Throughout the world, including Israel, millions of people are celebrating Donald Trump’s defeat, convinced that it was a fitting ending for an election campaign filled with slander, threats and lies.
I don’t feel that way. I’m not deluding myself with the thought that Trump’s failure heralds the fall of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: By the concrete measures of opinion, risks and opportunities, Trump did not fail. More than 70 million Americans voted for him despite his lies and his personality, despite his suggestion to treat the coronavirus with injections of disinfectant and despite his massive obstruction of efforts to fight the pandemic. And they voted for him despite the fact that the rival party learned the lessons of its defeat in 2016, raised funds, dominated television advertising and did not falter in a single debate with him.
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The roots of Trump’s popularity lie in the combination of his brutal personality and the power inherent in the office of the American presidency, which attracted the Bezalel Smotriches of Europe, the United States and Israel. Europeans followed supporters of “national democracy” a la Hungary and Poland.
To many Israelis, Trump epitomizes directness (even if it’s false), xenophobia and loathing for the left. Everything that they love. Not even the winds of antisemitism blowing from the circles to which he belongs could temper their love. To Trump and his supporters, democracy is just something to which lip service must be paid. Their values – support for Christian white supremacy – run counter to the principle of equality that is at the foundation of the idea of democracy.
Joe Biden’s victory may strengthen ties between the United States and Europe, ties that Trump denigrated. Is Europe capable of shaping a liberal democracy based on the principles of the French Revolution, which have been changed and adapted to the spirit of the times and which also take into consideration the importance that many people place on national feelings? Can French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been trying to protect France’s soul and values, manage – despite threats from terrorist groups – to face up to National Rally party leader Marine Le Pen, the loyal French representative of Trump’s approach? Her prospects remain good the more the unrest grows. Right-wing populism increases whenever the “national” question is at issue. Israelis need only look to the case of Elor Azaria, the soldier who killed an incapacitated Palestinian assailant in 2016.
In light of such trends, it can be firmly stated that Trump’s defeat does not necessarily herald the victory of liberal democracy. But at least it can be said that Biden saved his country and the world from an electoral victory that would have encouraged anyone seeking to destroy liberal democracy.
Since the flowering of liberal democracy following World War II – which came in reaction to the victory of fascism in Europe and of totalitarianism in the Soviet Union – the world has changed. The nuclear threat, the increasing power of China, the rise of social media, Muslim immigration to Europe and its consequences and the excessive focus on “me” instead of “us” have all created a type of enormous hole that liberal democracy has not managed to cover.
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Trump’s rise to power and the significant support that he still receives require the United States and Europe to do some soul-searching over how to maintain liberal democratic values in the face of a climate that seeks to destroy them.