The puzzle of Donald Trump is parallel to the puzzle of the United States.

 
An Israeli psychiatrist, interviewed on a prime time discussion program presented an analysis of the United States which--to her--explained the ascendance and behavior of Donald Trump as an archetype of the American experience.
 
The themes she noted in American history were a me-first obsession with material possession plus a inclination to violence that showed itself in actions toward Native Americans and slavery, and a celebration of heroic risk in order to realize one's goals.
 
The psychiatrist emphasized  that the violence she sees as marking the United States is significantly beyond its incidence in other democracies. She spoke about crime, but could also have mentioned football, which stands as a national sport more overtly violent than anything popular elsewhere. 
 
Trump's recent attacks on Black athletes who protest silently the status of their community raise the specter of super patriotism, and come closer to putting the Darkies in their place than even Richard Nixon's slogan of crime in the streets.
 
Is it fair to focus on the parallels between Trump's behavior and the less attractive aspects of American history? Should an Israeli-American lose one or both of his citizenships for detailing this on the Internet?
 
There are friends and relatives who have demanded that I surrender my American passport for writing as I do. Alas, it ain't so easy, administratively to give up an American citizenship. And the First Amendment says that I don't have to do it.
 
The US has some outstanding virtues as well as blemishes. It protects free expression beyond what other democracies provide, with few exceptions (since the McCarthy era) for the sake of national defense. There are, to be sure, low-lifes who populate elite and expensive campuses, and prevent expressions that counter what they currently support. Flabby campus administrators provide freedom of expression for those who disturb but not for those who express unpopular views, like support for Israel.,Sadly, there is seldom a government authority willing to silence the riff raff so that someone can express opinions unpopular with them.
 
The data is clear. The US scores off the charts of western democracies (in the undesirable direction) on measures of violence, incarceration, life expectancy and other indicators of health. Those living in their coddled bubbles, and do not believe that the US is--to a large extent--a Third World country, need only Google country comparisons to shake their confidence.
 
The communities of the well-to-do, nicely insured, and protected by the local police live the best lives obtainable. They also pay the lowest taxes, overall, as a percentage of resources, of any western democracy. Beneath them, however, are the explanations for the "kneeling" protests of Black athletes, and the election of Donald Trump by the White working class. 
 
Sizable gaps between the life styles of the rich and poor also characterize other countries of the Third World. 
 
So a credible explanation for Donald's political success is that he represents much that is widespread in American culture. He was an unpleasant man to do business with, who showed no restraint in exploiting his opportunities, with a record of overlooking the damage to investors and clients by corporate bankruptcies and the undelivered promises of Trump University. 
 
The man is not stupid. He tapped the association between his personality and what's deep in the US to overcome competitors within the Republican Party and then Hillary. She got more votes, but he got them where they counted.
 
Trump's performance as President is showing his limits. The big issue of Obamacare's reform/repeal can't get enough support from his own party to take advantage of its majorities in Congress. The stock market is up, but not significantly more than in most recent years. 
 
We'll see what a couple of destructive hurricanes do to his ridicule of environmental change. 
 
We can chuckle at the news that White House advisers, including son-in-law Jared, have been using private e-mail for official business. 
 
Surveys showed that Trump's assertions about its criminality helped his election campaign.
 
Like the country he reflects, Donald Trump has his attractions. For Israelis, most prominent is a reasonable posture toward the Israel-Palestine conflict. Instead of what came from the Muslim admirer and Palestinian champion Barack Obama, Trump asserted early on that an agreement would depend entirely on the Israelis and Palestinians. Since then, he seems to have backed off from what has long been an insoluble problem. The ideal of a Palestinian state has not be prominent, if it has appeared at all, in prepared speeches, off the cuff remarks, and his infamous Tweets.
 
Trump supporters insist that his blustery style, threats and insults are no more than the bargaining style he used well in business. In their view, his threat to destroy North Korea is nothing more than a tactic to bring its representatives to the bargaining table.
 
Maybe. Outsiders never can be sure about presidential intentions or those of the North Korean, who is even more different than Trump from the conventional image of a wise and well balanced national leader.. There's news about quiet contacts between Americans and North Koreans, but later news that Trump has tweeted that his Secretary of State is wasting his time talking with the North Koreans.
 
What adds to Trump's unpredictability is that he is the first President who reached office with no previous governmental experience. So far, he has provided ample signs that he doesn't know how the game is played.
 
We can only hope that Kim Jung-un perceives things like the people Trump dealt with in American business, and doesn't go beyond what would be a challenging counter tactic.
 
And if you are comfortable with that, you might be interested in a bridge I'd like to sell.
 
Comments welcome
 



-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem 

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