JERUSALEM — Watching the U.S. presidential elections from afar, Israelis — like many others in the world, I guess — are perplexed, even worried. It seems that, live on our television screens, the greatest democracy and the leader of the free world is committing a public hara-kiri.
Forget about the fact that never in the history of America the two candidates were so unpopular, even in their own respective camps. Forget about this race long being distracted from real issues to ugly mudslinging. The question is, what is going to happen to America — and to us, who look up to her for leadership — on November 9?
Everything has already been said about the two candidates, so the best way is to borrow a page from the wise Niccolo Machiavelli, who, half a millennium ago wrote “The Prince”, a treatise portraying the ideal ruler.
The prince is facing two threats, said Machiavelli, one external and one internal. Thwarting an external threat could be done with military power. It is rather the danger from within which should worry the ruler more: “The prince must consider . . . how to avoid those things which will make him hated or contemptible; and as often as he shall have succeeded he will have fulfilled his part, and he need not fear any danger in other reproaches.”
Which are the things, according to Machiavelli, that make a ruler despised by the people? “It makes him hated above all things . . . to be rapacious, and to be a violator of the property and women of his subjects, from both of which he must abstain.” Obviously, the likes of Donald Trump existed in 16th Century Italy to serve as models for Machiavelli.
Machiavelli could have possibly taught us some things about Hillary Clinton as well (although he wouldn’t foresee a woman ruling a state, so the language is masculine): “It makes him contemptible to be considered fickle, frivolous, effeminate, mean-spirited, irresolute, from all of which a prince should guard himself as from a rock; and he should endeavor to show in his actions greatness, courage, gravity, and fortitude; and in his private dealings with his subjects let him show that his judgments are irrevocable, and maintain himself in such reputation that no one can hope either to deceive him or to get round him.”
Had Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton heeded Machiavelli’s good advice, then on November 9, with either of them as the next president, the American people would have gone back to business as usual. Because, to quote Machiavelli again, “When neither their property nor honor is touched, the majority of men live content, and [the ruler] has only to contend with the ambition of a few, whom he can curb with ease in many ways.”
Alas, this is not the case. The next president will not have to deal with “the ambition of few” only, but with the rage and frustration of many, who might feel that both their property and honor have been touched.
If Hillary Clinton is elected and the Republicans hold their majority in the House and the Senate, they might immediately initiate more inquiry of her emails, and even push for her impeachment. Even if they stop short of that, they will surely torpedo any program she might push.
If, on the other hand, Donald Trump is elected, then many Americans might feel that something wrong has happened to their country, when due to anger that couldn’t be funneled into conventional political channels, paralysis of the Republican Party and the extreme unpopularity of Clinton, a man who is not fit to be president made it to the White House.
Looking at it through an Israeli prism, on the first week of November, adds another, somber, perspective. Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister of Israel, was assassinated 21 years ago. Nobody in 1995 was more experienced than Rabin — former chief of the IDF, former ambassador to the United States, former prime minister and defense minister. Nobody was more respected — he was the architect of the Six-Day War victory, and an honest man. And yet, he was assassinated by a fanatic who acted alone, but who had many silent supporters.
Does this mean that there is something wrong with democracy itself? Not necessarily. To quote Winston Churchill, “Democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” With that in mind, we’ll look forward to November 9 with anticipation, worries, but with hope as well.