Opinion

American Leftists, Don't Repeat Your Israeli Counterparts' Mistakes

If Trump’s rise heralds the growth of a new American left, we’re in big trouble. Because in Israel we already know how it ends.

Madonna performs at the Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017.
Shannon Stapleton, Reuters

Welcome to the Trump era. From now on, life will be weird. How weird, I can’t say. But the indisputable fact is that Donald Trump is the president of the United States, and that’s weird enough already. It’s weird, it’s scary, it’s unexpected and it’s impossible. Hard to come to terms with. It really happened. It’s not a dream. We’re already in it. And now we have to decide what to do.

The first thing is to understand that there’s probably nothing that we can do. I saw on the web that a countdown is underway until the next election, four years down the road. That will be in another three years, 10 months, three weeks and so many hours, minutes and seconds. Time passes quickly, even though Trump may well succeed in redefining the time that passes, too. Four years under him will be like 20 years in hell. But maybe I’m jumping to conclusions too fast. The theoretical possibility exists that Trump will be an amazing president who will bring about peace on earth and universal equality. It’s also possible that Sara Netanyahu is a pony who was sent from the future to save humanity.

The experience of being disconnected from reality is one that every Israeli left-winger is familiar with. That feeling will likely be at the center of the human experience of millions of people in the United States, who woke up one morning to discover that their president is a misogynist in a red-haired wig. The left in Israel also woke up one day and discovered what it discovered – and went back to sleep. Occasionally it reawakens and again drifts off, because the shock gets only more intense.

As the years pass, there is a clear escalation in the way we experience the state and what is happening under its auspices. We were in despair, but despair is passé. Then came existential depression and also denial. That’s behind us, too. We observe from the outside what’s going on. Passive, wide-eyed observers. That’s how it is when you’re an out-of-body citizen. We’re cut off from the physical country. We’ve founded a country of our own: the country of the despairing and the depressive and the deniers and the amazed. A bunch of psychotics.

A few days ago, as I was walking on the street, I was suddenly struck by a truly astounding realization: Everyone is right-wing. That’s something I’m already aware of, of course, but sometimes you forget, and then you remember that you’re a minority. It hits you like a piano that’s been dropped from the top floor of a skyscraper. Pedestrians are right-wing, taxi drivers are right-wing, the cashier in the convenience store is right-wing, the butcher is right-wing, even people with glasses are already right-wing. Get it into your head, old fellow, this is the land of the right-wingers. You don’t belong.

That’s a message that sinks in deep. Everyone ridicules you and you’ve already started to make fun of yourself, because it really is pretty funny to be a left-winger if you take all the data into account. It’s an implausible position in our present world. So you get addicted to mockery and self-laceration. You can call us defeatists, and it’s our exclusive prerogative to be like that. Hope? Optimism? Vision? On what basis, exactly? Defeatism is a privilege of those who can afford it, and the left, after all, is so white, so sated, that it retreats into its own familiar territory. Optimism belongs only to those who have something to lose. They have to believe in something, in someone. They have no other choice.

And now the American leftists are becoming like us. Well, there’s something comforting about that. We’re not alone in this game. We’re not the only ones who lost. Our camp has been joined by a huge mass of men and women, depressed and despairing. Is this what the world needs? Millions more leftists who feel that their country has been stolen from them? Couch leftists? Leftists who believe that justice is always on their side and that the other side is evil personified? Oh, no. Anything but that. If Trump’s rise to power heralds the growth of a new American left, we’re in big trouble. Because we’re experienced. We know how it ends.

Illustration by Sharon Fadida.

It’s too early to conclude that the story’s over, but the start doesn’t bode well. The Women’s March against Trump was an exciting spectacle, it’s hard to deny that. Because it’s exciting to see people come out of their homes. The ability of people to get horny just by opening the door and stepping outside in their masses is amazing. Millions of demonstrators experienced an autoerotic awakening, just from thinking of themselves as people who might stir change.

There’s one thing we learned from the social protest of 2011, the world’s biggest demonstrations and Occupy Wall Street: It’s more exciting to think of yourself as someone who’s doing something than to actually do something. It’s easy to get hooked on the self-delusion of pseudo-action. In contemporary politics, people identify the revolutionary potential in themselves, but they don’t fulfill it. They splinter their abilities into a series of symbolic gestures: demonstrations that take place at one level or another of one-time events, and trenchant statuses on Facebook. And very quickly they come to know that only the symbolism remains.

It was unpleasant to see the American celebs delivering scowling tirades to hundreds of thousands of captive, gaping viewers, hungry for consolation, holding “witty” signs and turning politics into a mass entertainment show. It reminded me of speeches delivered by Amos Oz and David Grossman and all kinds of actors and TV stars at the Habima Theater square or in the plaza of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Madonna, in her speech in Washington, declared that she’d thought “an awful lot about blowing up the White House.” Really, now. Who needs all these celebs who explain to everyone what needs to be done and what’s worthy and what isn’t? Why not listen to real people? Scarlett Johansson, Cher and Alec Baldwin are moral authorities? Who are they, anyway? And in the wake of the Women’s March, will the demonstrations grow increasingly smaller, until the protesters start demonstrating on the sidewalk in front of MOMA or outside Off-Broadway theaters?

Through the American left, you experience the disconnect between the elites and the masses. The disconnect from reality. The out-of-body experience and the shock in the face of the rise to power of a force you didn’t expect. The terrible rift between the liberals and all the rest. The condescension and the feeling that it’s mine by right, and the disappointment that will quickly give way to whining and alienation. The lack of self-awareness and the wallowing in self-pity and an intensifying feeling of inhabiting a virtual, weird, illogical reality.

All the bad traits thanks to which Trump is now in the White House.

It looks as though the American left is doomed to repeat all the mistakes of the Israeli left. But what’s to be done? Are we going to tell Americans how to behave and what to do? After all, we ourselves failed, and their failure is reflected back to us as a joint failure. We’re all stuck on the same luxury liner, on a glamorous cruise to nowhere. And in no time the cold, cruel iceberg will loom.