Democracy is based on majority rule, minority rights, individual freedom and respect for the law and the rules of the game. Take away one of those four pillars, and democracy is damaged, if not destroyed. A regime that sanctifies majority rule but denies the other elements of democracy presents a clear and present danger to its continued existence. Such regimes, which are sabotaging democracy from within, exist today in several East European capitals, as well as in Washington and Jerusalem.
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In the Israeli and American cases, the forsaking of democratic foundations is the result, first and foremost, of the conduct of leaders. In both cases, these leaders, Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, face potential indictments. Both are trying to undermine the rule of law. Both are disseminating hate and resentment. Both are persuading their followers that their continued rule takes precedence over safeguarding democracy. And in both cases, militant fundamentalist and anti-liberal religion is there to pour fuel on the already combustible mix.
In the U.S.,evangelicals turn a blind eye to Donald Trumps sins and misdemeanors because he is packing the courts with conservatives, fighting abortion, bringing down the wall that separates church from state and forging ahead to Armageddon and End of Days. In Israel, the religious right is sacrificing democracy for the sake of Jewish settlements and the Greater Land of Israel, while the ultra-Orthodox swear allegiance to Benjamin Netanyahu for as long as he heaps favors on them and strengthens their religious stranglehold on other Israelis, as seen in the Knessets approval this week of the controversial law that would close supermarkets and groceries on Shabbat.
These two novel elements – reckless leaders and the religiosity that backs them – are turning what was already a harsh historical standoff between left and right into an existential battle. Social media escalates the clash even further. It seems that the two main political blocs have never been more estranged from each other, with the chasm between them growing deeper and wider and the dilapidated bridge that still connects them slowly disintegrating and waiting to fall.
The right refuses to acknowledge its responsibility for this state of affairs. It persuades itself that the left has always behaved similarly, if not worse. Aided and abetted by those parts of the media that are at its service, the right draws an outrageous false equivalence between its grand crimes and the lefts penny ante misdeeds, so that an unauthorized guillotine made of cardboard brandished in a Tel Aviv demonstration against Netanyahus corruption is compared to the assassination of a prime minister, and a liberal demonstrator in Charlottesville is equated with neo-Nazis.
Infused with a sense of empowerment, imbued with a feeling of victimhood, enthused by ideological fanaticism and increasingly detached from reality, the right is disregarding warning signs, running red lights and accelerating its descent down the slippery slope. Leftist/liberal protests against its conduct are dismissed as crybaby whining by losers who are jealous of their rivals in power.
The left, or perhaps its more accurate to say the non-right, does not know how to react to the rights anti-democracy juggernaut. Devoid of inspiring and charismatic leaders, dedicated as it still is, despite everything, to the rule of law and respect for democratic norms, the left often seems clueless and helpless in fending off the determined aggression of its political rivals. It refuses to believe its own eyes or to internalize the possibility that the right may indeed abandon the underpinnings of democracy that have made life together tolerable.
Some console themselves with the wishful, if not illusory, thought that the right will come to its senses at the very last minute and stop on the edge of the abyss. Others accumulate pent-up feelings of anxiety, frustration and rage.
The way things are going, the day may not be far off when the non-right will feel that its back is to the wall and that it must choose between capitulating or fighting back, like the right, with no holds barred. Surrender could mean the demise of democracy, but a battle might lead to permanent rupture and even civil war.