Some 40 years ago, I published a book entitled The United States: A Study of A Developing Country.
The idea came from my home town. Fall River, Massachusetts, where 30 percent of my age group did not finish high school, and the average adult had 8 years of schooling. The idea gained weight from three years in the Deep South as a young academic. Higher education was expanding, and there were new opportunities every year. I sought work in the South to round out my interests in state politics, and had one year at Florida State (in the Deep South of North Florida) and two years deeper into the South at the University of Georgia before heading back to the source of my PhD at the University of Wisconsin.
Things have improved and gotten worse in my home town. Recent figures show that 29 percent of the age cohort does not finish high school, and the average adult has 9 years of schooling. Virtually all the Jews and lots of others have left for better opportunities. A rabbi who served in the city knows of only one Jewish family with kids in the schools. Boston has put homeless families in Fall River's cheap housing. A friend associated with education wrote that the public high school has become an "inner city school," and that few if any graduates apply to prestigious colleges.
If I was younger, I'd consider another revision of that book. with a chapter on the three recent presidents.
It'd be hard to rank Bush the younger, Obama, or Trump, as to which brought more ridicule on the country that prides itself as being the world's best.
Those voting for Bush as the worst would emphasize his war in Iraq, and what it contributed to the present chaos among Muslims, and others who fear their terror.
Obama added to Bush's chaos by a misplaced concern for individual freedom and democracy in cultures not suitable for either.
The Bush-Obama duo should be given at least some of the responsibility for millions of deaths and more millions of refugees..
We're still compiling the brief against Donald Trump. One of the latest item on a growing list is his violation of norms concerned with telling secrets to the wrong people.
Americans who worry more about domestic issue are pondering the President's efforts to influence an FBI investigation into himself and his aides.
Journalists are having a grand time with Trump's tweets, his responses to their questions, and the lack of correspondence between his stories and reports from others about what he said or did.
Some see elements of Hitler in Trump's narcissism. My own experience in Africa, including some in the Uganda of Idi Amin, tempt a comparison to the shape and pomposity of that head of state.
Even the world's scuzziest countries have some attractive scenery, nice beaches, interesting food, and decent people. And they don't have the power to mess up the rest of us like the sequence of Bush, Obama, and Trump.
We must remind ourselves of the good things in America.
But how should we deal with a country that chooses it's President-Commander-in-Chief via popularity contests called presidential primaries, that allow crafty politicians who are inexperienced in American national government and ignorant about much that is further from their homes to reach the world's most important office?
We can rely to some extent on America's checks and balances by which Congress, the courts, and the states limit the President, along with professionals in the White House and Departments who work to coddle, educate, and limit the big boss. There's also the media to let us know, and to pressure officials with authority to do something about incompetence or wrongdoing in high places.
Those checks and balances weigh heavily on the President in domestic matters, but much less in foreign policy. The President speaks freely about how other countries should behave. Congress may pay attention to the overall sum of foreign aid, but is less concerned with the details than it is with how much of the government's gravy goes to their states and congressional districts.
When the President as Commander-in-Chief tells the generals and admirals what to do, and tweets in a passionate but ignorant fashion, those of us who are at least partially dependent on the US are left to wonder, grope, and cope.
What can tiny and dependent Israel do with a President who acts like a loose cannon with our secrets, the lives.of our agents, and his capacity to upset the imperfect but workable accommodations with our neighbors?
Among the prospects:
- Learn from 3,000 years of Jewish history how not to rely on the goyim, but also not to provoke them.
- In this case, we may leverage the embarrassment of US security professionals, clearly upset at the President's brazen clumsiness, to get more cooperation from them, if not from the White House.
- We may also dig in even deeper than in the past against naive pressure to act against our own interests on account of unrealistic ideas along with limited information about Palestinians and other aspects of the Middle East that prevail in the State Department or the White House.
- Among the most likely responses would be the same old bowing and scraping, at least in public, in all that's concerned with the US President, while hoping that his tenure is short, and his successor will be better informed and more reasonable.
Israel's Prime Minister (who is also the Minister of Foreign Affairs), the Defense Minister, the Ambassador to the US, and the Chair of the Knesset Committee dealing with foreign affairs have acted like sycophants in playing down Trump's revelations and stressing the value of sharing intelligence with the US. However, officials in Israel's defense establishment are deeply troubled. One retired head of a security service is urging new limits on what Israel provides to the US. Knesset Members called for the cancellation of the presidential visit. Government ministers have threatened to boycott the welcoming contingent at the airport.
In my years of teaching about politics, I often said that those who engage in or are affected by politics, must expect an occasional meal of sh*t. Trump's latest represents a larger than usual portion for Israel and other countries with a need to cooperate with the United States. However, the goodies hoped for from the United States make it difficult to react in an unseemly fashion.
Now there's a Special Prosecutor overseeing the probe into one of the allegations about Donald Trump and his people. The Prosecutor's mandate is open ended, and his inquiries may expand. It's getting us closer to the Watergate scenario.
For an academic in the field of political science, there's the prospect of a fascinating unraveling of an American presidency. It's also a bit worrying, due to what may happen along with it.
The President is coming to town today, reminding us that the curse of Jerusalem is the visit of a US President. It closes roads to the city and within the city. Residents are advised to stay at home if they haven't already traveled elsewhere. Among the things canceled or rearranged due to the snarls expected are all classes and a number of special events at the Hebrew University..