Frederick Krantz, January 11, 2021
On January 20, Joe Biden will be President. Given the deep crises he faces, one can only hope that the radical Democrats will not succeed in pushing him into the illusory authoritarian temptation of using his power to try permanently to sideline the Republican opposition. Or, worse, into making politically destabilizing, if momentarily advantageous, Constitutional changes.
The Wednesday, January 6 riot, which saw an unruly pro-Trump crowd overpower the Capitol Police and occupy the U.S. Congress building in Washington, must be unequivocally condemned. While the occupiers evidently had no clear “revolutionary” program to violently and permanently unseat the legitimate, elected legislators (one hostile observer termed the incursion “silly…a lark”), the occupation was nonetheless confrontational and symbolically violent, and tragically six people have, directly and indirectly, died as a result.
A much larger DC demonstration peacefully protested, entirely legitimately, against what participants felt were irregularities in the recent November election. But the intimidating rump spin-off’s occupation of Congress was indefensible, and violent participants should be identified, pursued, arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
At the same time, this sad event should not lead to lock-step self-righteous indignation and vengeful retribution. Not triumphalist “gotcha-ism”, but some kind of political truce, providing time and space for bi-partisan reflective evaluation, is badly needed. If not, the division and mutual delegitimation which has for the last four years threatened America’s Constitutional order, will only worsen, and civil discord and violence could spiral out of control.
America faces the continuing crisis of COVID-19 and widespread economic devastation, and potentially severe foreign challenges and crises could be brought on by rivals’ and enemies’ perception of weakness and confusion. The incoming Administration with its razor-thin political edge in House and Senate, will be led by the oldest Chief Executive in U.S. history. It will have its hands full without added burdens, and must avoid descending into deepening and dangerous political division.
The uncertainties around the DC power shift have clear implications for Israel’s security and well-being. First, there is the real possibility that the Biden Administration, with its largely Obama-era foreign policy appointees and the influence of the “anti-Zionist” radicals (AOC and Squad, now reinforced by recent “Progressive” Congressmen and Senators} will reverse the remarkably positive initiatives and achievements of the Trump era. (E.g., isolation of Iran, Abraham Accords [Saudi Arabian recognition?], realism about the “two-state solution”, etc.)
But beyond this, a divided U.S., plagued and weakened by ongoing political and civic struggle, might well tempt Russian, or Chinese (or Iranian, North Korean, Turkish, etc.) adventurism and aggression, which easily could embroil Israel in dangerous regional conflicts.
At the same time, the DC crisis cannot be condemned in isolation. It is not only politically, but morally, legitimate, and necessary, to place it in the context both of the over four-year-long campaign to destroy Donald J. Trump’s Presidency, and of the last six months of urban political violence. What happened Wednesday is not an isolated, and hence easily contained. event, but part of a much larger, ongoing, and not easily reversed pattern of cultural delegitimation, political conflict, and outright violence.
We have lived through the phony “Russia hoax” accusations, FBI abuse (Steele Report, FISA court system), three years of the finally fruitless Mueller Commission investigations, and the spurious impeachment campaign waged by Democrats and complicit major media and the large IT and social media corporations. We have also endured–and it still goes on, see Portland a few days ago–over six months of BLM and Antifa-related urban violence. The media either ignored or termed “peaceful protests” violence in which over 30 people were killed, 700 policemen injured, public buildings and privates stores burned and looted (to the tune of over $2 billion in damages) in over 140 American cities.
(We have all seen the remarkable videos of news commentators standing in front of urban fires, looting and mayhem, and blithely intoning the “peaceful protest” mantra. And we are all aware of the election-eve ignoring by the media—despite a documented New York Post report, direct testimony, and a two-year ongoing FBI investigation–of alleged Biden family corruption involving the President-elect son’s activities in Ukraine, Moscow, and China.)
What went on in the People’s House in DC last week was terrible, and rightly deserving of condemnation. But anyone who remained silent across recent years in the face of truly violent and undemocratic actions by Trump’s opponents, has no moral right now self-righteously to demand retribution and punishment. Hypocrisy may cloak itself in high moral dudgeon, but it remains hypocrisy. Worse, without recognizing the deeper structural problems America faces, divisions can only be deepened, rendering real, positive political change impossible.
Democrat radicals are now demanding Trump’s immediate dismissal, using Article 25 of the Constitution; barring such recourse, they are threatening to initiate impeachment proceedings. The goal is two-fold: to force him from power as quickly as possible (he is “unhinged”, says House Majority Speaker Pelosi, who seems herself unstable); and, perhaps more to the political point, to ensure that he will be legally disbarred from ever running for office again.
(Indeed, Pelosi even went so far as to call upon Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley to withhold access to the nuclear codes from the President, a ploy to politicize the military by involving in impeachment, which Milley and others reportedly did not appreciate.)
Meanwhile, President-elect Biden—even as both he and Kamala Harris use the occasion to condemn Trump and all Republicans with a broad brush, as “thugs”, for the Congress event–speaks publically about restoring “unity”, both within Congress and in the country at large.
What has occurred in DC is shameful, but so is what has gone on in the country since Trump’s 2016 campaign and election. What is most sad, and deeply concerning, about the current impasse is that, perhaps for the first time since the Civil War, it is not at all clear whether the crisis can be overcome, or if an inevitable and fatal decline has in fact set in.
Donald Trump may well not escape unscathed the currently swelling wave of criticism and, in some quarters, sheer unreasoning hatred. While his radically negative reaction to the prospect, and then the reality, of losing the election contributed to his base’s “Stop the Steal” climate of opinion, there is no clear evidence that he consciously instigated an actual occupation of Congress, let alone a premeditated coup d’état. In any case, this seems never, thankfully, to have been a goal—the only gunshot came, tragically, from the Capitol police, and the crowd did respect Trump’s final videoed urging to be peaceful and to “go home”.
What his critics and enemies miss is that it is not “Trump” who is the principal problem, but the socio-political crisis he identified and both spoke to and benefitted from politically. The seventy-five million “intra-coastal” Americans, largely working- and lower-middle class people, including a growing number of blacks and Hispanics, feeling abandoned by the globally-oriented elites, voted for him. They continue to support him, and are not going away, even if he finally does.
In this regard Trump will, by broadening and deepening its range and appeal, leave behind a legacy–an irrevocably transformed and broader-based Republican party. But what will really have brought him down, however much the details are disputed, was not Joe Biden or even electoral fraud as such, but COVID-19’s destruction of the remarkable economy and, note, the relative stability in foreign affairs, his Administration had achieved prior to February, 2020.
There is of course a tragic personal element in all this, for part of what opened him to his enemies, indeed, what made them his enemies in the first place, was his nature: he was, and saw himself as being, a disruptor, the Patton of politicians, someone with the will to transform politics-as-usual, to “clean up the swamp”. But the swamp, threatened—and supported by the media, the universities, and the big high-tech and media corporations–, fought back.
There is about Trump, despite the bathos, and pathos, the tweeting and the glitz (and the tendency to make own goals), something of the classical tragic hero. Fate lifted him up high, and may now be bringing him low. Hubris, overweening pride, which makes the tragic hero possible, also finally breeds Nemesis, tragic destruction, bringing the hero down. Of course, whether this is, indeed, the play’s final act, remains to be seen.
For those of us concerned deeply with Israel’s well-being and future, alarm bells should clearly be ringing. Trump pursued what is indisputedly the most pro-Israel foreign policy of any President since 1948. Today, Jerusalem is Israel’s recognized capital, the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria (and the Golan) is permanent, and Israel is at peace with and recognized by an ever-increasing number of its Arab neighbors.
Its new Trump-brokered relations with the Abraham Accord states are excellent and, remarkably, tiny Israel now leads the world in per capita COVID vaccinations. But a more leftist Biden Middle East policy, and American instability and division, if they not only continue, but worsen, can erase recent progress. Crises can erupt out of instability, from the South China Sea to the Gulf of Hormuz and Iran, from the Indian-Chinese frontier to Iraq, Turkey and to Israel’s borders with Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinian Authority.
We are living a fraught world-historical moment–much is a stake, for America, for Israel, and for the world. Perhaps paradoxically, this is no time for “politics as usual [or unusual]”. Biden should seek bi-partisan support in defeating COVID, restoring the economy, and healing, not further dividing, the nation. One can only hope that he, his Administration, and the Republican opposition, will rise to the occasion and, overcoming the current crisis, will enable the American Republic to endure, and to retain the mantle of creative world, and Middle East, leadership it has assumed since World War II.
(Prof. Frederick Krantz, is Director of the Canadian Institute
for Jewish Research, and Editor of the Daily Isranet Briefing.)