On this very hot Sunday afternoon July 24, 2016/18 Tamuz 5776, I am back in my perch 11 stories above a simmering Upper West Side of Manhattan. I drove back to NYC on Thursday, heading east before the culmination of the Trumpfest in the Q. Thanks to the magic of Sirius/XM, I was able to listen to the warm up speakers and thanks to the reliability of my trusty 2007 SUV, I crossed The George Washington Bridge in time to watch Donald Trump paint his gloom and doom portrait of the world.
It is my fervent hope that on November 8, 2016, the Republican Party will look upon last week in Cleveland as their massive “mistake on the lake.” In this most erratic election year, however, I make no assumptions. Instead I share observations and opinions with the aim of persuading the Ambivalent Voter that a vote for Hillary Clinton is essentially a vote for the American Democracy. The amount of noise generated by the successful demonization of a public servant who has given over a quarter of a century of service to our country, the fabrication of a suspicious and cynical narrative that weaves facts and innuendo into declaratory accusations and the blatant criminalization of political difference appears louder and more problematic than the actual words coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth. I look forward to this coming week’s Democratic National Convention so that we can begin hearing directly from Hillary Clinton, not about her.
After the Federation meeting with Ambassador Ron Dermer on Wednesday morning, I ran errands in the suburbs. As it was getting late in the day, I decided to pass on riding the RTA downtown, knowing it was getting harder to keep my cool amidst the toxic and noxious energy surrounding the RNC. Besides, I was tired and frankly, I had had enough of the hatred filled atmosphere on the streets of my beloved Cleveland. I was also feeling very good after my one on one conversation with Israel’s Ambassador and didn’t want to squander that glow on the mean spirit that hung over Cuyahoga County like a huge dark cloud.
Thankful that the multiple police forces that converged on downtown Cleveland kept the peace, I was horrified at what passed as an acceptance speech by Donald Trump. While President Obama’s “birds are chirping” comment was ill-timed in light of the shooting in Munich, my President is right that objectively, for most of the citizens of the United States, life is good. No, not great for all. But in comparison to other places on earth, a good and relatively secure place to call home.
In comparison to my Homeland, the modern Jewish democratic State of Israel, the US is certainly a lot safer and more secure. While both societies are in a very anxious state due to terrorism and gun violence, only the Jewish State has to defend itself against a very real enemy directly on its borders. To listen to Donald Trump speak on Thursday night, however, you would think that Knoxville, Tennessee and Des Moines, Iowa have the equivalent of a Hamas and a Hezbollah on their borders. As Ambassador Dermer outlined the threats Israel faces during his presentation to the Cleveland Federation on Wednesday morning, no one in that room doubted that those threats are quite real. When Donald Trump outlines the threats facing us here in America, he calls upon his reality TV version of the world which can only be called “post-factual.” As a Zionist with homes in both places, I deeply resent Mr. Trump’s fear-mongering in this American society when there is just not a basis in fact for that amount of fear. Anxiety, yes. But to try to create the same kind of fear that exists in our Homeland which sits smack in the middle of the most tense neighborhood on the earth, is offensive to me. And should be offensive to those who love Israel.
In Israel, Her size, the issues facing the country and the nature of the parliamentary democracy intertwine to create a political environment that is very real to the population. As a whole, the population is much more informed as in a country so small, local events are national events, zoning decisions are international incidents and just about everyone knows someone who has suffered a loss either through war or terrorism. In the US, which is made up of 50 diverse states, there is a huge distance between the national government in Washington, D.C. and the average citizen. Jane America has much more to do with her local department of buildings or zoning commission than she does with the Senate, the House or a federal regulatory agency, with the exception of the IRS! The situation in Israel is fundamentally different and consequently, national politics is taken much more seriously and the depth of coverage on TV reflects that approach. In a sense, in Israel, due to its size, political TV is reality TV. But it is designed to be informational, not entertaining.
Television has been a factor in United States’ politics since the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960. Reality TV as a form of entertainment, is a recently new development. With the rise of Donald Trump, we now have the destructive blurring of the line between informational political TV and entertaining reality TV. Consequently, Donald Trump can use the TV persona that he cultivated with his daughter Ivanka on NBC’s “The Apprentice” and with the help of social media run amuck, stage a successful run to be the candidate for the Republican Party. Then, he uses 75 minutes of prime TV time to paint a portrait of America that would scare the average Israeli. As only a demagogue can, Donald Trump used fear of the Other to support his claim that he and and only he can restore law and order and make America great again. The bad guys in Trump’s America are illegal immigrants, Mexicans and Muslims. He spoke as if there was a radical Islamic terrorist knocking on every door. Just as in the movie “Zootopia,” where a corrupt little mayor’s assistant creates an environment of fear to stay in power, so Donald Trump is manipulating fear of the Other to gain the votes of an anxious American population.
It is with a heavy heart that many Israelis acknowledge that right now, the Palestinians, the Others in their midst, are without brave leadership to make the difficult decisions to achieve a two-state resolution of their conflict. In the void created by this failure of leadership, Hamas and other radical Islamic terrorist groups such as Hezbollah have hijacked the legitimate Palestinian cause. There is a real reason to fear the Other in Israel. But there is also an amazing military and police force in our Homeland to keep us safe. This past week in Cleveland, my local police had to call for help from far and wide to keep us safe. And while the anxiety level was high, there was no actual reason to fear. Quite different than the situation in Israel, where the skinny waist of the country is a mere 9 miles long. Again, for Donald Trump to try to paint the situation in America with the same dark brush as the situation in Israel is most offensive to me. Please Mr. Trump, don’t use our Zionist reality to enhance your reality TV show.
Those who have had the chance to experience the American theater sensation “Hamilton”, whether by attending the performance or listening to the cast recording, know that we have been given the golden gift of a history lesson through contemporary music. Just as current events rock the foundations of America’s remarkable democratic republic, a prophetic artist by the name of Lin Manuel-Miranda brings to life the story of Alexander Hamilton and the founding of the United States. In classic Broadway style, much of the soundtrack is applicable to today. Exclaiming, “look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now,” the cast celebrates the birth of one of the greatest experiments in human civilization. 240 years later, the majority of Americans are doing better than most of the world, despite Trump’s view of reality.
In stark contrast to Trump, Ambassador Dermer’s view of reality, despite all the conventional and nuclear threats facing Israel, remained most hopeful. There appears to be little place for hope in Donald Trump’s view of the world which is exclusively based on his fictionalized version of the facts. I wonder what George Washington would think about this celebrity billionaire being only an electoral college vote away from being the 45th President of the United States? Let’s just say we will cross that bridge when we get there, but in the best of our Jewish tradition, let’s hope that this is one bridge we never have to cross.