After Tuesday’s debate, Israelis no longer look to US politics with envy
Trump and Biden took to each other Tuesday night as if no one in the world was watching, and as if there was no tomorrow.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in the first 2020 presidential campaign debate held on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., September 29, 2020
(photo credit: OLIVIER DOULIERY/POOL VIA REUTERS)
If Tuesday night’s raucous US presidential debate left any lasting impression on Israelis who might have tuned in, it was probably to cure them of any lingering America envy.
Or at least envy regarding the way politics works in the United States.
There was a time, not that long ago, when Israelis – fed up with what they viewed as the dysfunctionality of their own political system – looked longingly at how politics seemed to work so well in America.
So much so, that there was a time when much of the country wanted to adopt aspects of the American system here: from the primaries, to a brief stint of debates, to voting separately for the prime minister and the legislators in the Knesset.
This was born of the notion that government in America worked and was orderly and efficient, that politics there – much more than here – had gravitas, was dignified, decent and full of decorum.
Any remnants of that over-romanticization of the American political system and its brand of politics went out the window Tuesday during the 90-minute debate between US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, former vice president Joe Biden.
Decorum? Well that pretty much left the stage when Trump jumped into Biden’s words at about the eight-minute mark, and continued to do so all night long, leaving the seemingly helpless moderator, Fox News’ Chris Wallace, straining to take control of the event.
Gravitas? None of that when Biden calls the US president a “clown” on two separate occasions, and a “fool” on another.
Decency? Little decency in the president essentially calling his opponent’s son a cocaine sniffer.
Dignified? Not exactly the case when the challenger tells Trump to “shut up.”
Winston Churchill, over his long political career, sparred bitterly and often with his political rivals, but he did so with class, with witty repartee – not with schoolyard taunts and “well-he-started-it” rebuttals.
Trump and Biden took to each other Tuesday night as though no one in the world were watching, and as though there were no tomorrow.
But people are watching, and there will be a tomorrow. And tomorrow America’s rivals and friends around the globe will have to deal with the man who emerges victorious on November 3. But how much respect will they have for a man (Trump) dubbed a fool and a clown by his challenger, or another man (Biden) of whom the president said, “There is nothing smart about you, Joe.”
This wasn’t a debate, where the public is edified by learning of the political positions of the two candidates. This was late-night talk radio; it was the recitation of Twitter barbs and insults.
This is not to say that the situation in Israel is any better, or that in the three election campaigns over the last 18 months our candidates comported themselves with any greater dignity. But, unfortunately, we have come to expect that.
We always expected more of America, however. At least until recently. We expected the president, and the presidential candidates, to behave presidentially.
None of that was on display Tuesday evening.
What was on display, rather, was the sad state of political discourse in much of the West today, discourse that is shallow, coarse and insulting.
Discourse where all issues are black-and-white, without any middle ground, without any nuance. Discourse where the person who thinks differently from you cannot merely have a different opinion, but must be an anarchist or a fascist.
Discourse where people don’t debate but shout.
Discourse where the goal is to cancel the other out.
On Tuesday night, you had a former vice president saying to the current president, “Just shut up, man,” and the sitting president saying to a former vice president,
“Joe, you’re the liar – you graduated last in your class, not first in your class.”
The debate was mean, wince-worthy and ugly. Few in Israel, or anywhere else in the world, are going to look at that spectacle and say, “Why can’t we just be more like America?”
And that’s just sad, because Israelis, and the world, still need a shining city on the hill which it can strive to emulate.