Is Trump a Daffy Donald or a Calculating Rabble-rouser, Like Netanyahu?

The right wing’s demonization of Obama and Clinton is harsher than the vilification of Rabin in the months before he was killed.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign town hall at Ocean Center, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016, in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign town hall at Ocean Center, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016, in Daytona Beach, Fla. Credit: (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Donald Trump has denied reports that the Secret Service had a talk with his campaign staff this week about his by-now-infamous statement regarding “Second Amendment” people and what they could do if Hillary Clinton appoints the kind of judges who would abolish it. An unnamed federal official was a tad more circumspect, saying that the Trump campaign had not been approached “formally”. The Secret Service, as its name implies, stayed mum, after laconically informing the world a few hours after Trump had made his original remark that it is “aware of the comments made earlier this afternoon.”

Israelis who lived through the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin were reminded of a similar incident in July 1995, when Carmi Gilon, then the head of Israel’s Shin Bet, met with Benjamin Netanyahu, then the leader of the opposition. Gilon told Netanyahu of intelligence reports indicating that a conspiracy aimed at assassinating Rabin was, or at least could be, in the works. He asked Netanyahu to help calm the increasingly belligerent anti-government atmosphere at right wing demonstrations against the Oslo Accords. Whether Netanyahu acceded to Gilon’s request is a matter of debate, as is every other aspect of Netanyahu’s role in inflaming an already volatile situation. What’s certain is that three months later and one month before Rabin was killed, Netanyahu stood on the balcony overlooking Jerusalem's Zion Square from which he could neither hear, see or sense the orgiastic outburst of hatred from thousands of frenzied protestors that was taking place right under his nose.

The analogy between the period that led to Rabin’s murder and the stormy U.S. election campaign, which was in the spotlight of the U.S. media this week, may seem preposterous, but only at first glance. For die-hard Trump fans, the decision to be made in November is a matter of life and death no less than the Oslo Accords were for Jewish settlers and other right wingers two decades ago. To them, Clinton is the devil, or at least his advocate, just as Rabin was the undertaker of Zionism for the protesters who accompanied its coffin - or his, according to some - alongside Netanyahu at another well-known anti-Oslo demonstration near Ra'anana. The demonization of both Clinton and Barack Obama in recent years by the GOP and the ultra-conservative right is in the same league, in fact it surpasses, the vilification of Rabin in the two years preceding his assassination.

That similarity was apparent even before Trump’s latest remarks. The New York Times recently published uncensored videos of the vile chants heard at Trump’s rallies, including the crowd’s favorite “Hang the Bitch” refrain. The Republican Convention in Cleveland, which could rightly be named the “Lock Her Up” confab, was mostly devoted to branding Clinton as a corrupt criminal who is personally responsible for the deaths not only of the four diplomats killed by Al-Qaida in Benghazi in 2012, but for the thousands of victims that have fallen to jihadist terrorism ever since. It was a clear echo of the criminalization of political opinion that was embodied in the chants “Rabin the traitor”, “Rabin the murderer” and especially “Oslo Criminals should be put on trial”, which was more mainstream and by far the most popular of all. And just to make clear to everyone that Trump is completely unfazed by the brouhaha that broke out after he made his “Second Amendment People” statement, on Thursday he described both Obama and Clinton as the “founders” of Islamic State.

Perhaps this is the main difference between Trump and Netanyahu. Whatever else can be said about him - and there’s plenty - Netanyahu is a sophisticated politician, methodical, eloquent, disciplined, and calculating, at least when he’s not consumed by one of his periodical bouts of paranoia and anxiety. Trump, on the other hand, seems to be a slave to his instincts and his whims, even though these have led him to his current lowly status. Whenever Trump wants to project an image of a serious politician, as he did in Detroit this week, his inner Daffy Donald erupts with another scandalous statement that calls into question his basic capacity to serve as president. MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell said on Wednesday that Trump could plead insanity in his own defense, because such a claim is growing ever more credible.

There was much discussion this week about what Trump exactly meant when he said, “If she gets to pick—if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.” The main problem with Trump is that it’s often hard to distinguish between his barely coherent sentences and those that are undecipherable mumbo-jumbo. It’s not always clear whether he himself understands what he’s saying, but his gibberish does provide him with deniability. He repeatedly insists that his words have been twisted, distorted and taken out of context and that the “lyin’ media” is out to do him in.

Of course, if you actually watch Trump’s facial expression when he made the statement, if you hear the tone of his voice, it’s crystal clear that he was referring to the possibility that “Second Amendment people” could stop Clinton after she was elected to office. Trump knows full well that for many of them, the Second Amendment is the Holy of Holies, the bedrock of the American spirit. Given that Trump has already warned that if he loses the November ballot it will be because the voting was “rigged”, would it not be the most natural thing in the world for a true patriot to try and save America from its criminal usurpers by any means possible? Is there any credence to the counterclaim made by Trump and his new Sancho Panza, Rudy Giuliani, that he was only referring to the power invested in their votes?

As things stand now, Trump has zero chance of being elected president, not only as a rational prediction based on the downwards spiral in the polls, that could always reverse, but as a matter of basic belief: with Trump as Commander in Chief, America will no longer be the same America. Of course, people were also certain that there was no way that Netanyahu could be elected soon after Rabin’s death, and they were proven wrong. On the other hand, after his second, third and fourth reelection, it’s clear that Israel isn’t the same country it used to be either.



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