How will America recover from the trauma of Donald Trump?

MIDDLE ISRAEL: Like the Jewish leaders who once embraced a false messiah, America’s leaders will now be tested by their readiness to assume responsibility for its most traumatic presidency

A MAN topples a cardboard cutout depicting former president Donald Trump outside the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on Sunday. (photo credit: RACHEL WISNIEWSKI/REUTERS)
A MAN topples a cardboard cutout depicting former president Donald Trump outside the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on Sunday.
It was a scandal, a trauma, and a disgrace for the ages.
With the exception of a handful of rabbis, the Jewish people’s leaders embraced in 1665 an anonymous mystic as the messiah himself.
Though mentally disturbed, the man – Shabbetai Zevi was his name – was judged as the Messiah by Nathan of Gaza, a rabbi who based his choice on his “prophetic” dreams, and thus ignited a frenzy that shook the entire Jewish world.
“A year and a few months hence,” promised Nathan in a letter to Egyptian Jewry’s leader, the said Shabbetai Zevi, “will take the dominion from the Turkish king.” He then will travel to the River Sambatyon, where the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel dwell, and seven years later will return riding “a celestial lion” clasping a seven-headed serpent spewing fire, apparently from all its seven tongues. Seated alongside him will be Moses’s daughter who will become his wife.
“At this sight, all the nations and all the kings shall bow before him to the ground” and “the ingathering of the dispersed shall take place.” Meanwhile, the Land of Israel’s dead will resurrect and those unworthy of resurrection “will be cast out from the Holy Land,” but 40 years later the rest of mankind’s dead will resurrect as well. (Gershom Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah 1626-1676, 1973, pp. 272-273)
This absurdity is not our subject right now. What matters to us is its collapse, and what it brings to mind while another fallen messiah departs.
THE TRAUMA that ended the Shabbetai Zevi psychosis was as shocking as the gospel that ignited it was bewildering.
Faced with a choice between conversion and death, the fake messiah chose the former, donning a Turkish turban and adopting the Muslim faith. Rabbis the world over were dumbfounded. Overnight, the affair presented them as cowards at best, fools at worst.
Alas, rather than openly admit their misjudgment, Jewish leaders avoided the episode’s discussion and burned documents attesting to its events. It was a denialism that placed power over truth, an ossifying attitude that later fed rabbinical opposition to any change, from Hassidism to Zionism.
Now, the same test of sobriety and sincerity awaits the American politicians who at best enabled, at worst cheered, the presidency of Donald Trump.
No, this is not to compare a modern-day millionaire and a 17th-century drifter, although the fake messiah’s “appointment” of random people as “kings” of assorted countries does bring to mind Trump’s habitual toying with his appointees, just like the two men resemble each other in their general detachment from reality, and also in their multiple marriages.
Rather, the comparison lies in the resemblance between the false messiah’s conversion and the Trump misadventure’s culmination in the storming of Capitol Hill.
THE EVENTS of January 6 exposed the Trump phenomenon’s substance once and for all. The attempted sacking of the American republic’s inner sanctum and the clashes in which five lives were lost and more than 100 policemen were injured, were driven by the American president himself.
That means the Republican Party landed in the White House a man who undermined the very constitution which that party was created to defend.
Moreover, before, during and also after fueling the mob that vandalized the Capitol, the Republican Party’s leader baselessly claimed the election he lost was fraudulent. Unlike Trump’s unleashing of the mob, which should be judged in terms of his intentions and actions, this part of his conduct must also be judged in terms of his sanity.
There is reason to suspect that the man is medically delusional; that the Republican Party crowned as its leader – and therefore as America’s leader – a mentally imbalanced man.
That is what the Jews did, momentarily, in 1665, and that is why the sacking of the Capitol now puts to the test the party that made Trump its leader, and indeed the entire political system that made him the leader of the free world.
IN THE Jewish case, the false messiah’s downfall ignited two types of denialism: One shirked responsibility for the events, the other denied the events’ meaning. Now, as the post-Trump era begins, both attitudes are at play in America.
Shabbetai Zevi’s Islamization did not make his spiritual sponsor admit failure. The messiah’s conversion, claimed Nathan of Gaza, was part of the Divine plan. Thousands believed him, some openly, some secretly, feeding scandals and witch hunts that lagged for generations.
Now, among the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump, a critical mass remains equally unimpressed by their own hero’s patent wildness and manifest derangement. This is the given. The question is where their leaders will head from here.
Will they deny responsibility or assume it? Will they seek truth or escape it? Will they think first of themselves or of their country? Will Republican leaders have the guts to tell the mob “Follow me,” or will they follow the mob’s lead? Will Democratic leaders realize that America’s embrace of its fallen messiah was their fault, too?
Yes, this is America’s morning after, and many will want to just forget the president who waged war on democracy, and how they belittled his profanities, bigotries, chauvinism and defamation of war heroes and the press before watching him defile the electoral process and trigger a raid on Capitol Hill.
Some of his enablers now disown Trump. That’s progress, but the empire that fought distant wars in democracy’s name needs more than that. Republicans must establish a new party from scratch, Democrats must reconnect with the voters that Trump seduced, and both sides must review the way presidential candidacies are screened.
Otherwise, the nation that has just endured a cardboard fascist will eventually face a real one.
Amotz Asa-El’s bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.