Falling leaders

Trump and Netanyahu are just warming up in their wars against those in their governments who have the courage to stand up to morally and criminally corrupt leaders.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump (photo credit: REUTERS)
Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The deep state was revealed this week to be the bane of two corrupt politicians and the bedrock of two democracies.
Indictments were returned in multiple criminal cases against Israel’s prime minister, and a strong case was presented for impeaching (indicting) the president of the United States.
The similarities are striking, even down to their rhetoric. Each man claimed he was the innocent victim of a left-wing “witch hunt” and an attempted “coup” by the police (FBI and CIA in one case, Shin Bet in the other), the courts, prosecutors and the deep state (or the deep shtetl).
Benjamin Netanyahu was charged on various counts of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Donald Trump is being investigated by the House of Representatives for bribery, obstruction of justice and other “high crimes and misdemeanors.” In both cases, the incriminating evidence was uncovered by what both men call a conspiracy by the clandestine, unelected officials who want to overturn elections so they can take control. The “plotters” are honest civil servants, much to the consternation of the accused, and there is no plot.
Netanyahu’s nemeses are the police and his former close adviser whom he appointed attorney-general: Avichai Mandelblit, who, unfortunately for his prime minister, turned out to be scrupulously honest. Netanyahu no doubt wishes he’d picked an attorney-general more like Trump’s William Barr, who acts more like the president’s personal lawyer, protecting him from investigators.
Trump has something else Netanyahu wants: immunity from prosecution while in office. The Israeli prime minister reportedly was offering to trade cabinet posts for promises to vote for a law giving him immunity. US policy, but not law, says a sitting president cannot be indicted while in office but charges can be brought after he leaves.
Both leaders proclaim their purity of soul and are demanding to “investigate the investigators.” That’s what is being done for Trump by Barr, who exonerated the president of any charges of obstruction of justice following the Mueller report and who kept the most important and contradictory evidence secret.
Meanwhile, the attorney-general personally went to several countries for help in proving Trump’s bogus charges that Russia conspired with the Democrats to help Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Never mind that 13 US intelligence agencies all agreed that the Russians were involved in extensive hacking operations in an attempt to help elect Trump. Vladimir Putin, standing next to Trump in Helsinki last year, said, “Yes, I did,” when asked if he had wanted Trump to win. Trump had just said he didn’t “see any reason” not to believe Putin’s denial of election interference.
When asked a few months earlier who was meddling in the American election, Putin said, “Maybe they’re Ukrainian, Tatars, Jews.” That suggests that Putin may have planted the Ukrainian plot bug – now the center of the impeachment inquiry – in Trump’s mind when they met one-on-one in Helsinki a few months later. There were no American records of that meeting, because Trump ordered his interpreter to destroy her notes.
American presidents have had run-ins with the bureaucracy in the past, but none has elevated it to war as Trump has with threats, tantrums, public abuse, retribution and even charges of treason, an offense that carries the death penalty. Trump’s greatest fear is that evidence of Russian interference will render his election illegitimate.
EVEN TRUMP’S most ardent Democratic foes do not question his election’s legitimacy, but they are outraged that he and Republicans, particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are steadfastly blocking election reform legislation passed by the Democratic House. McConnell calls himself “The Grim Reaper” for leading the chamber where Democratic legislation goes to die; it has also earned him a nickname he dislikes – “Moscow Mitch” – for blocking a repeat of foreign meddling.
Netanyahu shares Trump’s affinity for the Russian president. Maybe it’s their shared autocratic instincts.
There are clear differences between Netanyahu and Trump – intellect, government experience, military service and speaking skills, to name a few – but those get overshadowed by the similarities. Each has nurtured a cult of personality, put personal interests above those of the state and maintained an arm’s-length relationship with the truth. They’ve cozied up to autocrats in Russia, Hungary, Brazil and Saudi Arabia, among others, while bungling relations with important allies (notably Jordan and NATO allies, respectively).
Both have waged war on the media (using Stalin’s phrase “enemy of the people”), demanded loyalty without reciprocity, and accused their government’s diplomats and civil servants of disloyalty. Each one even thinks he’s the king of Israel: Trump has said if he ran in Israel, he’d win 98% of the vote, and when he accused Jews who didn’t vote for him of being “disloyal,” Netanyahu was silent.
They sound very much alike in the face of criticism, using words like hoax, witch hunt, rigged, fake news, false evidence, coup, investigate the investigators, treason and deep state.
They also share common nemeses: honest bureaucrats. It was the police investigators, witnesses, prosecutors and ultimately his own attorney-general who are putting Netanyahu in the docket.
Trump is more fortunate. In transforming the Republican Party to the Trump Cult, he has retained the loyalty of his followers in Congress. They live in fear of his vicious tweets, personal attacks and threats to replace them with more sycophantic acolytes.
Both rulers have turned their wrath on those with the temerity – actually, great courage – to speak truth to power. Trump savagely attacked the witnesses before the House Intelligence Committee, career diplomats and experts who have served administrations of both parties and have no partisan interests.
Two foreign-born witnesses even had their loyalty questioned and several had their safety threatened. At least one, Lt.-Col. Alexander Vindman, had to be given military guards and possible relocation for himself and his family to a secure location.
He came to America at age four as a Soviet Jewish refugee. He is the National Security Council’s Ukraine expert. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) tweeted, “Vindictive Vindman is the ‘whistle-blower’s handler.’” Another Republican lawmaker suggested he might be more loyal to the country where he was born than his adopted country.
Trump tweeted an attack on Ambassador Marie Yovanovich while she was testifying. He falsely said she refused to hang his picture in the embassy when she was ambassador to Ukraine before he recalled her at the insistence of Rudy Giuliani, who accused her of interfering in his business there. She testified that when Trump said “bad things” would happen to her, she understood that to be a possible physical threat.
Fiona Hill, the former NSC top expert on Europe and Russia, said the attacks on Vindman had a “tinge of antisemitism,” especially as Trump loyalists tried to link her and Vindman to Jewish philanthropist George Soros. Hill is not Jewish but had once worked for Soros. “(T)his is the new Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” she said.
She warned Trump’s defenders they were swallowing the “fictional narrative” about Ukraine being “perpetuated and propagated by the Russian security services.” But they were already gulping Trump’s Kool-Aid.
Trump and Netanyahu are just warming up in their wars against those in their governments who have the courage to stand up to morally and criminally corrupt leaders.