Analysis

Like Israeli Leftists, Trump-tortured American Liberals Will Learn to Live With Rage

Disillusioned Israelis know that long national nightmares, such as the occupation or Netanyahu, can go on forever

President Donald Trump talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a ceremony to lay a wreath at Yad Vashem to honor the victims of the holocaust, Tuesday, May 23, 2017, in Jerusalem. From left, first lady Melania Trump, Trump, Netanyahu, and Sara Netanyahu.
Evan Vucci/AP

I have American friends who are beside themselves on a daily basis. They haven’t had a day of tranquility since November 8, when the election results came in. They are furious non-stop, 24/7. Even on those rare days when Donald Trump hasn’t done something particularly contemptible, they are nonetheless outraged by the fact that he’s still their President.

These friends have to pinch themselves every morning to make sure Trump’s presidency isn’t just a cruel hoax or nightmare. They have to go about their lives as if everything is normal while seething inside with anger, resentment and most of all shame. Many of them are just as patriotic as before, some even more so, but their national self-confidence has definitely been shaken. If America can elect Trump, they tell themselves, there’s no telling how low it can go.

The most significant consolation for my Trump-tortured acquaintances comes from their conviction that this can’t go on much longer. Even if Trump was elected fair and square, which is still in doubt, surely America isn’t irrational enough to allow him to continue governing for much longer. Trump has been at the White House for about 265 days, each of which, my friends assert, has provided ample evidence that he is unfit to serve in office. Surely, the end is nigh and their long national nightmare, to quote Gerald Ford after he pardoned Richard Nixon, will soon be over.

Israeli leftists are also deluded every once in a while into thinking that their suffering will soon end, but for the most part they’ve learned to live with the rage. Fifty years of occupation, forty years of mostly Likud government and a dozen years with Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister have taught leftists that the fact that they regard something as dangerous, immoral or unsustainable doesn’t necessarily mean that others see things the same way. Israeli leftists repeatedly fall into the trap of assuming that people will realize the errors of their country’s ways and change course, if only to save themselves, and they are repeatedly disappointed. The people only entrench even deeper in their attitudes and beliefs.

Leftists were sure that the occupation must collapse of its own weight, but it hasn’t. They were certain that Israelis would wake up to the clear and present dangers of an apartheid or a bi-national state, but they haven’t. They were confident that Israeli democracy was strong enough to withstand assaults by internal enemies, but it isn’t. They assumed that their fellow citizens would grow tired of nationalistic right-wing coalitions that are forever expanding settlements and ratcheting up Israeli theocracy, but they haven’t. They had no doubt Netanyahu would be out of their lives by now, but he isn’t.

They thought they would be as proud of Israel today as they were when they were younger, but they aren’t. They have to go about their lives as if everything is normal, but inside they too are seething with anger and resentment and shame. If Israel can ignore the occupation, curtail civil rights, wallow in corruption and repeatedly anoint Netanyahu as King of Israel, it can do anything. For many older Israelis, the breaking point was the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin which, rather than ending Netanyahu’s career, as most leftists thought it should, got him elected prime minister instead.

But one can live only so long with perpetual wrath. At some point, blood pressure starts climbing, the futility of seething becomes clearer, and the instinct for survival and self-preservation sets in. A small minority offsets the frustration by joining protest groups and going to demonstrations in which they can shout that “Fascism won’t pass”, as La Pasionara epically but erroneously proclaimed during the Spanish Civil War, but the far larger majority usually opts for full or partial escapism. Some have left Israel for New York, Berlin and Silicon Valley, but most make do with self-imposed internal exile. They have stopped consuming news, analyses or opinion pieces about the “matzav”, the situation in Hebrew, immersing themselves instead in work, family and living it up today cause tomorrow they’ll die. The stricter escapees won’t stand for talk of current events under any circumstances, but most will allow for a measure of discussion in a controlled environment, such as a social gathering, from which they can extricate themselves at a moment’s notice.

It is here that the partially reformed leftists can let off the excess steam that tends to periodically build up, despite their best efforts. They revert to their old frustrated selves, if only for a few hours. They can curse the cruelty of the occupation, fume against the cynicism and corruption of politicians and remind everyone how all the bad things they’ve ever predicted will happen if things don’t change have actually happened, and then some. After sufficient venting and foaming at the mouth, they can go home to their ordinary, rage-free denial.

Trump might very well be impeached soon. If not, he might be voted out of office in three years. Failing that, the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – which hopefully won’t be changed – guarantees that he’ll be gone on January 20, 2025 at the latest, which is only 2660 days away. But even such a dim light at the end of the tunnel could actually be an approaching train. America will be a changed country after four years of Trump rule and it will be a different entity altogether after eight. Rather than things getting back to normal eventually, they may deteriorate beyond repair, as most Israeli leftists will tell you.

Like Israeli leftists, American liberals might also have to learn how to live with the rage. They will find ways to escape, to preoccupy themselves and to make peace with the direction their country is taking. They will then be able to live a full and enjoyable life, just like the frog who doesn’t mind the water heating around him until he’s actually boiled to death, or the guy who jumps from the 35th floor of a building and shouts, as he passes the seventh floor, “So far, so good.”