Thoughts about Trump and Friedman by Peter Eisenstadt

A Palestinian stands on his property overlooking the Israeli settlement Har Homa, West Bank, February 18, 2011.

Well, during the primaries there were some foolish people, Susan Sarandon comes to mind, who argued that she didn’t care if Hillary or Trump won the election, because a Trump victory would just “heighten the contradictions” and give the left an opportunity. (Note: No need to re-argue the primaries; there were about 500 better reasons to vote for Sanders.) Anyway, Sarandon and all the little Lenins of the left got their wish; the contradictions are being heightened daily, and growing vertiginously.

Trump is a product of the polarization of American politics, and has brought it to its highest stage. There are no more conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans; half of America slides past the other half, with very little contact. The Tea Party movement lurched the Republicans to the right, moving essential elements of the party out of the control of what passed for the Republican “center,” folks like John McCain, the Bush family, and Mitt Romney. And Trump, dominating the party outside of their control. As for the Democrats, the “center” of the party, represented by Hillary Clinton, won the nomination only after a bruising campaign. And there is little doubt that somehow, Trump was speaking the language that lots of people wanted to hear in 2016; angry, disaffected, seeking out enemies both high and low, self-pitying, crude and rude. It probably is only his unmatched odiousness that prevented him from having an even bigger victory.

David Friedman is the perfect ambassador to Israel for the age of Trump; utterly polarizing, a man dripping in hatred for everyone who disagrees with him or who tries to get in his way, and he is—there is no word for it—a fascist, someone who believes Jews have the right to permanently rule over millions of dispossessed Palestinians. The middle of American Jewish opinion will probably fall away. AIPAC efforts to provide a bi-partisans gloss to the support of Israel will likely fade, to be replaced by the overt reactionaries in ZOA. It will be very interesting to see how many Democratic senators vote to confirm Friedman. In any event, this is J Street’s hour, or should be.

The same might happen in Israel if Friedmanism or Trumpism becomes the rule of the day. Safe and lazy middle options will disappear. The PA, weak and unloved, could fall apart. And the middle of the Israel political spectrum, the moderate Likudniks, followers of Kulanu, the right of the Zionist Camp, might be forced to choose between annexation and war, or accommodation and a modicum of peace, and we will see if what we have read for years is true, that a majority on both sides favor peace. Those opposed to annexation will have to try to find a way to overcome their serious ideological differences and try to create a structure in which they can work together.

The problem with heightening the contradictions, in the US or Israel, or anywhere, in addition to all the people that might lose their healthcare or get deported (and for Sarandon were just fodder for the cause), was the possibility, or even the likelihood, given the imbalance of power, that the left would get crushed.   But I suppose she was also right in a way; like it or not, ready or not, this is the situation we now face, and we need to take advantage of the vanishing middle in any way we can.

We live in an age of dichotomies, of fractures, and yet we must strive to be a voice for everyone. This is a typical problem of the left. The right always claims patriotism for itself. The left’s claim to be representative of all is usually highly contested. As the old nursery rhyme about humpty-dumpty instructs, it’s always easier to pull things apart and let them shatter than to put things back together again. But we must. Somehow, in an era of heightened contradictions, we must find a way to transcend them.