For 20 years, 1980-2000, I anchored all-night broadcasts of US presidential elections after covering the campaigns for Voice of Israel (Kol Israel) radio. Following my retirement, I was invited as a guest commentator on several more election nights, the last being in 2016. No longer bound to impartiality as a civil-service employee of public broadcasting, I could now editorialize — and was, indeed, invited by my successors at the radio to tape a personal comment for airing (alongside others) on the days leading up to the vote. The following is an English translation of the Hebrew text that I recorded 3.5 years ago. I can only add today that Trump’s performance in the recent weeks of corona-virus crisis provided proof positive — as though any was still needed — that my warning was far understated.
Don’t let the scandal du jour distract you. Both candidates for the US presidency rightly claim that this is a crucial election. But there the resemblance between them ends. This time it’s not, as usual, a choice between two credible statesmen who differ in their worldviews but are committed to the same fundamental political culture.
On the one hand, there’s now a very problematic candidate who is nonetheless a potentially competent president, with an abundant record in public service, and who as a welcome bonus would also be the first woman in office.
Ranged against her is a proven crook and dangerous demagogue who has never served anyone but himself. He refuses to disclose not only his shady business dealings and supposed wealth, but also any details of policy behind his slogans on issues vital to the entire world, ourselves [in Israel] included. His approach is frightening — from frivolous threats to use the doomsday weapon, through abandonment of allies in the face of aggression, to fawning on hostile tyrants.
Do not be tempted to believe that Donald Trump faithfully champions the victims of globalization in America. Indeed, the very groups that he describes as the worst deprived — nonwhite minorities, and of course women — despise him by huge majorities. He leads only among those uneducated white males who feel that their illusion of supremacy is slipping away. And that is the core issue.
Trump can’t be classified as a fascist or Nazi, because those are ideologies and he is innocent of any ideology. But his technique is to appeal to the most racist, violent and benighted elements. He abets them to transform his rallies into howling lynch mobs — even if not all his supporters are such. His transparent code words are copied, verbatim, from the pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic [American] isolationists of the 1930s. Today Muslims and immigrants are first on his target list, but most US Jews have understood the danger.
We can only hope and believe that intimidation and hatred are defeated again, as they were in previous rounds, despite the weakness of Clinton’s candidacy. But even too narrow a loss for Trump, which he has refused in advance to accept, will propel America further toward the abyss. Like most US Jews, we in Israel must grasp that our country’s supreme interest is not in unctuous declarations but in ensuring an America that is both enlightened and strong. If it goes down, we go down with it. Tomorrow I won’t be able to forgive myself if I do not sound this alarm today.
[Recorded on 1 October, 2016]