For the last four years many of us have been simultaneously enthralled and depressed watching Netflix’s original series, “House of Cards” which portrays the ugliest aspects of political chicanery as it plays out in Washington. But as depressing as it may be to watch the story of megalomaniac fictional US President Frank Underwood unfold, we could always tell ourselves that this is television and not reality. That US presidents don’t go around killing their enemies with their own hands, don’t use every nasty trick in the book to bring down their political opponents and, in the case at hand, don’t invite another man to live with the first lady in the White House because that man can satisfy the first lady better than her husband, the president.
But now fiction has become reality and in real life we can watch megalomaniac leaders in Washington, Moscow and Jerusalem adopt practices that would have made them totally unelectable just a few short years ago whereas now they are admired.
In America, the presumptive Republican candidate for president is obviously a man with few moral values who brags about his sexual prowess on live television, denigrates women, is ready to build a wall to keep out illegal immigrants from Mexico and would like to ban all Muslim refugees from entering the country “until the US can get it’s house in order” which, for all practical purposes, means never. His presumptive Democratic opponent has trust ratings in the cellar, is disliked by large swaths of the American public, and is barely squeezing out primary election wins in states she won handily in 2008 against Barack Obama. Earlier this week she won Kentucky by less than two percentage points where eight years ago she beat Obama there by 35%. American voters in November will have to make the uncomfortable choice between bad and worse, and try to determine who will do the least harm to the US over the next four years both domestically and internationally.
In Russia, sensing the weakness of the West, Putin has taken advantage of every opportunity to implement change without fear of any domestic or international backlash. His seizing of the Crimea and his unilateral moves in Syria are just two examples of moves that went totally unchallenged by any other country or by any defense organizations such as NATO. Domestically only Turkey has more media professionals in jail than Russia. The reason perhaps is because the Turks actually thought, incorrectly to be sure, that they lived in a democratic country where free speech is a value. In Russia, people know better so they are more loath to speak out.
As for those of us living in Israel, over the past few days we have seen the truth played out boldly in front of our eyes. The current leadership clearly has only one goal in mind and that is to stay in power, regardless of the cost to the country or its international standing. Earlier in the week there was serious talk here, finally, about a unity government that really would represent all of the people as Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog was being discussed as ready to join the government and take up the post of Foreign Minister. But overnight, everything changed and Avigdor Liberman of the right wing Yisrael Beitenu party appears to have been tapped by the leadership to join the government and become Defense Minister, ousting the popular present Defense Minister, Moshe “Boogie” Yaalon.
The result of all of these political shenanigans is that here in Israel we will end up with the most right wing government in the history of the country which will isolate us further in the international community. And for those who say, in response, “who cares?” they need to understand that the effect will be felt in everyone’s pocketbooks including theirs.
In addition, in all likelihood this week’s suggestion by Egyptian president al-Sisi regarding his willingness to assist in our making peace with the rest of the Arab world as well as the Palestinians, will be the fastest movement of a new idea into the dust bin of history that we have ever seen.
In all of these cases the driving force in the minds of these heads of state and potential heads of state seems to be that the only thing that is important to them is that they preserve their leadership position regardless of the cost to the countries they are supposed to serve. In that sense their objectives match exactly those of the fictional Frank Underwood in “House of Cards.”
John Lennon said “Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” Oftentimes I wish that our leaders would stifle their imaginations a bit and understand that satisfying their needs comes after they satisfy ours. Clearly few of them understand this.