By Larry Gordon
Richard Nixon had it. Bill Clinton had it. George H.W. Bush also had it. Ronald Reagan did not. Neither did George W. Bush. The candidates in play for this year’s presidential election seem for the most part to have it—the ability to think on their feet and to extemporaneously articulate their positions on any number of issues.
That is, except for the person at this point seemingly most likely to receive the Republican nomination—Donald Trump. His resorting to denigrating opponents, speaking pejoratively, and habitual reflex of using vulgarities is unbecoming any high-profile personality, particularly one who is working to become the most influential, if not most powerful, man in our world.
Trump frequently speaks off the cuff with no script or notes in front of him, and the proclivity to function that way seems to be accomplishing two things simultaneously. The first is that it is getting him in trouble, forcing him to take back things that he said but then did not want out there. The second is that people support him because they love a plain-speaking guy who fumbles his words just like the average Joe.
Since we focus here on Jewish life and Israel, let’s take a look at a recent comment made by Mr. Trump when asked about his stance on negotiations and the possibility of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Trump responded that when it comes to this issue of peace in Israel, he would be “neutral.”
That’s the word he used, but based on the way he has used other words in various situations, I believe he did not mean “neutral” in the usual sense. Here are a couple of dictionary definitions of neutral: “not taking part or giving assistance in a dispute or war between others; not aligned with or supporting any side or position in a controversy.”
So if Trump actually meant “neutral” as detailed above, that would signal his intent to initiate a fundamental change in the approach to Middle East peace and the traditional alignment that has existed for decades between the U.S. and Israel.
But what I believe he wanted to say was that in his approach to the Israel–Palestinian situation, he would endeavor to bring a fresh perspective and that he would be objective—that is, “not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased.”
The reaction to his use of the word neutral with respect to Israel was cause for alarm because a president’s words are usually well thought out and carefully crafted. The only change here that we might have to adjust to with Mr. Trump is that he will use simplistic terms that are commonly used in the vernacular that do not speak to the heart of a matter but rather dance around the issue.
This is in contrast to the things that President Obama or Hillary Clinton says about this matter and how they conduct themselves in general when it comes to controversial issues. President Obama talks repeatedly about the unshakable bond that exists between Israel and the U.S. But that exists not because of Mr. Obama but despite the president’s preference and efforts to the contrary.
You probably recall the campaign to promote the Affordable Care Act, the program better known as Obamacare. The president’s rallying pitch was “If you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance, and if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” Mr. Obama knew that many doctors would not be able to afford seeing their patients and the insurance companies would not be able to keep them as clients. So you see that carefully crafted statement was perfectly true, but also false.
Last week, a reporter asked Hillary Clinton if, in all her official positions in government, she had ever lied to the American people. Her response? “Well, I try not to.”
So back to Donald Trump and what he meant about being neutral on Israel. The next day he explained what he had intended to say originally. What he did not mean was that he would approach the possibility of negotiations there without any consideration of what had taken place over the many years leading up to this date.
Some of his answers to this question posed to him by Sean Hannity on Fox News were sophomoric and even ridiculous. In trying to express how pro-Israel he was, Trump said to Hannity, “Look, I was the grand marshal in the 2014 Salute to Israel Parade” in New York. Is he kidding?
His second reference in an attempt to prove his pro-Israel credentials was pointing out his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew, and his daughter, Ivanka, who converted prior to their marriage.
For all the toughness in Mr. Trump, I find those illustrations of the extent of his support for Israel possess a certain kind of purity and even a naive innocence. He also mentioned that he had taped a commercial for Prime Minister Netanyahu in the last Israeli election. So there you have it—we can count on Trump; he is practically one of us.
But there was more. The conversation on Israel happened early on in his interview with Hannity, when the candidate was asked about the Iran deal and what we would do if the Iranians violated it and moved in the direction of building nuclear weapons. Unsolicited, The Donald said, “I guess we are going to have to rely on Israel.”
There it is—he’s not so ill-informed or unaware about the nature of foreign policy as they would like us to think in the anti-Republican mainstream media. It looks like Trump was telling the Las Vegas audience that as president he would be ready to give the green light to Israel to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities, in stark contravention to the situation as it stands with Mr. Obama at present.
Trump then added he had not read the agreement, but he understands that the U.S. is obligated under its terms to defend Iran militarily in the event of an Israeli attack. To that, Trump said, “That’s why some agreements are made to be broken.”
Donald Trump must know that at present he is not presidential material. He said this week that he would begin to act presidential in the near future. Perhaps he sees campaigning as more of a street fight than a civilized political exchange of ideas. Perhaps now we see why the ladies and gentlemen in the race like Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, and Mike Huckabee had to suspend their campaigns and step aside.
Mr. Trump still has a lot to learn. For example, his primary victory speeches cannot exist exclusively of describing how much he loves all the people of a given state. And he has to stop ending sentences with “et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.” That type of response is just one step ahead of “blah, blah, blah.” Presidents do not talk that way. Some high-school students do.
And then there is the sports-contest imagery being used on the news in an attempt to bring the presidential-election process down to an elementary level that the common man or woman can relate to. After Mr. Trump won the Nevada caucuses by a wide margin, news stations were reporting, “Trump rolled to his third victory in a row.” It sounded more like a “Let’s Go Mets!” moment than anything else.
Trump’s occasional bumbling phraseology and empty or aimless declarations are still better than the standard Obama and Clinton doublespeak and deceptiveness.
But for better or for worse, we are seeing our form of government in action. They say that democracy is the worst type of governmental system in the world—that is, except for all the others.
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.