Analysis

In TrumpWorld and BibiWorld, Truth Is Tantamount to Treason

A cult of personality that requires swift destruction of conscientious critics is a hallmark of totalitarian regimes

President Donald Trump escorts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017.
Evan Vucci,AP

Trevor Noah may not have heard of Israeli Justice Minister Amir Ohana but he is nonetheless wise to his ways. Commenting this week on the right-wing assault on the integrity and loyalty of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Donald Trump’s Ukraine extortion scandal, Noah observed:

“They’ve figured out that the best way to defend Trump is not to defend him, because you can’t defend him. But rather make it seem like everybody can’t be trusted, there is no truth, there is nothing you can verify in this world and nothing can be believed. And so, if that’s the case, why do anything?”

This is one of the rationales for Ohana’s unprecedented assault this week on the justice apparatus that operates in his own ministry. He accused state prosecutors and the attorney general of harboring secret “deep state” leftist agendas without providing even a smidgen of proof. He tried to paint the police investigation and subsequent Justice Ministry deliberations on its ramifications as prejudiced and corrupt. And if that’s the case, if nothing is at it seems, how can one contemplate putting Netanyahu on trial?

After all, even if one ignores the criminal aspects of Netanyahu’s conduct, it’s difficult to defend his insistence on soliciting expensive gifts from his rich friends, despite knowing full well that it’s forbidden; conducting secret talks with his supposed nemesis, Yedioth Achronot publisher Noni Mozes, on advancing a law that Netanyahu described in public as a travesty; and granting Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch generous concessions even though he was warned by the attorney general to stay away from telecommunication issues.

What to do? Persuade the public that no one can be trusted: Not the President or the Chief of Staff or the Supreme Court or any police officer, state prosecutor or attorney general whose actions pose a threat to the revered leader. So what’s the point of charging him with a crime?

Trump loyalists in Fox News and the GOP are using similar tactics in trying to undermine the accumulating evidence that Trump did indeed try to extort Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to give him dirt on Joe Biden by withholding U.S. military aid. It didn’t matter to them that Vindman was a decorated career officer in the U.S. Army who was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded in Iraq. Vindman had an obvious Achilles heel: He was born in Ukraine and immigrated with his family to the U.S. at the age of three. Vindman also happens to be Jewish.

Trump’s defenders instinctively pounced on Vindman’s “vulnerabilities” to cast doubt on his loyalty to his adopted country, the same one to which he and his twin brother Yevgeny - also a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. army - have devoted their lives. True to their conviction that that there is no norm or convention they wouldn’t trash to defend their idol, Trump’s toadies’ claim that a Jewish officer in the U.S. army has a “dual loyalty” sounded like rank anti-Semitism to many critics, to the point that Vindman was actually compared to Alfred Dreyfus, no less.

Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a military officer at the National Security Council, center, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

The concerted assault on Vindman was a bridge too far even for Republicans, who denounced it and called for it to stop. It highlighted, however, the corrosive ramifications of abandoning any pretense to ideology or values and replacing it with blind servitude and a cult of personality of the leader, be it Trump or Netanyahu. Critics, opponents and certainly public servants who show greater fealty to truth, law and order are automatically branded as enemies of the state.

It is one of the main modus operandi of totalitarian movements: Total identification of leader with state and of loyalty to the leader with loyalty to the state. Consequently, any threat to the leader’s well-being is perceived and portrayed as a clear and present danger to the state itself.  Unequivocal evidence, objective truth, the dry letter of the law and principle of good governance are all tossed out the window. The leader’s words, preposterous as they may be, are seen as holy writ and his defense, ludicrous as it may seem, as a sacred mitzvah.

Vindman’s testimony was seen, correctly, as particularly dangerous. Even though the House Intelligence Committee has already heard sufficient circumstantial evidence to justify impeachment proceedings, Vindman provided the first direct testimony about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky. He was convinced not only that Trump was engaging in quid pro quo extortion but also that he was endangering the entire national security strategy towards Ukraine.

Vindman and other senior officers and officials seemed to believe that the U.S. continues to view Ukraine as an ally and bulwark against Russia’s efforts to exert its influence westwards. They found out, by hearsay at first and then directly, that their Commander in Chief was pursuing totally different goals via Rudy Giuliani and his gang.

They learned that defense of the West was only a secondary consideration in Trump’s priorities. The President seems to think that securing political dirt on Biden, corroborating his delusional belief that Ukraine was responsible for the Russiagate scandal and possibly pleasing his Kremlin cronies are far more important objectives for American foreign policy.

Vindman’s testimony pushed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call for the full House vote on Thursday to approved impeachment proceedings. It compelled hesitant Democrats to rally round the impeachment flag, including those in swing states who might be punished for their vote.

At the same time, the testimony put the fear of God in many Republicans, who had hitherto regarded the impeachment process as a Democratic folly that would ultimately work in their favor. Instead, many of them are now convinced that latching on to Trump would ultimately bring them down together with him.

The imminent testimony of John Bolton is certain to undermine the GOP’s confidence even further. Even though Trump’s defenders will automatically brand Bolton as yet another leftist-pinko defector who has fallen under the influence of the liberal “fake news” media, shaking off his testimony will be a stretch for his admiring Republican hawks. A stretch, but not a mission impossible: Former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon was also painted as a leftist and defeatist for bolting Bibi and hooking up with his rivals, even though he stands on the far right in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But in TrumpWorld, as in BibiWorld, truth is transient, facts are fleeting, beliefs are barren and loyalty is limited to Trump and/or Bibi and nothing else. Which is why getting rid of them both is the only way to save the U.S. and Israel from following in the footsteps of other countries that tried to replace pure patriotism with personal loyalty and paid for their folly with ruin and shame.