Russell Howard is a British comic who got global exposure this month when Netflix started airing his recent performance in Brighton. Howard, who became known to Brits through his satirical news roundup on Sky, is a funny, vulgar and sometimes tedious comic, but his show in Brighton is riveting even for those who can’t stand stand-up comedy. When Howard asks whether his audience knows why Donald Trump won’t be visiting Britain, someone from the crowd deployed that effective British slur of coarse origins and shouted out “Because he’s a wanker.” The crowd broke out in thunderous clapping and jubilant roars that eclipsed even the loudest response to Howard’s funniest jokes.
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It goes on like this, throughout the show, especially when Howard claimed - or invented - that Trump’s golf resort in Scotland has beefed up security to stop anti-Trump protestors from sneaking in at night to defecate their displeasure into the white cups of the course’s 18 holes. The crowd’s response was once again resounding, but also disquieting: The sight of a crowd in Great Britain, which once enjoyed the most special relationship of all with the U.S., unanimously showing such intense loathing towards an American president should trouble even those who share it. If former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee can compare Trump to Churchill, one can compare the Brits distaste for Trump with their intense animosity 75 years ago towards his Nazi enemy.
Trump is undoubtedly the most hated U.S. president in modern history. American public opinion despised Richard Nixon during the last months of his Watergate-plagued second term, but the world continued to regard him as an able statesman who had withdrawn from Vietnam and opened the gates to China. George Bush was reviled in the U.S. and around the world during his second term in office, mainly because of the war in Iraq, but never with the depth and intensity of the current abhorrence for Trump. Much of the right wing despised Barack Obama to the point of lunacy, but the world continued to admire him until his last day in office. In the hatred index, Trump outranks them all.
He faced hostility from the outset, since most of the world preferred the known and respected Hillary Clinton to the insolent, outspoken and infuriating real estate tycoon who had somehow vanquished the Republican Party. But contrary to the expectations of many, Trump did not moderate himself when came to the White House on January 20. He did not turn out to be a sheep in wolf’s clothing and did not turn into a cool or calculated president who prefers to unite rather than incite. On the contrary, not only did Trump continue to belittle foreign leaders, abuse political rivals, attack hitherto sacred institutions - including, astonishingly, the U.S. intelligence community - to insult minorities and most injuriously to express falsehoods and outright lies on a daily basis, but it turned out that he was much more than mere words. After a year in office, there is no more doubt that Trump is changing America, and with it, changing the world.
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For this reason, and not just because of the global antipathy he garners everywhere but in Israel, Trump is undoubtedly the man of the year. He has put the U.S. on a course that is radically different, if not diametrically opposed, to Obama’s as well as most of his predecessors. Trump’s America is not the “Shining City on the Hill” that Ronald Reagan spoke of, a country that opens its arms to “anyone with the will and the heart to get to it.” It is not the America of George Bush, who embraced and reassured American Muslims even in the wake of the terrible 9/11 terror attacks. Trump’s America is introspective, arrogant and concerned with itself. It won’t open its gates to the wretched poor and oppressed, won’t tell others how to behave and won’t boast of being a multicultural melting pot. The America that Trump intends to make great again, as his official gold presidential medallion now proclaims, is a male-dominated, white, Christian country that will tolerate its minorities as long as they know their place and stay in line.
The sweeping tax reform that Trump and his GOP allies got through Congress last week capped an otherwise dismal legislative year with a breathtaking achievement, capitalist and swinish as it may be. But anyone who has been following the spate of Presidential decisions and executive orders issued by Trump since taking office knows full well that he has been making his mark dramatically, far from the spotlight of the media and public opinion. He has swept away regulations that oversee businesses and financial markets, undercut laws and agencies protecting the environment, blurred the delineation between church and state, curtailed both legal and illegal immigration to America, and pushed dozens of ultra-conservative judges to federal and district courts. He has become a hero to tycoons and stock dealers, a god for fiscal conservatives and tax-haters, a divine emissary for both Christian Evangelicals and Jewish fundamentalists and a messiah to the disgruntled white masses who find redemption in hating others.
Trump is contaminating public discourse, perhaps for decades. He has deepened internal American divisions beyond their already alarming magnitude during the Obama era. He has escalated the mutual animosities between conservatives and liberals, whites and minorities, supporters of democracy and rule of law and those who believe that the end that justifies any means. He has tolerated and some say fostered an outburst of nationalism, nativism and anti-Semitism on the right and engendered waves of fear and loathing and resentment on the left. He has given the Democrats who are looking for redemption next November a much needed shot in the arm but has instilled suspicion and dread among Republicans, whose old establishment is waging a rear guard defense against the up-and-coming coalition of isolationists, racists and Evangelicals who adore him.
Sometimes, Trump’s influence is measured by the contrary unintended consequences of his words and deeds. He debased women and boasted how he could harass them, thus contributing to the formation of the #MeToo movement, which is revolutionizing relations between the sexes. He mocks and defames the media on a regular basis, but in responding it has regained public support and rediscovered its teeth that had gone missing. These days, Trump and his cronies are busy attacking Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the FBI but they, like Netanyahu’s police probers, will soon have the last word.
His influence over the international arena is seemingly less dramatic, but only if one looks at the world through unsentimental realpolitik, and only at the moment. Trump has quarreled with most American allies, but has yet to file for divorce. He is distancing himself from international organs and agreements, but has yet to close the door on them. His most tangible changes so far have been in America’s Middle East policies. He has backed even the most harebrained conspiracies hatched by Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Sultan and planted his feet solidly behind Benjamin Netanyahu’s right wing policies, from recognizing Jerusalem to Ambassador David Friedman’s reported request that the State Department no longer use the world “occupation” to describe Israel’s presence in the occupied territories. His next letter will demand that Jewish settlers be called “pioneers,” Palestinians indigenous or Native Asians and their cities reservations, on which they might be allowed to build casinos, if they behave.
Nonetheless, despite the fact that his ties to the Kremlin and his kowtowing to Vladimir Putin are still a source of amazement and still demand explanation, China and Russia remain wily rivals, Iran and North Korea, despite Trump’s bluster, are still clear and present dangers, and while ISIS may be about to be blasted away from Syria and Iraq by virtue of U.S. firepower and Russia’s carpet bombings, it threatens to return in other forms, possibly more dangerous than before. The dramatic changes that Trump has set in motion on the world stage may thus be subtler, but their full impact will only be assessed in years to come. He has deserted America’s position as policeman of the world. He has abandoned the moral stage from which his predecessors professed to tell the world how to behave, even if their own actions often strayed from the values they were preaching. Trump’s America doesn’t care about democracy, human rights and all that jazz but in promoting American interests. It will work together with whoever advances them, without paying too much attention to their behavior. Surly regimes and maniacal dictators only have to hail Trump in order to secure their license to do whatever their heart desires.
Trump gives a backwind to the wave of nationalistic, anti-Muslim sentiments that were sweeping Europe even before he entered the White House: His last ruckus with Britain was sparked by his retweet of forged anti-Muslim videos disseminated by a far-right group. He is sowing distrust and discomfort in the North Atlantic alliance and dismay and confusion in those countries that used to rely on America, warts and all, to serve as a beacon for freedom and liberty. As he and the generals who both advise and constrain him made clear in the new National Security policy they unveiled last week, Trump’s world is one in which everyone is out for themselves and everyone is playing dirty, as will he.
Israel sees things differently than the rest of the world, and for good reason. The public’s antipathy to Obama, diligently stoked by Netanyahu, translates into automatic sympathy for a president who does exactly the opposite. Like Trump, Israel despises the United Nations, Europe and human rights NGO’s. Like Trump it views Islam, whether it be the entire religion or just its radical part, as a mortal enemy. Trump charmed Netanyahu by attacking Iran and captured the heart of Israeli public opinion by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and thumbing his nose to the world. Israel thus become the country in which Trump is most admired and Netanyahu the leader who is most closely identified with him. Israel’s Transportation Minister already wants to name the still unbuilt Western Wall train station after Trump but if the President recognizes the annexation of East Jerusalem as well, perhaps the Kotel itself will be renamed Trump’s Wall and the praying area - Ivanka Square.
Israeli’s aren’t repelled by Trump’s sharp assault on the rule of law, because they get the same thing at home. They are not shocked by his abusive language, because they can hear the same whenever the Knesset convenes. Like Trump, their leaders tend to praise themselves, blame others and never assume responsibility for anything. Trump’s popularity in Israel is unique on the world stage and thus garners international attention. He has become, in some ways, Israel’s face. This may do wonders for Netanyahu among Evangelicals and Orthodox but it taints Israel’s already tarred name among everyone else, especially and most worryingly among Trump-hating American Jews.
Trump is casting a giant shadow on the entire world. His policies would probably be unpopular even if a more restrained President was carrying them out, but Trump’s personality, outbursts and outrageous statements amplify his actions ten times over. He has deciphered some genetic code about the interaction between modern media and public opinion, whether as a product of calculated premeditation, a fateful encounter at just the right juncture between his turbulent character and social media or because he is simply doing what his Kremlin handlers are telling him. The world is riveted to his surly personality and juvenile behavior and is anxiously waiting for him to rip another sordidly entertaining tweet. He is a soloist on the world stage, the biggest story of our time, the man who will influence our future more than any other.
If the rosy projections of tax reform backers are borne out, the U.S. economy is slated to grow and blossom and Trump’s popularity will rebound and rise. Democrats are hoping to coast on his current low ratings to a historic win in the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate as well in the upcoming November elections. They will try to stop his rush to take America back to 19th Century type robber-baron hyper-capitalism and if Mueller gives them enough rope, they will launch impeachment proceedings as well. Together with most of the word, minus Israel, Democrats and liberals are praying that unlike 2017, which was the year of the Trump, 2018 will be summed next year as the year of the anti-Trump.