Donald Trump just appointed an Ambassador to Israel who has called me a murderer. Am I supposed to be OK with that?

The latest line being pushed by Trumpsters, Republicans, and some Very Serious People, including my good friends Gleen Loury and Megan McArdle, is roughly: “You lost. Get over it. Trump will be our President, and we all need him to succeed. Don’t rock the boat by questioning his legitimacy.”

I hear that. A generation of slash-and-burn Republicanism has so weakened all of our key institutions, and the norms of restraint, civility, and reciprocity necessary to make a Madisonian regime operate, that the survival of the Republic is now genuinely in question. There’s a case to be made for pretending that Donald Trump is a normal human being and hoping that he will stop his pathological lying and grow up to be a real, live President. Barack Obama, the victim of Trump’s systematic campaign of libel (enabled by Fox News and many Republican politicians) acted on that idea at yesterday’s press conference.

But I’m not buying.

A seemingly minor appointment illustrates why I’m not buying, and why I will never accept Trump as holding anything but the limited legal powers the Constitution gives the President: no moral authority, no call on our cooperation, no presumption of good will or good faith, no presumption even that he is acting out of loyalty to the national interest.

Two days ago Trump appointed as Ambassador to Israel a man named David Friedman, his personal bankruptcy lawyer (which, as you might imagine, makes him a very important person to a professional bust-out artist such as Trump). Naturally, Friedman is a lunatic extremist when it comes to the Israel/Palestine question, asserting that Israel should deny voting rights and public services to its Arab citizens unless they pass some sort of loyalty test and that it is free to rule the West Bank indefinitely while extending no civic rights to its inhabitants and stealing as much of their land as it pleases for settlements. Indeed, he runs a non-profit designed to support one such venture, grossly illegal not only under international law but actually under Israeli law, as the Israeli courts have repeatedly ruled.

Well, that’s no surprise. It’s not even very important, since the Ambassador doesn’t make policy.

But Friedman’s hatred of Palestinians extends - as is often the case among right-wing Jewish extremists - to hatred of all Jews who aren’t right-wing extremists. As recently as June, Friedman published an essay in which he said that members of J Street - the moderate Zionist group that favors a two-state solution - are “far worse than kapos - Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps.”

Kapos were accomplices in mass murder. Some were killed by their fellow prisoners when the camps were liberated. Some of them were tried and executed for war crimes. Even years later, they were at risk of extrajudicial vengeance: undoubtedly illegal, but widely thought to be justified.

Now, as it happens, I’m a member of J Street. So Trump just nominated someone who called me a murderer, and implicitly called for my murder in turn. Of course I don’t expect to actually share the fate of Yitzhak Rabin - murdered by one of the illegal settlers Friedman supports, someone who had listened to the kind of rhetoric Friedman spouts and took it literally - but I resent it all the same, just as I resent Trump’s collusion in making anti-Semitism one again an active factor in American life. Of course liberal Jews are not the only objects of Trumpian hate speech, but equally of course I tend to take hate speech personally when it personally applies to me.

We’ve heard a lot from the right wing about how liberals get the terrorism problem wrong because we fail to understand radical evil. There’s some justice to that claim and I’m working to improve in that regard.  So I’m glad to report having made enough progress that I recognize radical evil when it moves into the White House.






Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

17 thoughts on “Donald Trump just appointed an Ambassador to Israel who has called me a murderer. Am I supposed to be OK with that?”

  1. I am not often at a loss for words, but this appointment seems to have done it. (What may be worse is that his appointment is likely yo be greeted warmly by Israel's ruling party.)

  2. It's a rare day when I find myself defending McArdle, but in reading her column I do not find the sentiment, "We all need him to succeed." It seems mostly to be a call to accept the EC result calmly.

    Of course we don't need Trump to succeed. Given his objectives, we need him to fail. By that I don't mean we need a depression. I mean first his apparent policy ideas, and those of his appointees, are bad ones, and he should fail in enacting them. In addition, I'd like to see him fail at turning the White House into a personal ATM. I hope McArdle can agree with the latter, at least.

  3. A few years ago, Prof. Kleiman posted something that could be taken to imply that incitement is (? potentially) protected speech. At any rate, I so took it. Let us stipulate, at this lapse of time, that in so doing, I was being unfair. (The proposition is, after all, absurd on its face.)

    Anyhow, I called him out for it in this forum, expressing my customary view that no kind or amount of incitement can be tolerated.

    Not long thereafter — I think less than one year — Prof. Kleiman made another post, quite properly deprecating incitement. I do not recall whether that deprecation was narrowly qualified. In this forum, I praised him for his change of heart, but I am afraid that I did so rather sarcastically, which may have obscured my intent. If it did, I am sorry. All credit where due.

    Today we have another moment of clarity, as Prof. Kleiman finds his own personal self being directly and unmistakeably the target of incitement. (The very many previous occasions upon which he — and I, and innumerable others — were *implicitly* incited against are here neglected, even though they were equally unmistakeable for all that they were implicit.)

    I dare hope, then, that the epiphany is, or has been, complete, and that Prof. Kleiman will defend himself, or me, or whomsoever, against any and all incitement, absolutely regardless of its form, its expression, the forum in which it is promulgated, whether it is explicit or implicit, whether it is individual or affilation-based, etc. — as I shall defend him, because the principle is a sacred one and admits of no qualification.

    1. Absolutely no idea what you're talking about, since you don't provide any references.
      But of course what Friedman said is incitement, and equally of course it's protected speech.
      If I say that "Donald Trump is an immediate threat to the survival of the Republic," someone could certainly take that as a justification for violence. To that extent, my remark would constitute "incitement." But it's also a political opinion solidly supported by evidence, and clearly protected by the First Amendment.
      What am I missing?

      The 'incitement" *not* protected by free speech law is direct incitement to imminent violence. When Trump encouraged his mobs to assault protesters at his rallies, he was obviously committing incitement to riot. And since he traveled across state lines with plans to do so in mind, he could have been prosecuted under the "Rap Brown Act." But Trump is as legally free to say "Mexicans are rapists" as someone else is to say "Cops are murderers."

      As to Friedman's outrage: no, I don't feel threatened, and as far as I can tell am not in fact threatened, though some prominent J Streeter might be. I'm affronted, and I'm reacting to the affront.

  4. One of the reasons I identify more as a Democrat is because more often, they're the adults in the room. Various Republican politicians loved to go on about how Obama would destroy the U.S. if he was elected, or how he'd REALLY destroy the U.S. this time if he was re-elected, or how Hillary would be the death knell of our republic.

    And now, "the survival of the Republic is now genuinely in question," from a lefty viewpoint.

    I don't have an opinion on the rest of your comment, because I stopped reading after I see absurd hyperbole.

    1. I do not think it is absurd hyperbole. Is it a realistic fear? I think it is not unreasonable. Consider events in NC for starters.

      My own opinion is that Republicans are engaged in a slow-motion coup against democracy in the US, and there are damn few of them willing to oppose it.

    2. Ah, both sides-ism at its finest. There was no reason to think Obama would actually do anything wildly out of line with the norms of American democracy. None. People who thought this were engaging in baseless speculation. If Romney were elected president, I'd be upset, but I would not be fundamentally worried about the future of American democracy. Trump has already repeatedly demonstrated that he doesn't respect the institutions or norms over and over again, that he admires authoritarian leaders the world over, and that he's willing to use his power to be vindictive about personal grudges. Among other things. None of this is normal. None of this is okay.

    3. Is this a more economical, non-hyper, reasonable statement? If Trump winds up doing serious damage to our democracy, no one will be able to credibly claim that they didn't see it coming. Alternatively, if Trump intends to severely damage democratic norms, he has shown us that intent repeatedly, in broad daylight. Straight, no chaser.

      To be clear, we cannot know at this time what Trump intends to do, or whether he's even capable of forming and carrying out intentions like a normal human. We cannot know what will happen if Trump intends the worst - will Republicans, or Dems or the courts or grassroots activists stop him, or at least make it difficult enough that he loses interest?

      What we do know, in addition to all the ridiculous things he said in the campaign, is that Trump is the first American president to lie - repeatedly, brazenly and frequently nonsensically - as a tool of statecraft. Authoritarians and totalitarians do this, democratic leaders in countries that observe the rule of law do not. In democracies, politicians expect to be at least minimally accountable for their words, and even more so for their public acts, and conduct themselves accordingly. If Trump has made anything clear in the last two years - and really his entire career - it is that he regards anyone who believes a word he says as a sucker who deserves to be lied to. He will do anything he darn well pleases, and if you don't like it, well, what are you going to do about it?

  5. There is no valid reasoning from "Republicans often make false assertions about threats to the Republic" to "All assertions about threats to the Republic are false." A President who spent much of the campaign directly encouraging violence against opponents and who opposes free speech while endorsing torture is a real threat, especially because his party seems disinclined to rein him in.

    1. But it IS absurd hyperbole, and you know it to be. If "the survival of the Republic is now genuinely in question," you wouldn't just be blogging about it. You'd be marching, organizing, knocking on doors, signing people up. You'd be in action if you really thought what you claim to think.

      It was laughable when Republicans did it, and electing a narcissistic people-pleaser doesn't make it less risible now.

    2. Another threat to the Republic: an electorate for whom abysmal ignorance is not an automatic deal breaker when choosing a President.

  6. Not for nothing, but we tried that whole "let's come together for the good of the nation" stuff back in 2000. How did that work out for us?

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, you can't get fooled again.

    1. Yes, and that election resulted in the Iraq war, the 2008 financial crisis and the appointments of the Supreme Court justices who made it possible to overturn section IV of the voting rights act.
      We have every reason to believe that Trump will be worse than that.

  7. It sounds like Friedman is right in line with Israel and the people who continue to put Netanyahu in office and the American Congress who continue to support Israeli policy with our tax dollars and more. Are you saying they are all evil and wrong?

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