US Politics: The President Elect – Uri Avnery [in Tel Aviv]

The President Elect 
19/11/16 – Uri Avnery [in Tel Aviv]

trumpTHE FIRST shock has passed. President-Elect Donald Trump. I am gradually getting used to the sound of these words.

We are entering an era of complete uncertainty. We Israelis and the entire world. From shoe-shine boy to head of state.

Nobody knows.

BUT FIRST we must say goodbye to Barack Obama.

Frankly, I like the guy. There is something noble about him. Upright. Honest. Idealistic.

When the cameras showed him this week sitting together with Donald Trump, the contrast could not have been greater. Obama is the anti-Trump. Trump is the anti-Obama.       

And yet….

Yet in all the eight long years of his presidency, President Obama has done nothing, nothing at all, for peace in our region.

In these eight years, the Israeli ultra-right has flourished. Settlements in the occupied territories have multiplied and grown larger. After every new settlement expansion, the State Department has dutifully condemned it. And then given Binyamin Netanyahu another few billions. And the latest gift was the biggest ever.

When he came into office, Obama made some very beautiful speeches in Cairo and Jerusalem. Many exquisite words. And they were just that: mere words.

Some people believe that now, when Obama is free of all obligations, he will use his last two months in power to atone for his sins and do something meaningful for Israeli-Palestinian peace. I doubt it.

(Years ago, at some European congress, I accused the Spanish Diplomat Miguel Moratinos of doing nothing for Israeli-Palestinian peace. In his aggressive reply, he accused me of sheer impertinence. Why should anyone do anything for the Israeli peace forces, if these forces themselves do nothing to achieve peace?)

Have we heard the last of the Obama family? I am not sure. Somehow I have the idea that after four or eight years we will see another Obama running for president: Michelle Obama, the wildly and rightly popular first lady, who has all the qualities needed: She is black. She is a woman. She is highly intelligent. She has a sterling character. (Unless in the New America, these are all negative qualities.)

THERE WAS some comfort in the election results. Hillary Clinton got more votes than Donald Trump. She lost in the electoral college.

To a foreigner, this institution looks as obsolete as a dinosaur. It may have had its uses when the United States of America (in the plural) were really a federation of diverse and different local entities.

These days are long past. We now used the term “United States” in the singular. The US does. The US thinks. The US votes.

What is the profound difference between a voter in Arizona and a voter in Montana? Why should the vote of a citizen in Oregon weight more that the vote of a citizen in New York or California?

The electoral college is undemocratic. It should have been done away with a long time ago. But political institutions die slowly, if at all. Somebody always profits from them. This time it is Trump.

A SIMILAR antiquated system is the appointing of Supreme Court judges.

The Supreme Court has immense power, cutting deep into the private life of every US citizen. Enough to mention abortions and same-sex marriages. It also influences international relations and much more.

Yet the power to appoint new judges rests solely in the hands of the president. A new president changes the composition of the court, and lo and behold, the entire legal and political situation changes.

In Israel, the very opposite prevails. Years ago, new judges were practically appointed by the old judges, “a friend brings a friend”, as popular humour had it.

Later this system was changed a bit – Supreme Court judges are now chosen by a committee of nine, three of which are sitting judges, two others are politicians from the Knesset (one each from the government coalition and from the opposition), two are government ministers and two represent the bar association.

Five of the members of the committee must be women. One of the judges on the committee is an Arab, appointed by seniority.

But the decisive point of the law is that any appointment must be made by a majority of seven members – seven of nine. This means in practice that the three sitting judges on the committee have a veto power on any appointment. So have the politicians. A judge can only be appointed by compromise.

Until now, this system has worked very well. No complaints have been registered. But the new Minister of Justice, a rabid ultra-nationalist woman, wants to change the system: no more majority of seven, but a simple majority of five. This would give decisive power to the right-wing politicians and abolish the power of the three judges to block political appointments.

This proposal has aroused very strong opposition, and the debate is still going on.

HOW TO describe the incoming president, less than two weeks after his election?

The first word that springs to mind is: erratic.

We saw this during the election campaign. He would say two contradictory things in the same breath. Say something and deny it. Flatter one section of the voters and then their enemies.

OK, OK some people would say. So what. A candidate will say anything to get elected.

True, but this particular candidate overdid it. He presented a very nasty personality, devoid of civility, propagating hatred of blacks, Hispanics, and gays, denigrating women, not rejecting outright anti-Semites and neo-Nazis.

But it worked, right? It got him where he wanted to be, didn’t it? It does not compel him to go on in the same vein, now that he has reached his goal. So, forget it.

Some people are now dreaming of a completely new Trump, a person who abandons all his old slogans and declaration and turns out to be a sensible politician, using his proven talent for deal-making in order to achieve the things necessary to make America great again.

As a candidate he did the things necessary to get elected. Once in office he will do the things necessary to govern.

Other people pour cold water on these hopes. Trump is Trump, they say. He will be as nasty a president as he was a nasty candidate. A far-right hate-monger. His every step will be dictated by his ugly world of ideas. Look, his first major appointment was of a rabid anti-Semite as his closest advisor.

WELL, I don’t know. Nobody does. I tend to believe that he himself does not either.

I think that we are in for four years of uncertainty. Faced with a problem he knows nothing about, he will act according to his mood of the moment. He will take advice from nobody, and nobody will know in advance what will be his decision. I feel fairly certain about this.

Some of his decisions may be very good. Some may be very bad. Some intelligent. Some idiotic.

As I said: erratic.

The world will have to live with this. It will be highly risky. It may turn out right. It may also lead to catastrophe.

PEOPLE HAVE compared Trump to Adolf Hitler. But the comparison is quite erroneous.

Apart from their German-Austrian descent, they have nothing in common. Hitler was no billionaire. He was a real man from the people – an unemployed nobody, who lived for some time in a public shelter.

Hitler did have a Weltanschauung, a fixed world-view. He was a fanatic. When he came to power, people deceived themselves into believing that he would soon give up his demagogic, rabble-rousing ideas. He did not. Until the day of his suicide, Hitler did not change his ideology one iota. Tens of millions of victims, including the millions of Jews, testify to that.

Trump is no Hitler. He is no Mussolini. Nor even a Franco. He is a Trump.

And that may be bad enough. May be.

So do up your safety belt and hold on tight for the roller-coaster ride.

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  • demerwater  On November 20, 2016 at 6:00 am

    I am specially interested in the comments about the Supreme Court in Israel. Interested because, to my simple mind the SCOTUS ought to comprise jurists – people who study and know LAW!
    When I am in fear of being hanged, I want the people who make that decision to consider relevant facts – not whether I (or a judge) am an advocate of “Black Lives Matter”; or any such distraction.
    I was sitting in a Georgetown Magistrate’s Court as part of my ‘education’ when I heard that an accused’s “list of previous convictions” cannot be presented as evidence in Court; it can certainly be brought out to support ‘sentencing’ advocacy.
    When I observe in these times how social media is prosecution / defense / judge / jury, all in one; it is my greatest motivation to “walk the straight and narrow”.
    My elders mentors and teachers are welcome to take the credit.

  • Clyde Duncan  On November 20, 2016 at 8:37 am

    The ‘precedent’ for Trump’s Muslim registry is Japanese Internment Camps
    By Mark Sumner – Daily Kos

    There’s absolutely no doubt that the white nationalist forces on the Trump team are already moving to create some kind of “Muslim registry.”

    Some have suggested this will be a somewhat invisible process, with the vast spying effort of the NSA dedicated to sifting those who have given money, attended events, or perhaps have last names that made them suspect Muslims.

    Others have pondered something more active, with door-knocking, deadlines, and American Muslims being forced to actively sign up for abuse.

    But the terms being used by some Trump surrogates suggest that it might not stop with a signature.

    Carl Higbie, Spokesperson for pro-Trump Great America PAC: I know the ACLU is going to challenge it, and we’ve done it in the past with Iran back … back a while ago. We did it World War II with Japanese. Which, you know, call it what you will. May be wrong.

    Megyn Kelly: Come on. You’re not proposing we go back to the days of internment camps, I hope. That’s the kind of stuff that gets people scared. …

    Higbie: I’m just saying there is precedent for it. I’m not saying I agree with it. But in this case —

    Kelly: You can’t be citing Japanese internment camps as precedent for anything the president-elect is going to do.

    How far have we veered from previous reality in a single election? Far enough that not only does Megyn Kelly represent the voice of reason in this conversation with the president-elect’s representative, but she’s actually become regarded as someone too … left? … right? Someone insufficiently racist with a disturbing unwillingness to kneel.

    As with Trump’s “rapist and criminals” characterization of Mexicans, Higbie admitted that a majority of Muslims are “perfectly good people,” but doesn’t see that as a reason why we shouldn’t condemn them all as a group.

    Kansas Secretary of State, and guiding hand behind much of this year’s Republican platform and strategy, Kris Kobach has indicated that Trump plans to keep his promises when it comes to bigotry and intolerance.

    They are still dealing in faith. They hope that Trump will only do the things they like, and not do the things they don’t like. They said it themselves. They have faith that God can work through a sinner like Trump. But some strange reason, they don’t have faith that God can work through a sinner like Hillary.

    Maybe because Hillary wasn’t evil enough? God needs something to work with and if you’re already a good person, like Hillary, God can’t get interested.

    …The wall as a metaphor for stronger border security appears to be a point of near consensus among Republican politicians in Texas.

    Oh wouldn’t his supporters be just thrilled to hear that they were really voting for a metaphor.

    Remember all the chants of “build that metaphor”?

    Now you’d have to explain to them what a metaphor is.

    In order to get SCOTUS approval for the Japanese internment, the DOJ had to lie — the government’s brief insisted that they had secret information that Japanese-Americans all along the West Coast were in cahoots with the Japanese government. It was a flat-out lie (they had no such information), and the Court relied on it. My law school classmate Peter Irons did key work in uncovering the fraud and essentially gutting out the Korematsu decision.

    It is appalling that anyone would cite Korematsu approvingly as a positive precedent. It is even more appalling to think that they might be able to constitute a Court that would go along.

    Best I can tell, the internment camps were set up so that the Japanese could be robbed of their property. Using racism and the war as an excuse.
    – Sounds familiar?

    That is absolutely true. The Japanese on the west coast had some of the best land available and the white farmers wanted it. They got it. I grew up with a girl whose Japanese/American parents had lost their farm when they were sent to a camp. They later moved to Phoenix where they raised flowers. It was hard for the family to recover from their concentration camp experience. I can’t believe that we are there again wanting to isolate a part of the population and punish them for their ethnicity and beliefs. It is tragic.

    There is lots and lots of precedent in this country for rounding people up and sending them off to barren places so White people can have their good land and wealth. There is even more precedent for terrorizing people and bombing and burning and looting whenever an inferior ethnic group does something White people don’t like. Breathing and minding their own business are on the list.

    When people start downplaying outright aggressive positions, that is when the perpetrators are likely to go from talk to action. I am sure the Japanese were surprised when the men with guns showed up, as were so many others before them.

    By the time the opposition was able to reverse the legal and political decisions and thinking; the damage was done. The thieves never give back what was stolen and they don’t even attempt to erase the scars. It’s be glad you’re free now and get over it. Your money and property? Oh that’s ours, now go pull yourselves up by your bootstraps, never mind I took your boots too.

    We must not let it get to the point where serious damage can be done to vulnerable populations.

    Better start unfurling the Ex parte Endo case, the Court ruled the U.S. government could not detain a citizen who was “concededly loyal” to the United States.

    This decision closed the camps and freed the detainees, but many of them had no home to return to. In fact, some people feel the whole thing was an excuse for a land grab by white folks who coveted the rich California fields the Japanese tenant farmers were forced to vacate. interestingly, one source says the internment reduced the farmworker population so severely that it was the impetus for the influx of migrant workers from Mexico and points south.

    [That damn concept of ‘unintended consequences’ rearing its ugly head again]

    Damn. It is horrifying that we are even discussing this today.

    But not a bit surprising to anyone who was paying attention to the campaign and the people who supported it.

  • NDTewarie  On November 20, 2016 at 9:08 am

    go to your internet and pull up “HILLARY HITMAN TELLS ALL” YOU WOULD BE SHOCKED!

  • Clyde Duncan  On November 21, 2016 at 5:13 am

    ND Tewarie: Are you still reading satire and convincing yourself that it is surreal??

    There is enough REAL STUFF to deal with – day-to-day – without lending your thoughts to nonsense.

  • Clyde Duncan  On November 22, 2016 at 11:10 pm

    Hell Just Froze Over… France Just Rejected Socialism
    By Dr. Steve Sjuggerud
    Tuesday, November 22, 2016

    Don’t these campaign promises sound like the words of a candidate destined to lose?

    • “I promise to lengthen the workweek by four hours!”

    • “I promise to raise the retirement age needed to receive pensions!”

    • “I promise to cut half a million jobs!”

    A candidate with these promises would never get elected in the USA. But I have some shocking news for you…

    Chances are GREAT the new leader of France will come into power based on these promises.

    France, of all places!

    France is known for embracing socialism… But it appears the French have figured out that working less than anywhere else – and getting more from your government than just about anywhere else – simply doesn’t work out over the long run.

    It sure looks nice on paper…

    • The law in France enforces a 35-hour workweek. Ultimately, the average French worker works about 300 hours less per year than the average American worker, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). At seven hours a day, that means the average French citizen works 43 fewer days a year than the average American.

    • The benefits are great, too… French workers get more vacation than just about anyone. They get six weeks of paid vacation, on average.

    • The retirement age in France is 62. In the U.S., for people like me (born in 1960 or later), the retirement age is 67.

    Sounds like a great life in France, right? The problem is, it doesn’t work…

    To help pay for all these benefits, France instituted a 75% “supertax” on incomes of more than 1 million euros. As a result, rich people fled France – and businesses fled, too. (France dropped the supertax two years ago.)

    Today, the unemployment rate in France is in the double-digits, versus 5% for the U.S. The youth unemployment rate is even worse… about 24%.

    It appears the people of France are finally tired of it…

    François Fillon just became the new front-runner in France’s 2017 presidential election – campaigning on promises to do away with many of France’s socialist policies. When he took office as premier in 2007, he called France “a bankrupt state.” As Bloomberg reported…

    Fillon, 62, vaulted from third position in most polls to win the first round of the Republican primary by 15 percentage points from the veteran Alain Juppe on Sunday with the most free-market platform among the seven candidates. They’ll face each other again in next Sunday’s runoff and the winner will be favorite to become president in May 2017.

    Fillon’s shocking win reminds me of two things…

    1. The people of Britain shocking everyone, voting to get OUT of the European Union (the so-called “Brexit”).

    2. The people of America shocking everyone by electing Donald Trump as president.

    These three events are probably not isolated… It’s the voice of the people rising up and taking back power from the political elites.

    In some cases, it should be good. In other cases, well, it’s not so good…

    For example, more economic freedom and less government intervention is almost always a good thing… It creates economic growth.

    On the flip side, restricting international trade and immigration is typically a bad thing. New restrictions on international trade arguably kicked off the Great Depression in the 1930s.

    Trump’s victory in the U.S.A. was surprising… but France rejecting socialism?

    – I think Hell just froze over…

    Good investing,


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