After his smashing back-to-back victories in the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries and the Nevada caucuses, going into next week’s Super Tuesday contests in 12 states, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump looks increasingly unbeatable.
What accounts for the billionaire populist’s success? And if Trump does become the next US president, what sort of leader will the former reality television star be? Trump is popular because he has a rare ability to channel the deep-seated frustrations that much of the American public harbors toward its political and cultural elites.
Trump’s presidential bid isn’t based on specific, defined economic or foreign policy platforms or plans. Indeed, it isn’t clear that he even has any.
Trump’s campaign is based on his capacity to resonate two deeply felt frustrations harbored by a large cross-section of American citizens.
As The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger explained recently, a very large group of Americans is frustrated – or enraged – by the intellectual and social terror exercised upon them by the commissars of political correctness.
Trump’s support levels rise each time he says something “politically incorrect.” His candidacy took off last summer when he promised to build a wall along the Mexican border. It rose again last November when, following the Islamic massacre in Paris, he said that if elected he will ban Muslim immigration to the US.
The many millions of Americans who are sick of being called racist, chauvinist, homophobic, privileged or extremist every time they breathe feel that in Trump they have found their voice.
Then there is that gnawing sense that under Obama, America has been transformed from history’s greatest winner into history’s biggest sucker.
Trump’s continuous exposition on his superhuman deal-making talents speaks to this fear.
Trump’s ability to viscerally connect to the deep-seated concerns of American voters and assuage them frees him from the normal campaign requirement of developing plans to accomplish his campaign promises.
Trump’s supporters don’t care that his economic policies contradict one another. They don’t care that his foreign policy declarations are a muddle of contradictions.
They hate the establishment and they want to believe him.
This then brings us to the question of how a president Donald Trump would govern.
Because he knows how to viscerally connect to the public, Trump will undoubtedly be a popular president. But since he has no clear philosophical or ideological underpinning, his policies will likely be inconsistent and opportunistic.
In this, a Trump presidency will be a stark contrast to Obama’s hyper-ideological tenure in office.
So, too, his presidency will be a marked contrast to a similarly ideologically driven Clinton or Sanders administration, since both will more or less continue to enact Obama’s domestic and foreign policies.
The US is far from the only country steeped in uncertainty and frustration today.
Today, the peoples of Western Europe are behaving much like the Americans in their increased rejection of the political and cultural elites. Like Trump’s growing band of supporters, Western Europeans are increasingly embracing populists.
Whether these leaders come from the Right or the Left, they all make a similar pledge to restore their nations to a previous glory.
These promises are based as well on a common rejection of the European Union. Like their voters, populist European politicians believe that the EU is a bureaucratic monstrosity that has pulverized and seeks to blot out their national characters while it seizes their national sovereignty.
Due to this growing popular opposition to the EU, establishment leaders throughout Western Europe find themselves fighting for their political survival. Whether their desire to exit the EU owes to its open borders policies in the face of massive Muslim immigration or to the euro debt crisis, with each passing month, the very concept of a unified Europe loses its appeal for more and more Europeans.
On June 23, this growing disenchantment is liable to bring about the beginning of the EU’s breakup. That day, British voters will determine whether or not the United Kingdom will remain in the EU.
Popular London Mayor and Conservative MP Boris Johnson is now leading the campaign calling for Britain to leave the EU against the will of Prime Minister David Cameron and the Conservative party establishment.
In recent days, several commentators have claimed that Johnson is Britain’s Donald Trump.
Like Trump, Johnson is able to tap into deep-seated public dissatisfaction with the political and cultural elites and serve as a voice for the disaffected.
If Johnson is able to convince a majority of British voters to support an exit from the EU, then several other EU member states are likely to follow in Britain’s wake.
The exit of states from the EU will cause a political and economic upheaval in Europe with repercussions far beyond its borders. Just as a Trump presidency will usher in an era of high turbulence and uncertainty in US economic and foreign policies, so a post-breakup EU and Western Europe will replace Brussels’ consistent policies with policies that are more varied, and unstable.
For Israel, instability is not necessarily a bad thing. For the past several years, we have consistently suffered under the stable, unswerving anti-Israel policies of both the EU and the Obama administration.
Our inability to influence these policies was brought home last week with the government’s announcement that it is renewing Israel’s diplomatic dialogue with the EU.
Following the EU’s announcement in November that it was implementing its bigoted, arguably unlawful labeling policy against Israeli goods produced beyond the 1949 armistice lines, the government announced that Israel was suspending its diplomatic dialogue with the EU. The government hoped that by forcing Europe to pay a diplomatic price for its hostility, Brussels would back down.
But as it turned out, the ban made no impact on the EU, whose only clear, consistent foreign policy is to oppose Israel. And so, last week, the government cried uncle and announced that it is reinstituting its diplomatic dialogue with the EU.
A senior official explained that Israel chose to end the dispute because it wished to avoid having the labeling policy used as an issue in the debate about the future of the EU. EU champions made it clear to Israeli officials that if the labeling issue wasn’t swept under the rug, then Israel would be liable to be blamed if EU member states opt to exit the union.
Clearly the government is right to seek to avoid having Israel used as an issue in the debates on the future of the EU. But then again, it is also clear that Israel’s foes – led by the likes of the Belgians – don’t need an excuse to attack us.
On the other hand, by backing down, Israel signaled to its European opponents that they can escalate their war against us with impunity.
Moreover, despite the threats of EU officials, it is fairly ridiculous to think that they future of the EU has anything to do with how Israel responds to its political war against us. The Europeans who wish to exit the EU, like those who wish to remain, feel the way they do because of issues that have little to do with Israel.
Beyond the narrow question of how to respond to the labeling assault, from Israel’s perspective, the rise of Trump like the rise of Johnson and the anti-EU forces in Europe indicates that in the coming years, both the US and Europe are likely to move in one of two directions – and Israel has to be prepared for both eventualities.
If the next US president is a Democrat, and if the EU remains intact, then Israel can expect for its relations with the US and the EU to remain in crisis mode for the foreseeable future.
If Trump is elected president and if Britain leads the charge of nations out of the EU, then Israel can expect its relations with both the US and Europe to be marked by turbulence and uncertainty that can lead in a positive direction or a negative direction, or even to both directions at the same time.
Just as Trump has stated both that he will support Israel and be neutral toward Israel, so we can expect for Trump to stand by Israel one day and to rebuke it angrily, even brutally, the next day.
So, too, under Trump, the US may send forces to confront Iran one day, only to announce that Trump is embarking on negotiations to get a sweetheart deal with the ayatollahs the next.
Or perhaps all of these things will happen simultaneously.
As for Europe, whereas the EU stalwarts will likely ratchet up their hostility toward Israel, and we may even see the likes of Sweden or Belgium cut off relations with us, states that leave the EU may be willing to vastly improve their bilateral relations with Israel diplomatically, economically and militarily.
Moreover, if the EU begins to break up, it is likely that the European economy will contract.
As Israel’s largest trading partner, a European recession will hurt Israel.
Whether Trump rises or falls, is defeated by a Republican rival or by a Democratic opponent, and whether or not the EU breaks apart or remains intact, Israel’s leaders need to prepare for the plausible scenarios of either prolonged crises in relations with the US, Europe or both, or turbulent relations that are unpredictable and subject to constant change with one or both of them.
Under these circumstances, the first conclusion that needs to be drawn is that now is not the time to expand our military dependence on the US. Consequently, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon should not conclude an agreement for expanded US security assistance to Israel for the next decade.
Beyond that, Israel needs to expand on the steps that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold are already taking to expand Israel’s network of alliances to Africa and Asia. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s visit this week marked just the latest achievement of this vital project. Israel’s diplomatic opening to Asia and Africa needs to be matched by similar military and economic openings and expansions of ties.
In the final analysis, Trump’s rise in America and the rise of the populists in Europe is yet another indication of the West’s growing identity crisis fueled by its economic, social, military and cultural weakness. Israel needs to read the writing on the wall and act appropriately lest we become a casualty of that identity crisis.