How Liberals Helped Fuel the Rise of Donald Trump

Middle-class intellectuals the world over are chastising the supporters of Trump, Marine Le Pen et al, but fail to recognize that they themselves – leading detached lives in ivory towers – are part of the problem.

Iris Leal
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Columbus, Ohio, August 1, 2016.
Republical presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaking on August 1, 2016. Liberals have failed to recognize why the marginalized have swarmed to him – and who marginalized them.Credit: Evan Vucci/AP
Iris Leal

Keen Israeli interest in U.S. election campaigns is nothing new. Aside from the influence their outcomes have on our lives, Americans simply do everything better: television, cinema, literature, music and political campaigns. They are unmatched in their talent for lifting banal moments to inspiring heights: Aretha Franklin singing at the inauguration of the first black president; Hillary Clinton’s “biggest crack” in the glass ceiling.

This time, though, there is a more burning reason for the Israeli obsession. Watching the battle between Clinton and Donald Trump is eerily like looking in the mirror.

The strategy that has guided the Republicans like a discordant melody for decades is at the heart of Trump’s campaign. And conducted by him, it has become a deafening screech: a politics of fear, hate and racism. Since 1977, though, that has also been the rhetorical music of Likud, which Benjamin Netanyahu has perfected to an art form.

It is true that the manipulations and lies are perfectly obvious; political pundits point out the fraud to the people, and the press conveniently writes up lists of the bald-faced lies. Yet that seems to have zero effect on the outcome. Trump, like Netanyahu and Boris Johnson of late – and even Marine Le Pen – have become conduits through which the frustrations and rage of the forgotten and the weak, the marginalized, find expression.

Not all of the weak, of course. The vocal populists believe that defining the enemy is the first step for their voters to achieve self-determination; that loathing is a key component of the human experience; that “the entire life of a human being is a struggle and every human being symbolically a combatant,” as political theorist Carl Schmitt put it in 1927. Or as Avigdor Lieberman paraphrased that concept in the last election campaign, “Those who are against us, there’s nothing to be done – we need to pick up an ax and cut off his head.” Thus, Arabs over here and blacks, Mexicans and Syrian refugees over there become the necessary “other.”

The frustrating thing is that even though everything is perfectly transparent; even though the cheap lining can be seen perfectly clearly beneath their expensive suits; even though, beneath the architecture of the hairdo, the bald pate peeps through – it still works. How could that be, the middle-class, intellectual liberals of London, Paris, Tel Aviv and New York wonder.

Behind the fences erected around their horrifyingly expensive mansions, the residents of well-to-do Hampstead in north London – who last saw refugees when they were cleaning their bathrooms – complain about the walls Brexit voters want to establish between Britain and Europe.

In Manhattan, the intellectuals ignore the existence of the despairing unemployed, and they are in denial about the godforsaken towns beyond their rich island.

In glitzy central Tel Aviv, the distress of residents in the city’s crowded, poorer southern neighborhoods – who actually live among refugees – is condescendingly perceived as unenlightened racism. And in the rich towns of central Israel, embedded in irrigated greenery, they discuss the loyalty to Netanyahu in the outlying towns as clear proof that the uneducated are self-destructive.

And none of them consider the possibility that stupidity, prejudice and destructive attitudes deleterious to one’s own self-interest are entirely their own.