An outsider’s chance to flip the bird

Israel could use a Donald Trump – just without the Donald Trump.

A demonstrator wearing a Donald Trump mask gestures at a protest against the Republican US presidential candidate in New York City, in April (photo credit: REUTERS)
A demonstrator wearing a Donald Trump mask gestures at a protest against the Republican US presidential candidate in New York City, in April
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As those who read this column regularly (all two of you) know, I’m no fan of Donald J. Trump. He’s a boorish, xenophobic narcissist with the attention span of a three-yearold and a grasp of domestic and world affairs that would embarrass a high-school sophomore. Four days of Cleveland did nothing to dispel this feeling.
That said, staying up till 3:30 a.m. to watch one of Trump’s sons announce that the committed delegates of the candidate’s home state had pushed him beyond the number of votes needed to make him the Republican Party’s official presidential nominee sent a shiver down my spine – it showed that an outsider could successfully challenge the bigwigs of a well-established polity.
No matter how much we might despise Trump or fear the prospect of a Trump presidency, his story is instructive to those of us in Israel who are desperate for a leader whose highest aspiration in life goes beyond merely holding on to his job.
It’s not that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is so wise or lustrous or protective as to remain untouchable. In fact, there are sufficient numbers of voters on both the Left and the Right who would love to see him gone, whether it’s because he’s perceived as a danger to democracy and social justice, one who’s reckless enough to lead us down the road to physical destruction, or just a freeloader who, together with his wife, loves the high life.
It’s just that right now, there’s no one of serious standing on the political scene who has respect for basic social mores, ample understanding of how to keep us truly safe within the confines of realpolitik and, no less important, adequate moxie to successfully navigate the sucking, toxic bog that is Israeli politics – at least in quantities sufficient enough to excite our enthusiasm and send Bibi packing.
THE ISRAEL Democracy Institute is making the case that “there has been a dramatic increase in political personalization in Israel – the rise of the individual in parallel to the demise of the group or party,” calling it a “dangerous, nondemocratic phenomenon.”
I wouldn’t say there’s been a “dramatic increase” – political personalization has been around for a long time, from Ben-Gurion to Begin to Sharon. These were people who were far greater than their parties, for better or for worse. And “dangerous”? “Nondemocratic”? In a perfect world, where countries could be run by committee, this might be true. But they can’t. It’s hard enough to run a small business by committee.
So when it comes down to party-level generalizations ranging from wonkiness to sheer buffoonery, there’s a need for an actual face, someone to give the committee a minimum of direction, and the rest of us a sense that there’s a responsible adult in charge.
Beyond that, just as we are said to have been created in God’s image, this responsible adult has to be cast in our image, reflecting our feelings, our fears, our hopes and our sense of what’s just and right. For now, there’s no one in the national political milieu, so this person is going to have to come from outside.
Yes, just like Donald Trump.
Of course, Trump is doing it in a way that appeals to the basest instincts of a sector that feels more marginalized by the day, people who have been looking high and low for someone willing to flip the bird on their behalf at every institution and institutionalized mode of behavior that has come to rile them. Trump is more than happy to flip the bird at The System. The difference is that here in Israel, the bird being flipped belongs to Netanyahu, and he’s flipping it not at The System, but at us.
I don’t know about you, but this sure riles me.
AS THE TWO of you who regularly read this column also know, I once set my sights on someone with sufficient respect for basic social mores and a healthy understanding of realpolitik. Most important, this person knew a thing or two about keeping us safe.
Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, a brilliant and extremely brave soldier who eventually became chief of staff, satisfied that job description.
“The best part, though,” as I wrote here exactly four years ago, “was the absence of even a trace of bluster. He was soft-spoken and didn’t brag. He had a purposeful stride but didn’t swagger. And despite the smarts, there was not a soupçon of know-it-all. He was the strong, silent type and he instilled a quiet sense of confidence and security that no one in the political sphere – then or now – could come close to matching.”
Unfortunately, Lipkin-Shahak “never got used to the filth and stench of the [political] swamp and the fact that its inhabitants use knives and garrotes, not assault rifles,” and he “soon withdrew to cleaner, safer precincts.”
Back when I penned this, of course, he was still alive, watching with the rest of us as the political Center he had inhabited was imploding.
“Amnon Lipkin-Shahak,” I wrote, “where are you? And if, understandably, you want no more of that swamp, can you recommend someone else? I’ll be happy to throw in the nose clips.”
That offer stands. By the way, this person can and should feel free to flip the bird. Just not in our direction – someone else is already doing that and, God knows, a whole lot of us are feeling riled. Please note, too: Donald Trumps need not apply. We have enough narcissists as it is.