It’s Benjamin Netanyahu’s World Now

It wasn’t always like this. In his 36 years as a diplomat and politician, Mr. Netanyahu has been reprimanded by the Reagan administration, nearly barred from entering the White House, and banned from the State Department during George H. W. Bush’s administration because of his criticism of its policies. He has been at loggerheads with President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama, both of whom could barely conceal their disdain for him. Now he has an administration that shares his positions almost instinctively.

The simplest explanation for this reversal of fortune is that the Trump administration is dominated by the two types of ideologues with whom Mr. Netanyahu has always gotten along best: foreign policy hawks like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the national security adviser, John Bolton, and Christian evangelicals like Vice President Mike Pence. And presiding over it all is Mr. Trump, a man who has known and admired Mr. Netanyahu since they first met in New York in the 1980s.

.. On May 9, the morning after the announcement on the Iran deal, Mr. Netanyahu was in Moscow as guest of honor at Russia’s Victory Day, standing beside President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Putin still supports the Iran deal, and is in tacit alliance with Iran, Israel’s deadly adversary. And yet the Russian president presented the Israeli prime minister as his country’s close ally. He has also allowed Israel to attack Iranian bases and weapons depots in Syria, and even to bomb Russian-built antiaircraft batteries.

.. Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump are not alone. Mr. Netanyahu has recently been feted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, President Xi Jinping of China, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, as well as a host of leaders of smaller countries — including those with far-right governments like Hungary, Poland and Austria. No less significantly, he has maintained close contacts with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and behind the scenes with the Arab leaders of the Persian Gulf.

Mr. Netanyahu is the toast of the new wave of right-wing, populist and autocrat-like (if not outright autocratic) leaders. They see in him a kindred spirit, even a mentor. He is the leader of a small country who has taken on American presidents and outlasted them. He has successfully defied the Western liberal human rights agenda, focusing instead on trade and security. Israel’s success as a regional economic and military power is proof in their eyes that the illiberal approach can prevail.

He has spent more time than any of them on the geopolitical stage, winning election after election. In many ways, Mr. Netanyahu is the precursor to this new age of “strongmen” who have come to power in different parts of the world. It is the age of Bibi.

.. He has identified a trend: The world is tiring of the Palestinian issue.

.. Mr. Netanyahu has hastened this trend by expanding Israeli diplomacy with Asian and African countries, which have shown little interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict, but are eager to acquire Israeli technology, both civilian and military.

.. Mr. Netanyahu believes he has won the argument. He has proved that the world, not even the Arab nations, doesn’t really care about the Palestinian issue. That Israel can continue enjoying economic growth, regional military dominance and improving foreign relations despite its military control over the lives of millions of stateless Palestinians.

Trump’s World and the Retreat of Shame

Viktor Orban, the prime minister, declares that, “We do not want to be diverse and do not want to be mixed; we do not want our own color, traditions and national culture to be mixed with those of others.” Now, what color, precisely, are Hungarians, and what color were the nearly 440,000 Jews deported by the Nazis, mostly to Auschwitz, in 1944 with the cooperation of Hungarian authorities?

.. Mateusz Morawiecki, the prime minister of Poland, another European Union member state, defends a new law that makes it a crime to accuse “the Polish nation” of complicity in any “Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich.” He says there were also “Jewish perpetrators” of the Holocaust.

Yes, shame is in retreat; decency too. Freedom is in retreat. The American president expresses semi-joking approval for Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, extending his rule indefinitely.

.. Why the illiberal counterrevolution? “First,” Berman tells me, “because there’s always a counterrevolution! Second, fear. You can only understand the macho cartoons that are Putin and Trump through the fear aroused by the revolution in women’s rights. Fear of globalization, too, and then we have this cultural collapse that leads so many Americans to be incapable of seeing at a glance that Trump should not be president.”

The Glory of Democracy

On college campuses, according to a Brookings/UCLA survey, 50 percent of students believe that “offensive” speech should be shouted down and 20 percent believe it should be violently crushed.

.. Democracy begins with one great truth, he argued: the infinite dignity of individual men and women. Man is made in God’s image. Unlike other animals, humans are morally responsible. Yes, humans do beastly things — Mann had just escaped the Nazis — but humans are the only creatures who can understand and seek justice, freedom and truth.

.. Monarchies produce great paintings, but democracy teaches citizens to put their art into action, to take their creative impulses and build a world around them.

.. Democratic citizens are not just dreaming; they are thinkers who sit on the town council. He quotes the philosopher Bergson’s dictum: “Act as men of thought, think as men of action.”

.. Mann argued that the enemies of democracy aren’t just fascists with guns. They are anybody who willfully degrades the public square — the propagandists and demagogues. “They despise the masses … while they make themselves the mouthpiece of vulgar opinion.”

.. all they see is the grubby striving for money and power and attention.

.. The authoritarians and the demagogues subjugate action through bullying and they subjugate thought by arousing mob psychology.

.. “This is the contempt of pure reason, the denial and violation of truth in favor of power and the interests of the state, the appeal to the lower instincts, to so-called ‘feeling,’

 

Trump vs. the First Amendment

the hallmark elements of the president’s political style:

  • ignorance,
  • stupidity,
  • pettiness, and
  • malice.

.. the FCC does not license networks or cable channels. NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox News, etc., do not have FCC licenses to review or revoke. The FCC licenses individual stations.

.. Bill Mitchell, the Trump sycophant whose comprehensive lack of self-respect makes Paul Begala look like Cincinnatus, went on to argue that print publications such as Vanity Fair and the Washington Post should have their licenses revoked, too

There is no such thing as a newspaper license in the United States. There is the First Amendment.

.. Gutting the First Amendment is one of the top priorities of the Democratic party, which seeks to revoke its protection of political speech — i.e., the thing it’s really there to protect — so that they can put restrictions on political activism, which restrictions they call “campaign-finance reform.”

.. They abominate the Supreme Court’s solid First Amendment decision in Citizens United, a case that involved not “money in politics” but the basic free-speech question of whether political activists should be allowed to show a film critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton in the days before an election. (Making a film and distributing it costs money, you see, hence “money in politics.”) They lost that one, but every Democrat in Harry Reid’s Senate — every one of them — voted to repeal the First Amendment.

.. Right-wing populists, too, are an illiberal bunch

.. They are repeating the progressives’ mistake: imagining what their guy could do with vast new antidemocratic powers while never bothering to consider that the other side’s guy is probably going to get in there one of these days and enjoy the same powers.

.. Free speech is extraordinarily unpopular on college campuses, and California has just enacted a flatly unconstitutional law that would empower the government to put people in jail for failing to use the preferred pronoun of a transgender person.