A number of things can be observed in and about Israel in the course of the year 2019. Taken alone and and even more so taken alongside each other, some of these phenomena rank among the customs in all established democracies of the West, which Israel decidedly is part of, some of them are due to the populism increasingly widespread in the West, and some of them are rather unusual in Western nations.
Apparently, you can’t reveal it often enough. It doesn’t matter that the man has almost a full term behind him. Seasoned journalists still see the final verdict about Donald Trump as being that he is above all a man with no sense of decency. Three and a half years of America first!, his implementation of impressive visions and revisions of American world politics, of the ‘homeland,’ and of the most powerful office in the world — everything he does on and around the job is perceived solely as evidence of a defective moral sensibility.
It’s strange how so-called populists have acquired the reputation of being a danger to democracy. The list of their sins includes stirring up discontent as grist for their mills, dividing the people and declaring themselves to be their only true representative, telling the people what they want to hear, making unrealistic promises to them and offering ‘simple solutions’ to complex problems, engaging in nationalistic and xenophobic rabble-rousing, cultivating an authoritarian personality cult and showing no respect for the rule of law.
It’s strange because populists carry on so extremely democratically. It’s as if one knew of a democratic competition of political parties other than one where good democrats with a pronounced will to power not only seize on popular discontent wherever it is loudly proclaimed, but also track it down, dig it up, and incite it in order to direct it against the those in office and in favor of themselves. It’s as if one didn’t know very well that a democratic politician shows no limits to his shame when it comes to going from on high among the masses in order to be celebrated as one of them.
Those who run businesses are said to have certain tasks, expected to achieve this and that, and sometimes accused of neglecting their duties. However, the members of this profession don’t perform any of the positive or negative functions attributed to them unless they do their job. And that is to increase the wealth at their disposal — regardless of whether a nation’s public credits them with creating jobs or blames them for destroying jobs, whether public opinion says they are protecting the environment or damaging it, contributing to growth or jeopardizing it…
Facebook, the social network, has been extremely popular with its members: 900 million registered users worldwide tap away at their keyboards, making the site one of the most visited on the web. Facebook, the company, is no less in demand among investors: they look forward to its IPO, estimating its value at $100 billion.
But there are also critical voices: politicians and the media denounce the lack of data protection. The German Consumer Protection Minister has indignantly deleted her user account while warning users to be more careful with their data.
Meanwhile, the “Facebook generation” is said to have instigated the revolutions in the Arab world that have been named after it, thus having advanced global democracy a great deal. The Pirates, the recently founded German internet party, has congratulated them on it.
Ever since Obama took office, the power struggle in Washington has been escalating. Political competition is no longer reserved for official political parties that vie for votes with policy proposals and candidates, and that after counting up the votes fight and negotiate with each other — the one side as the administration in power, the other as the opposition — over how to manage the country. That is precisely what a fundamentalist popular movement is no longer willing to tolerate, and its very name conveys its conviction that a new American revolution is necessary. Just as the Boston Tea Party sparked a revolt and a war of independence against the British Crown, the descendants of these early American revolutionaries seek to take back America for Americans, freeing them from an un-American oligarchy that has usurped power over the country, suppressing freedom and ruining the land: “We must take back our nation!” Crisis, rising debt, unemployment, lost and unwinnable wars, as well as the country’s diminished capacity to dictate American playing rules to the rest of the world — the movement views all these phenomena as representing a widespread decline of “God’s own country” owing to a betrayal of American virtues. But it is not only the ruling party and its president that have been accused of betrayal; the entire political establishment is under suspicion. Whoever wants to be cleansed of this suspicion must submit to a “purity test” to determine whether they have the proper ethos. So the Tea Party sets off on its quest to rescue the country. It is in the process of thwarting Obama’s healthcare reform; recently, their members in Congress nearly forced the government into default. In a number of states, they are demonstrating what the nation can expect in terms of policies toward immigrants, unions, and schools once they come to power. In the Presidential election campaign that is currently underway, movement activists are fighting to make the Tea Party program the official Republican party line. They have been turning Republican primaries into an opportunity to pressure candidates to commit to the movement’s core beliefs, promising support in return while issuing the warning that all candidates will be placed under strict supervision and voted down at the earliest opportunity in case of betrayal — that is, in case the politicians they have brought to power end up making compromises after all with those who are ruining America.
Everywhere, there’s trouble with foreigners — more so than has been the case in a long time: in Germany and Austria, the United States and Canada; in France, which is deporting Rumanian Romanies; in England, where a British National Party is organizing campaigns to ban the employment of East European EU-citizens; and in a lot of other European countries, where xenophobic parties are winning elections. More and more often, and ever more strongly, political parties and governments are bothered by the existence, the number, or the state of parts of their population that they identify as not belonging and differentiate from their own people. This differentiation and exclusion comes from a distinction between two sorts of people that none other than the state brings into being. There is the one kind that belongs to it and is completely subject to its exclusive sovereign power, and so is required to serve its demands — as citizens, they enjoy the interesting right to be allowed to live within the territory of this sovereign. And there is the other kind: all those who belong to other states and who have no business being in the country, unless the state has particular reasons to permit them to live there — because and as long as it can make use of them. Whether and when they are a bother therefore does not depend on them.
World public opinion has a simple and clear concept of what’s going on in the Cape: democratization. This is supposed to be, first, a good thing and, second, a necessary thing. The whole world sees an advance of civilization when the “verkrampte [stubborn]” Boers finally sit down at the table with their blacks and extend the human right of a free and secret ballot to the black majority. The granting of universal suffrage is considered so undeniably good that the lifelong functionary of apartheid, de Klerk, is forgiven all the sins of the regime he served. World opinion thinks nothing of him, along with longstanding victim of apartheid and ANC leader, Nelson Mandela, being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
How voting rights are supposed to be so good for the blacks: this the free world, to which the irresistibility of everything democratic has finally gone to the head, does not even want to know. At any rate, the advocates of “normalization” and “modernization” of this state don’t even claim that the material situation of blacks living in poverty would improve through elections and appointments of black politicians to state offices. Democracy itself is the value that has to matter — whether or not it is good for something else.
A small-scale cultural war has broken out in the feature pages of Europe’s newspapers. The authors are taken aback by the militant way in which America has begun to reorder the world. They are repulsed by the narrow-minded partisanship with which the majority of U.S. citizens support war and vent their hatred at the enemies and opponents of America’s wars. They are delighted by every critical voice emerging from the United States that has something — anything — to criticize about the “stupid white men” in charge.
Pope Benedict XVI has resigned — a surprising step. This announcement seems to have completely clogged up the daily newspapers and talk shows. The retired pontiff has caused reports of bombs and civil wars to be sent to the back burners — and certainly not only in Catholic media or countries.