The most ludicrous and concurrently repulsive trait shared by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump is self-pity. Two well-to-do white men who reached the top easily, whose personal power is unparalleled and whose domination of their respective countries is as close to absolute as democracy can tolerate, are whining crybabies with a deeply ingrained sense of eternal victimhood. If it weren’t so ominous, it would certainly be hilarious.
Self-pity, as the meager psychological research devoted to the syndrome suggests, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is associated with neurotic personalities and is often a manifestation of pathological narcissism. People who absolve themselves of responsibility for their own actions tend to direct their anger at external forces supposedly persecuting them or wishing them harm. British actor and writer Stephen Fry described self-pity as “the most destructive vice you can have.” Paraphrasing Oscar Wilde, Fry says of self-pity: “It destroys everything around it, except itself.”
Trump and Netanyahu, each in their own way, have injected their fears, loathing, and incessant self-pity into the hearts of their devoted followers. They have brainwashed their disciples to believe in ludicrous conspiracy theories based on distorted facts and misleading interpretations of reality. They have successfully recast their own greed and misdeeds as virtues, and their investigators and prosecutors as agents of evil. They routinely nurture resentment, incite against minorities, mark “elites” as traitors, and portray liberal democracy with its checks and balances, as an enemy of the state itself.
Trump and Netanyahu have both transformed their hitherto pluralistic political parties into personal Praetorian guards in which criticism is quashed and from which dissenters are quickly banished. In this way, the two leaders have neutered their legislative branches and turned them into their personal rubber stamp. They are liquidating the gatekeepers, undermining the judiciary, purging the civil service, and elevating personal loyalty to the highest order of the land. They brandish the simplistic concept of rule of majority in order to pave their way to unbridled personal power.
The tortured souls of both leaders, wallowing in self-pity and lusting for revenge, maintain a symbiotic relationship with the surging nationalism of the right in the Western world, and its ensuing quest for populist leaders. This singular combination between the paranoias of leaders and the resentments of their followers make Israel and the U.S. concurrently unique on the world stage, countries in which a hitherto strong democracy is under attack and fighting for its very life.
Trump and Netanyahu are no longer willing to play by the rules: Instead, they’re out to eliminate them altogether. They and their blind followers don’t view the upcoming elections – in March and November respectively – as yet another democratic contest between competing ideologies, but as a War of the Worlds which can only end in humiliating defeat or in sweet, vindictive victory. What other choice do self-perceived patriots have, when their world is ostensibly dominated by dishonest investigators, corrupt prosecutors, bent judges, saboteurs masquerading as civil servants, political hacks who report the news, and leftist rivals who give aid and succor to the enemy, other than a methodical purge of them all?
Netanyahu and Trump are both exploiting and promoting a historic reversal of roles in which the once-conservative right has turned rebelliously anarchic, while the once revolutionary left is now a staid stickler for rules and traditions. Right-wing insurgents willing to burn down the house in order to seize and control it are facing timid moderates playing by Queensbury rules. Confronted by agitated hordes waving torches and pitchforks, democracy is defending itself with subclauses of criminal law and learned analyses of constitutional intent.
If rational thinking and survival instincts triumph nonetheless, their publics will depose of Netanyahu and Trump in their respective upcoming elections, along with their toxic legacies. If, on the other hand, Trump and Netanyahu emerge triumphant, their limitless reserves of degenerative self-pity will fuel the insurrection, decimate the rule of law and leave democracy intact in name only.
Instead of hunkering down for four more years in the opposition, critics of the regime could very well find themself bunkering in an illegal underground, where they can plot and dream of counter-revolution to their hearts' content.
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