Opinion

Quit Whining, Liberal America: You Still Have Plenty to Be Thankful for This Year

Trump’s victory may prove to be a chance for change that must not be squandered. Take it from an Israeli.

Protesters hold banners during a rally against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in Washington Square Park, New York, U.S., November 15, 2016.
Muhammed Muheisen, AP

Dear liberal American friends,

Let’s face it: Thanksgiving is going to suck this year. You know it, I know it. As if being confined under one roof with all your family members wasn’t bad enough, now add to it a toxic mix of post-election gloom and Trump-supporting relatives talking your ear off about China fabricating climate change or why a ban on Muslims really isn’t as bad as it sounds.

Some of you, no doubt, are considering bailing on the whole thing. Some of you were disinvited from Thanksgiving dinners, or you may have disinvited others from yours, simply to avoid unpleasant political arguments. Most of you will probably just stock up on Pepto-Bismol and wait for the holiday to pass.

No doubt, no one can fault you for your low spirits. It’s all too easy to feel despondent these days. Trump’s election was a giant middle finger to much of what liberals thought to be true and incontrovertible. The explosion of Islamophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny and general hatefulness that followed Trump’s election is terrifying. And Trump’s own actions since becoming president-elect – from appointing Steve Bannon as chief strategist to taking meetings with his old business partners – have given us little hope for anything short of our worst nightmares come to life. (Take it away, Noam Chomsky)

As an Israeli living in your fair (still fair) land, let me say: I get it. We ourselves are no strangers to post-election holiday depression – we’ve been there, after all. We were exactly where you are now, feeling the same things, in 2015. And in 2013. And in 2009. And, well, let’s face it, in every single election held in Israel since 1992. It’s tough to lose any election, but it’s much harder when losing means you have to see your country consumed by hateful bile, losing itself to the charm of authoritarianism.

So believe me when I tell you: Quit your whining, liberal America. It may not look it right now, but you still have plenty to be thankful for this year.

During the past 18 months, a number of writers (including myself) have drawn parallels between the lunacy that overtook American politics this year and the low-budget version that has dominated Israeli politics for the past 20 years. The leveraging of racism as a form of anti-establishment rhetoric, the intoxicating cocktail of overstated bravado and xenophobic populism – it’s all there, plain as your eyes can see.

But America is not Israel, and there are plenty of reasons why you, the American left, won’t end up the same as your Israeli counterparts, who ended up losing virtually all chance of being a viable alternative to right-wing rule.

Number one: You won. Well, you didn’t actually win-win, but in the popular vote, as of this writing, Hillary Clinton won by more than 1.7 million votes and many votes are still being tallied. This may look like an even bigger reason to be discouraged, but it also means that most voters didn’t choose the “darkness is good” camp. It was an antiquated electoral system that forced this result, not a calculated stampede toward the cliff.

Number two: You are not apathetic. Two weeks in, and already this election has created a surge of political organizing, thousands have gone out to the streets to protest, and hundreds of thousands have signed petitions or otherwise engaged in various forms of protest. Some of you are already taking on the Democratic Party, kicking out the old establishment and remaking it into a party more relevant and attuned to the plight of everyday Americans.

In Israel, I am sorry to say, we have given in to apathy quickly and wholeheartedly. Whereas you know your country is headed down the wrong path and are eager to stop it, in Israel and in other countries defeatism has effectively made the left constantly despondent, weak and ideologically hollow. In the United States, the opposite seems to be the case.

Number three: You may not believe it, but Trump’s election presents you with a huge opportunity. For better or worse, Trump has single-handedly managed to shake up both the Republican and Democratic establishments.

You don’t think this is a good thing? Well, look to Israel to see what happens when the political system remains unshaken. Benjamin Netanyahu, now Israel’s second-longest serving prime minister, is virtually unopposed on his way to breaking the record. And it’s not that Israelis don’t want change: Five years ago, 10 percent of its adult population came out in protest to demand it. What they got, instead, was a retrenching of the same old order, with the same people in charge, just more emboldened than ever before.

It is no secret that most Americans, even those who voted for Hillary Clinton, wanted change in this election. It was the reason Bernie Sanders exploded in popularity and might have been the factor that ultimately gave the White House to Trump. In polls, Americans said the system is corrupt, rigged, working against them. Well, guess what: The political deck has been reshuffled.

And lastly: Yes, your electoral system is messed up. Yes, neo-fascist climate change deniers are now in charge. But you know all this. You can point to the flaws in your system. You can fight to change it. Yes, it won’t be easy, but knowing where the problem is and exactly how to fix it is a privilege people in many other countries simply don’t have.

So don’t squander it. And remember to say thanks.