In a stand-up routine performed early on in the Republican presidential race, liberal comedian Bill Maher wondered why the party was concerned about an extremist candidate potentially winning the GOP nomination. “How are you going to find anyone moderate in a party that in the 21st century still opposes abortion?” he quipped.
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Well, if there is anyone moderate to be found here, his name is Donald Trump.
First of all, Trump must be compared to the alternatives. Let's remember that Ted Cruz and most of the other candidates who have since dropped out declared in the debates that they wouldn’t hesitate to dispatch American planes against the Russians, when their forces were still operating in Syria. By contrast, Trump presented a position that's not essentially very different from Barack Obama’s realist-isolationist approach: The candidate said he opposed the war in Iraq and would rule out military intervention in Syria. He also recently announced that he would reduce America’s investment in NATO, which is losing its relevancy. Like Obama, Trump's goal isn’t to be the world’s policeman, but rather to look after America’s interests, especially its economic ones. Unlike Obama, he also places an emphasis on America’s prestige.
One of the main arguments against Trump is that he doesn’t have the “presidential temperament” necessary for dealing with the world’s leaders. But it’s no coincidence that Vladimir Putin, notably, has praised him. Putin sees that behind the candidate’s chauvinism lurk political realism and a willingness to do business with whomever is necessary.
Trump isn’t determined to fight for an ideology, as was the case during the George W. Bush era. He isn’t castigating Obama for renewing relations with Cuba. He isn’t critical of the president reaching out to Iran, rather of the results of U.S. negotiations with that country.
Similarly, there is no contradiction between his claim that he is “the most pro-Israel candidate” and his declaration that he would act in a “neutral” way to achieve a good agreement for Israel with the Palestinians. This is not indicative of an “unpredictable” position, as Hillary Clinton asserts, but of the rationale of someone who views international relations in business terms.
Is Trump a racist? A racist believes in a hierarchy among the races. As Trump sees it, they all have their shortcomings: The Jews are wily traders, the Mexicans are criminals, the Muslims are dangerous. This is not so much racism as prejudice – notions that won’t, as he explained, prevent him from doing business with anyone. What he offers is a vulgarization of the politics of identity, nothing more.
That leaves his vulgarity, and a vocabulary that ranges from “fantastic” to “disgusting,” without a lot in between. But his meager, direct language almost seems like a deliberate revolt against the hypocrisy of polite political discourse.
There are plenty of reasons to dislike Trump. But the prevailing liberal idea that attributes his meteoric political rise to populist manipulations that have easily hoodwinked the simple and ignorant American is not only condescending: It totally misses the logic of his candidacy and the support he has gained. Let this be a lesson for our Israeli politics as well.