerer.  Look at Iraq, and Lybia. And her connections with Wall Street.”  He would have voted, if he could, for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate.   When I said it would be a wasted vote, he said he didn’t see any great difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and preferred to vote for the principled candidate.   I disagree with him, and while I agree that Clinton appears to be more hawkish than Obama, I believe that she could have made a very good president, and that she was someone we could work with.

What about Trump and the Middle East?

He then added, that on the Middle East, which all of us who are seeking Israeli-Palestinian peace are concerned with, no one knows what Trump’s position will be.  Maybe it will actually be a constructive one, which will help move us forward towards a resolution of the conflict.

Here I feel the need to quote my colleague at the Palestine-Israel Journal, Co-Editor Ziad AbuZayyad, who was actually happy that Trump had won.  He feels that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be “more of the same”, which would lead us nowhere towards a resolution of the conflict.  With Trump, it could be much worse, or better, but it will be a change, and we need change.

The truth is we don’t know what a Trump presidency will look like, on the Middle East, or on any other question facing American society. And I doubt that he knows himself, since he doesn’t seem to have any coherent policy or plan. We can only hope that his conciliatory acceptance speech, which contradicted everything he said and did during the campaign, is a signal of better things to come.

But we have to be vigilant, to learn to understand the other, and to organize.