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Trump and Netanyahu Agree: Desperate Times Call for Desperate Speeches

Both leaders are riling up their political base in order to relieve the tightening of the legal noose around their necks

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: AFP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

The synchronicity between Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump was eerier this week than usual. The "temporally coincident occurrences of a-causal events,” as Carl Jung defined the term, was downright spooky. Both leaders are in dire straits, both gave special addresses to their nations, both played on their audiences’ fears, both were panned for abusing their positions and both were arguably no better off after their speeches than they were before.

Both speeches were devoted to self-concocted crises: Trump conjured an immigration catastrophe, which experts deny, while Netanyahu invoked a sinister conspiracy to indict and depose him, which exists in the minds of his ardent supporters alone. Both speeches were portrayed in advance as cynical political ploys. Both sparked a debate whether news networks were duty-bound to broadcast. In both cases they did, albeit kicking and screaming.

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Trump played on the fears of his overwhelmingly white constituency, cherry-picking individual cases of violence by illegal immigrants in order to taint them all. Netanyahu exploited his right-wing fans’ built-in sense of victimhood and their deeply ingrained paranoia about controlling leftist elites. He claimed a non-existent right to confront state witnesses, knowing full well that his loyal base cares less about pesky details and more about the perceived plot against their beloved Bibi.

The ironic element is their role reversal: The often-incoherent Trump delivered a speech on a non-existent “immigration crisis” that was notable more for its shocking intelligibility than for its incitement and lies. Conversely, the eminently eloquent Netanyahu was uncharacteristically distraught in a speech in which he described himself as an innocent victim of persecution by state prosecutors. Netanyahu’s spinners billed Netanyahu’s speech as dramatic, galvanizing the nation, but it turned out to be nothing more than a dud.

In fact, Trump’s invocation of a clear and present danger from hordes of murderous illegal immigrants threatening America was more weirdly reminiscent of Netanyahu’s warning only a month ago of a security crisis so serious it precludes holding early elections. When the prime minister’s legal situation changed and he decided it was more advantageous for him to hold the ballot earlier rather than later, the security threat miraculously dissipated into thin air and early elections were called in a snap.

Similarly, the imminent invasion of teeming caravans of malevolent immigrants, which threatened to overrun America a day before the November 6 elections, disappeared from Trump’s agenda on the day after, only to return now as a clear and present danger that might somehow persuade Congressional Democrats to throw a few billion dollars at the U.S. president’s mighty wall. Rest assured that if and when a deal is done, the problem of illegal immigration would resume its proper and less hysterical place on Trump and America’s agenda.

The backdrop to both speeches is startlingly analogous as well. The legal noose is tightening simultaneously around both leaders’ necks. Netanyahu efforts to keep police and state prosecutors from recommending his indictment have failed, prompting him to launch a last-minute assault on Avichai Mendelblit in a desperate bid to prevent the attorney general from accepting their conclusions.

Likewise, Trump’s tried in his speech to inflame the public over the inflated threat posed by illegal immigrants in order to shore up GOP support for his extortionist demand that Congress fund his Mexican wall or else, which has led three weeks of shutdown and paralysis of much of the U.S. government. Washington observers on both sides of the political divide are convinced, however, that Trump initiated the confrontation with Congress in the first place, among other reasons, in order to divert attention away from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is homing in on Trump’s closest inner circle.

Tuesday’s erroneously publicized revelation that Trump adviser Paul Manafort was in direct contact with Russian intelligence over possible manipulation of the 2016 elections earlier than hitherto known belies the president’s claim of “no collusion”, which echoes Netanyahu’s “nothing happened and nothing will”. After their speeches, their protestations of complete innocence seem more outlandish than ever before.

Trump and Netanyahu both reached the conclusion that desperate times call for desperate speeches. Both fabricated paranoid fantasies in order to feed their base with their preferred kind of red meat in order to bolster their last line of defense against potential prosecution. Both achieved tactical success in riling up their base, which didn’t seem to advance their overarching goal of avoiding the long arm of the law.

Both Trump and Netanyahu will undoubtedly continue to demand the privilege of free and unencumbered access to prime time, despite proving this week, not for the first time, that they will repeatedly abuse it. When they do, the networks will debate the pros and cons before shedding crocodile tears over ethics and succumbing to the irresistible allure of viewer ratings.

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