My Word: The White House and the Big Top

Liberal friends, convinced that Barack Obama is a hard act to follow, have promised to avoid watching the inauguration on Friday.

January 19, 2017 21:18
One of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’s elephants enters the arena for its final show in

One of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’s elephants enters the arena for its final show in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on May 1, 2016.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

‘Why did Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announce last week that it was closing down? Because it couldn’t compete with Donald Trump as the ‘Greatest Show on Earth.’” Along with snide comments about “sending in the clowns,” I’ve seen and heard various versions of this joke all week.

Liberal friends, convinced that Barack Obama is a hard act to follow, have promised to avoid watching the inauguration on Friday; Trump supporters, on the other hand, could barely hide their spellbound amazement and excitement.

The announcement of the closure of the company that has been synonymous with circus life for well over a century was not a complete surprise. High costs combined with low ticket sales have taken their toll. In various interviews, members of the family-owned Feld Entertainment company that runs Ringling blamed everything from the short attention span of today’s audience to the animal welfare groups that have lobbied against the use in shows of captive wildlife – an oxymoron if ever there was one.

Last May, the Ringling pachyderms “packed their trunks and said good-bye to the circus,” in the words of the song “Nellie the Elephant.”

The disappearing act of the elephants did not cause me to cry.

Circus fans and staff constantly spoke of the tender loving care the animals received, and denied the use, at least at Ringling, of goads and other painful punishments and training methods.

Like tickets to animal acts, I don’t buy it. Even with the greatest affection, the circus life is no fun for the animals, which, when not performing, are kept in small cages or forced to cover long distances stuffed into train containers.

None of this is natural. Elephants don’t naturally stand on their hind legs; tigers don’t jump through hoops on fire. Ponies, zebras, elephants and lions do not naturally coexist.

It is noteworthy that the issue has taken on Right against Left tones.

Animal welfare, no less than human rights, should not be a matter of political affiliation or inclination, just right and wrong. It’s not a matter of being politically correct but of doing the right thing.

THE INAUGURATION of Trump has yet to take place as I write these lines, but it has been endlessly reviewed. Who’s going? Who’s boycotting? Who’s singing and what? Trump of course knows how to put on a show – as long as he’s the star.

Not the first actor to move into the White House, he’s nonetheless the first reality-show personality. Among his obvious faults are his vulgarity and crassness. His unpredictability is also famous.

In a world that craves stability, we are receiving instead a promise that it won’t be boring.

As many others and I have noted before, Israel should not be placing all its faith in the Trump administration. It has to draw up its own policies and best interests and work out how to implement them.

Picture Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as highwire artist. Now stop laughing, and think of the difference the presence or absence of a safety net makes.

Last May, I had the pleasure of attending the inauguration of a woman president.

The government of Taiwan, always keen on showing the country’s economic strength and democracy, paid for journalists from around the world to visit the bite-size island, so close to China and yet so eager to maintain its separate identity.

Tsai Ing-wen made history not only as the first female head of state in the Chinese-speaking world but also as the first Taiwanese president of Hakka and aboriginal descent.

At her impressive inauguration, you could not miss the focus on the island’s indigenous peoples.

It was my third visit to Taiwan and, as in previous visits, I enjoyed the striking scenery and the friendly people, and noted the signs of economic development – the new highways and convenient high-speed trains. Democracy was also openly on display, with an area for protesters set aside close to the inauguration grounds, and groups of protesters for and against the “One China principle,” bearing placards with contrasting messages outside Taipei 101, the capital’s iconic skyscraper.

When Trump took a call from Tsai last month, it was in sharp contrast to the official US foreign policy of nearly 40 years, which honors the One China principle under which the People’s Republic maintains that Taiwan is a province, not an independent state.

By initiating the call, Tsai was indicating her hopes that the Trump administration will indeed take a different approach to Taiwan, which was ousted from the UN and its seat given to the People’s Republic of China in 1971.

The US was one of many countries that formally severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan, leading to the creeping isolation it longs to reverse.

US and world relations with Taiwan offer a long-standing, sobering lesson in how a small but vibrant democracy can be unceremoniously dumped.

Accepting the phone call was another sign that Trump’s foreign policy will likely tilt toward Russia rather than China.

Tsai is far more intent on Taiwanese independence than her predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou – which makes her election followed by Trump’s more worrying for Mainland China.

Taiwan is constantly trying to find a way to maintain its independence while avoiding conflict with the People’s Republic, which still has its eyes, and missile sights, trained on the island.

Like Israel, Taiwan often finds itself doing a diplomatic balancing and juggling act.

In the whirl of changing leaderships, the departure of UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has been overshadowed.

Ahead of pushing the button beginning the countdown to the New Year in Times Square, Ban quipped: “Millions of people will be watching as I lose my job!” Former Portuguese prime minister Antonio Guterres took over from Ban on January 1. But the show went on as usual. On January 17, two days after the Paris parley on the Israel-Palestinian issue and a few weeks after the passage of Security Council Resolution 2334, Nickolay Mladenov, special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, delivered his regular briefing to the council, dedicated almost entirely to Israel and the Palestinians.

In an aside, he noted, “On the Golan, the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic has continued to affect significantly the UNDOF area of operation.”

Anyone promoting the idea that international peace-keepers could protect Israel in the event of territorial compromises should note that the United Nations Disengagement Observer Forces were forced to flee their Syrian posts two years ago following clashes with al-Qaida breakaway terrorists there. Israel helped rescue them.

Throughout the Middle East, like the rest of the world, eyes will be trained on the 45th US president as he performs whatever tricks and wonders he chooses.

With his orange hair and show-off manner, it’s easy to satirize Trump as a clown. He’s not.

His dramatic entrance into the White House marks a new era. He is not all-powerful, but his impact should not be underestimated. Like any leader he needs to keep in mind that the higher the top, the longer the drop.

Meanwhile, I can’t help thinking of the refrain of “Nellie the Elephant”: “Off she went with a trumpety-trump.

Trump, trump, trump.”

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