The election of Donald Trump is a reminder that when the American people want change, they go out and make it. When will the same thing apply to Israelis?
The grief that overcame my Facebook feed Wednesday morning is understandable. The thought that a violent, racist, anti-Semitic man such as Donald Trump will now hold run the most powerful country in the world is nothing short of frightening.
And though I understand this kind of reaction, it is wrong to view Trump’s election in apocalyptic terms. Not only because the anxiety and desperation paralyze us politically, but because things are generally more complex than a simple black-and-white reality — and that reality often tends to disprove even the most founded predictions.
This, of course, goes both ways: the Israeli Left was euphoric following Ehud Barak’s election as prime minister in 1999 — an election that to many signaled the end of the dark days of the Netanyahu era, ushering in a new era of light and hope.
Who would have believed at the time that it was Barak who poisoned the state’s relations with its Arab citizens, who would make sure every Israeli knew they have ‘no partner’ in Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, rendering any negotiations to bring about the end of the occupation meaningless. For better or worse, leaders should also be evaluated by the correlation between the hopes and the fears that accompanied their election — both by their supporters and opponents — vis-a-vis what they accomplish.
As Israeli citizens, we can find solace in the fact that our prime minister is no longer the most outlandish leader in the club to which we pretend to belong. Compared to Trump, even Netanyahu appears to be reasonable, responsible, and restrained.
But beyond all this, Trump’s election — grotesque as it is — expresses a deep American belief in the need for change, along with the understanding that it is not a good thing when one party remains in power for too long. In this sense, the American people force both the Democrats and the Republicans to remain alert, to know that their rule is anything but assured.
In the short term, Trump’s election appears to be a catastrophe. At the same time, however, it expresses the exact opposite of a paralyzing cynicism: instead it expresses the belief that the public can take the wheel and change direction. Even if right now it seems that the Americans have decided to steer their giant ship directly into an iceberg, the fact that they believe they have the power to steer is an asset we must not take lightly. This is the very thing that prevents the complete atrophying of the political system.
If there is one lesson that we, the Israeli public, can learn from last night’s drama in the U.S. it is exactly that: a party that remains in power too long ought to keep the Israeli public on guard. No single political group must view its rule as guaranteed. The biggest catastrophe that afflicts a political establishment is not poor leadership — it is when the opposition ceases to believe in its own power to change the direction of the ship, and then stops fighting passionately for the right to hold the wheel.
This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.