This is true on the individual and on the political level.
What Motivates People?
All people, all systems of morality, and all cultures aim for goodness.
Even the most aggressive person is not motivated to do badness but by positive reason, such as believing in honestly showing his emotions rather than choking on them. The control freak doesn’t want to make anyone’s life bad but rather doesn’t want to be overpowered. Even the revengeful person wants to establish what she sees as just rather than to hurt others. The sadist wants to feel powerful rather than to hurt. The suicide bomber tries to spread his beliefs rather than to maim and kill. And the thief wants to feel rich rather than to rob. That’s why Moses calls upon us “to seek [what leads to more] life [in this world and the future]” and not merely goodness, because goodness we all strive for.
Most people are basically decent. We can be incited or provoked, sometimes under extreme conditions, to let go of our morals and commit atrocities, but most people will live decent lives and not make the papers until their obituaries do.
This predilection for goodness makes most of us naive. We may not trust everyone but we tend to believe them until they have proven rock-solidly that they can’t be trusted — and even then, most people will soon forget their mistrust and what led to it.
So, Trump’s overarching achievement is that he made people around the globe aware not just about how much politicians can pretend and lie (most grownups knew that) but that some can even go way beyond the “normal” cheating, blatantly saying the total opposite of proofs that everyone saw.
This will help us to spot, avoid, and block pedophiles out to abuse tons of kids, con artist salespersons, and people with an abusive personality.
No to Racism!
Before diving into the second part, a few clarifications to distance us from racism and national chauvinism may be in order.
There is no perfect culture. All nations have strong beliefs and habits and ones they need to shape up on. Strong points only make that tradition superior in that respect; weak points only make that tradition inferior in that respect. We all need to learn from everyone to improve maximally.
Racism supposes that all people from a certain background are the same quality. That “enables” judging people on where they come from or what they look like. However, in reality, all people across any divide have more in common than what tells them apart. And certain groups are certainly not more valuable than others, as we all need each other.
Making a difference between groups doesn’t mean that you talk unfairly. True, bigotry needs bigots to distinguish between groups. That doesn’t mean that seeing no differences is the solution. There are differences. Just, don’t start labeling some groups as absolutely superior to others and don’t judge automatically all people of a certain group without allowing for exceptions, or for finding out that you were wrong about that group in the first place.
(Thankfully, the challenges to human survival have become shared. We’re now all in the same boat. The survival of all people is threatened by not giving all (poor) people the means to not destruct the environment and climate. Disinterest in healthcare for everyone (and also sporadic meat consumption) can wipe out a major part of humanity (Bird flu, HIV, EBOLA). Death became a joint enemy. All lives matter.)
How did Understanding the Middle East get so Stuck?
The culture of the Netherlands has a strong “integrity” component. That doesn’t mean that the Low Countries don’t have autochthon thieves. There are plenty of them in Dutch jails. But the culture teaches and stresses constantly that being honest is a big priority.
At Dutch trials, defendants and witnesses are only warned to speak the truth as it turns out that letting them promise or swear to not lie is a great push to most people to start fantasizing and telling stories.
Foreigners in the Netherlands often perceive the Dutch as “very direct” if not crude. But they’re just being honest and frank. Politeness and friendliness are also high on the Dutch list of cultural norms but not to such an extent that one becomes a walking fake.
Class differences also play a role. The less one is expected to pretend to be polite and happy, the more open, frank, and close people will be.
Most other cultures are not so strict on truth as the Dutch.
Now for Arab culture. It’s most informed by Islam. Islam, like all true religions, advocates strict honesty. But in contrast to the culture of the Netherlands, Arab culture has no priority for the “integrity” component.
That doesn’t mean that all Arabs are liars. Only racists say so and they lie.
It does mean that Arab leaders (and especially dictators) have an easier time to say things that in the West would be considered blatant lies but in Arab culture are fair descriptions of the mood and sentiment.
It just means that expressing your emotions “honestly” often may come before being factual.
You are also not going to ruin “a good story” by questioning the validity of the facts. What the story does with you is what counts, much more than if it’s factual. Besides, expressing doubt about a story hurts the relater’s honor, which in Arab culture is a paramount no-no.
That means that you don’t need prior fact-checking when you want to make your listener feel good by saying all kinds of niceties (compare Simon Peres, who never bothered with facts when praising someone). Flattery is then not lying — it’s being friendly — not a bad quality at all.
Besides, this is not foreign to most people. In situations where one feels or is less powerful, most of humanity will err on the side of over-friendliness — or lose their jobs.
In Arab culture, saying that someone attacked you doesn’t mean that that happened in the objective Western sense of the word. Maybe rather you attacked but you felt under attack so you “were attacked.” Again, this is not lying but rather an honest description of how you felt.
I think that some Mizrachi (Arab-Jewish) politicians went to jail in Israel for honesty infractions that in their understanding weren’t dishonest at all.
Obviously, Dutch people who live outside of their homeland are more prone to lie. And Arabs living in the West are more drawn to abide by Western norms about truth. This on top of that each Dutch and each Arab person always has a choice to stick to the facts or not, and many, especially when no great emotions are involved, will do so by default.
Also, Western Jews in Israel, a minority among Arab Muslims and Arab Jews, will be tempted by the Middle-Eastern mentality concerning honesty, compared to those who stayed in the West. To repeat this point: Non-Western cultures have great qualities compared to Western cultures so there is no need to look down on any culture as a whole.
Liberties with the truth for a correct description of how one feels is in Arab culture different from plain lying. “I didn’t rob that bank” or “didn’t harass that person” has nothing to do with describing one’s feelings. Regular Muslims are terrified to say the tiniest untruth after swearing on the Koran to say the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Many Arab Gentiles (different from their politicians) can be surprisingly frank when describing their hatred for Jews.
All of this lack or presence of factuality comes on top of the lying and manipulation that usually goes on in politics all around the world.
Any lying from any Jews is extra sad when one sees to what great length the Sages of the Talmud go to be upfront. (So much so that haters of Jews are forced to falsify what it says in order to make them seem bad.)
I spend a major part of my time in the company of Jews with Arab roots. They surely distinguish between dishonest people (most of them) and dishonest people (an unpleasant few). But they do love a good story. The Sages of the Talmud and most women use stories, as different from theories, are a prime vehicle to teach, which is appreciated by most people.
It would be sad if you’d read in what I wrote above a “confirmation” of the opinion that all Arabs are liars. First of all, not all Dutch are honest and not all Arabs are liars. To have an unshakable preconception of someone because of what group s/he belongs to is a prominent hallmark of untruthful bigotry. But, more importantly, explaining variations on objective truth in Arab culture as lies is insensitive and possibly racist. You take a Western norm and glue it onto another culture.
In any case, if you think that above I confirms racism or that Arab culture is inferior, please reread because I didn’t, I wouldn’t, I shouldn’t.
Unfamiliarity with Arab norms for honesty has confused Westerners so much that they couldn’t help in the Middle East lack-of-peace process.
If citizens of Gaza would describe their anger for what the US and Israel “have done to them,” how cold-hearted must one be not to get angry too? Empathy with people in trouble is an excellent quality.
Yet, let Westerners not take these outbursts as fact sheets. They must create sympathy, but not be taken as history lessons or police reports.
Trump’s Middle East Peace team calls a spade a spade, a lie a lie, never mind offending and insulting Palestinian Muslims in the process. This is the exact opposite of Obama’s time where every letter uttered by Muslim negotiators was taken as unshakable truth. But while the latter is ridiculous, the former is not helpful either. To ram “the Truth” down their throat is abusive (like Trump is so often). Don’t try to neutralize the Palestinian narrative but don’t treat it as statements made under oath either.
Donald J. Trump’s main legacy may very well be that he taught many of us how deeply people may try to fool you by stone-faced lying.
Thus, after his unrestricted display, we may be better able to protect ourselves against other con artists and abusers and to find them out.
And he also may have educated the West to stop “believing” Arab anger as fair descriptions of reality or history.
Everyone should empathize with Arab suffering but not to the extent that they stop feeling for Jews too, who have been living in the shadow of extinction by no fault of their own for generations and millennia.
Rather, the West must assume that Arab and Western animosity towards Jews comes from the same source: centuries of hostility against Jews, who are as guilty about that as women are about sexism (not).
American English should be enriched with a new verb, to trump. “Don’t trump me” should mean, don’t tell me stories of which we both know they’re not true.
Trump is Guilty, Even When not Found to be! How so?
The Muller Report makes a few things abundantly clear:
- We found no collusion of the Trump party with the Russians.
- President Trump, on several occasions, tried to stop the investigation.
From number two it follows that he was afraid of what they would find. That must mean that Trump colluded with the Russians but that Muller didn’t find it.
Unless, Trump & co wanted to conceal Russian meddling in the elections. And that is even worse than colluding. That’s working for Putin.
After Trump leaves the White House, he will probably be sought for obstruction of justice. However, he will make his election night phone call in which he concedes losing the elections from Tel Aviv Airport.
Will save the US a lot of money and embarrassment. I also hope that President Harris will not go after him. She’s more important things to do than “Lock Him Up.” VP Buttigieg will agree. It will unite the country.