Ciao Dear Diary! Sometimes I feel like you’re the only one I can talk to. I mean, Donald is sweet, but he’s sooo busy, you know? And Barron, well, he’s a good boy, but he’s a little slow, like his grandpa—I mean, my father, not Donald’s. We never did get Daddy diagnosed. Of course, in Slovenia there weren’t good doctors, and we didn’t have any money anyway, which all changed, of course, when I married Donald, but by then, Daddy was gone, and, you know…Well, there I go again, prattling away!!!!
Somebody asked me today what I’ll do when I’m F.L. and my first thought was “What are they talking about, Fort Lauderdale? Nobody lives in Fort Lauderdale except old Jews.” But then I realized she meant FIRST LADY! Yes, I guess I’m going to have to get used to it. I’ve been reading about my predecessors lately…well, not really reading, because you know me and books, we don’t really get along. But Donald hired a professional historian of First Ladies to tutor me. So far, my favorites are Abigail Adams, who I understand was married to a very early President, not George Washington, another one…oh, yes, James Adams, I think it was. Or maybe Abraham Adams? One of those old guys who wore a wig. Can you imagine Donald in a wig? Giggles! I also like Mrs. Bush, not Laura, whom I haven’t met yet, I mean the first Mrs. Bush, the one with the big white hair, Barbara. She came to Mar-a-Lago last month, very hush-hush, we had to practically smuggle her in in a carpet, it was so secretive. A very nice lady, a bit, shall we say, plus-sized, but not everyone can be a size two like me! Mrs. Bush was telling me about Nancy Reagan, who I also like. So fashionable! Such good taste. Now that was a First Lady to inspire the little people! Donald met her a couple of times. He didn’t like her, to tell you the truth. He said she was a c-word. But Donald says that about a lot of women. I asked Mrs. Bush how I could get in touch with Nancy Reagan, but Mrs. Bush told me the poor thing is dead. Oh well!
But you know who my favorite First Lady was? Yes, Dear Diary, none other than Jackie Kennedy!!! I admit I don’t know much about history, but everybody knew about Jackie. Growing up in Ljubljana I had some magazines with her picture. So pretty! Such a good dresser. Her favorite designer was James Galanos who also dressed Nancy Reagan. When I heard that, I asked Mr. Comey (Donald told me I could ask him for an occasional favor) to find Mr. Galanos for me, so he could design my inaugural gown, but Mr. Comey discovered he died just last October!!!! Isn’t that weird??? So many people are dying, aren’t they? I don’t know what’s going on. I mean, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds??? Anyway, I have my final gown fitting next week, but I can’t really tell you anything about it, Dear Diary, because I promised Donald I wouldn’t tell anyone. And you are someone!!! But I will tell you, it’s very cute, an off-the-shoulder with a bustier bodice, and red. When Donald saw it he said it was smoking hot!
I don’t know, Dear Diary, I think I have what they call “mixed feelings” about being First Lady. Thank God I’m not going to have to live in that awful White House. Such a bunch of junk! All those ugly old paintings of dead people, it’s like a morgue! Cold, drafty, and people everywhere—Mrs. Bush said they come right into your bedroom! It’s like living in the subway. You have no privacy. I’m glad Donald’s going to let me stay here, in the Tower, while Barron’s in school. Ivanka’s more of a hostess than me, to be perfectly honest. I know people think I’m this big social butterfly, but really, I like nothing better than scrunching up in my big chair in the bedroom, in my little cotton snuggie, watching Celebrity Apprentice. Give me a bottle of Pinot Grigio, some crudités and hummus, and I’m all set!!!
A friend mentioned the 1987 book And The Band Played On the other day, and since I had it on my bookshelf I grabbed it and showed it to her; it surprised her that I had it. That book is, of course, the late reporter Randy Shilts’ story of the early days of the AIDS epidemic; Randy, who was gay, wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, and during the Eighties he was the only American journalist covering the story fulltime.
I told my friend that I knew a great many of the people mentioned in the book, since I was living in San Francisco at the time, in the Castro District. I’d first read it a long time ago, but decided to re-read it, since any good book is worth multiple reads. I was about halfway through, yesterday, when I was searching through HBO looking for a good movie and inadvertently came across the documentary The Battle of AmFAR, which tells the story of the founding of the American Foundation for AIDS Research by Dr. Mathilde Krim and Elizabeth Taylor. I’d seen that documentary, too, years ago, but, with those far-off days fresh on my mind, decided to re-watch it.
The book and the documentary both made me cry, the latter especially, since the visual images and the sound of Dr. Krim’s and Elizabeth Taylor’s voices are so powerful; and if you went through the epidemic as I did in San Francisco, the emotional memories are seared into your brain. Both those two women, Dr. Krim and Elizabeth, were extraordinary. Elizabeth was absolutely ferocious in battling AIDS, in raising money and consciousness among both healthcare professionals and the general public, and in calling out the Reagan administration for its shocking ignorance of the disease—and I use the word “ignorance” in a dual capacity, for Reagan was both unknowledgeable about AIDS (because he didn’t care) and because he ignored the epidemic throughout his presidency.
As I was watching the documentary I felt that, somehow, there was a connection between all of this and the current situation our country is undergoing, in which a Tea Party-dominated Trump administration is about to take office. There has been a good deal of concern in the LGBT community that Trump is going to be unfriendly to LGBTs. Trump’s surrogates have pointed out, correctly, that he didn’t make an issue of gay marriage during the campaign, and that he actually said he thought transgendered people in North Carolina should be able to use whatever bathroom they preferred.
I am impressed by that, but we have to look beyond Trump’s words to his actions and be on our guard. Whom did he just nominate to head the Department of Health and Human Services? Tom Price, a Republican congressman, who is also an orthopedic surgeon. (Trump initially offered HHS to Dr. Ben Carson, and thank God Carson turned it down; he is a vicious homophobe who’s on the record as claiming that gay marriage will “lead to polygamy…and on from there,” an echo of Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum’s slur that gay marriage will result in humans marrying animals.)
But who is Tom Price, really? He is a Christian, a Georgia Republican whose record on health issues is not reassuring. He is, of course, anti-abortion, and would go so far as to grant “personhood” rights even to zygotes. He’s against federal funding of stem cell research. On LGBT issues, he has a perfect rating—zero—on the issues from the Human Rights Campaign, the leading LGBT organization in the country. When the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2015, Price said it was “a sad day for marriage.” Price has displayed a Falwellian insanity when it comes to gays, as for instance when he blamed Super-Storm Sandy on New York State’s marriage equality laws.
Now, when I say “Falwellian insanity,” here’s what I mean: Jerry Falwell, one of the most pathologically reactionary and theocratic politicians in U.S. history, said that AIDS was “God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”
And so, you see, we’ve come full circle—back to AIDS, to Reagan’s ignorance of it (in both senses), back to a time of Republican domination, with evangelical intolerance, and back to this impending Trump administration. I don’t give a damn what Trump said or didn’t say about LGBT issues during the campaign (when he told so many lies, you didn’t know what to believe). I care about the people he is appointing to run his government. With this Price nomination, Trump is showing every indication of applying his famous vindictiveness to bludgeon the LGBT community, or to allow religious fanatics who hate gays to determine policy. I can guarantee him that, if he does, the community will fight back, using any means necessary.
Hi Dear Diary,
I really threw ‘em a curveball when I said I have information on the hacking that the intelligence agencies don’t.
I love it! They still can’t figure me out, which is exactly where I want ‘em: off-balance. Keep ‘em guessing. They never know what hits ‘em until it’s too late.
Sure, I know that the FBI, the CIA, Homeland Security and the Defense Intelligence Agency all have concluded that Putin personally ordered the hacks. But what the hell do they know? These are the people, after all, who brought us WMD in Iraq. #Losers! Who needs ‘em? Not me. Look, I have friends all over the world who know more than any U.S. spy. I am personal friends with the leaders of Singapore, Russia, Bahrain, Slovakia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Zaire, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuala Lumpur, Congo—hell, all of ‘em have stayed at my resorts and played golf on my courses, and I’m building hotels there. Nice little countries, too. Well-run, and they don’t kill businesses with communistic regulations, like this one. You know, before I married Melania, I dated the daughter of the Prime Minister of Latvia. Svetlana was her name. Hot! Nice p***y! Kind of reminds me of Ivanka. You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff she told me. Pillow talk is better than spying. So I don’t need these so-called “intelligence services” to tell me what’s up!
Besides, what if Putin was behind the DNC and Podesta leaks? We should give him a medal, not sanctions! The American people needed that information, and God knows the Democrats weren’t gonna release it. Putin’s a good guy, he really is. He just wanted to help Americans know the truth about Crooked Hillary and the way that awful Wasserman-Schultz tried to kill off Bernie. What’s wrong with that?
So I told the mainstream media (hate ‘em, but you gotta string ‘em along) that I know things the intelligence agencies don’t because it could be somebody else hacking, not Putin. Well, who can argue with that? It could be some 300-pound guy in a La-Z-Boy in Paramus for all we know. A friend of mine (can’t tell you his name, Diary) told me he thinks the emails were released by the Democrats themselves in a huuuuge plot to bring me and Putin down! I wouldn’t put it past ‘em. They’re scared of me. After suffering the worst electoral college defeat in history, the Democrats are running around like chickens with their heads cut off.
Wait a minute, Diary. I’m getting a tweet from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They want to know if I want them to sing a Lawrence Welk song at the inauguration. I’ll tell them, Great! Welk was a true American. I’ll ask them for “Champagne Time.” Nice little ditty.
Uh, wait a minute again, Diary, Melania just came in to ask me if she’s showing too much cleavage for tonight’s party at Mar-a-Lago. I told her, “Darling, there’s no such thing as too much when it comes to cleavage.” And I believe that. Well, except for uggers. Good thing Hillary never showed cleavage because, after all, the American people don’t want to throw up. Can you believe her? Not attractive! Wonder where she gets it these days. Donna Brazile? Memo to Comey: find out. Certainly not from Bill, who—I’m reliably informed—has a patootie or two on the DL in Harlem.
So when I meet with these intelligence agency heads this week, here’s what I’m going to tell them. “Guys, starting Jan. 20, I’m your commander-in-chief. You take your orders from me, see? It’s time to move past the hacking, the election, the Cold War. We’re gonna make nice with Putin. I want you to share all your intelligence with Russian intelligence because, after all, we’re in this together in the War on Islamic Terrorism. What’s that, Brennan? You wanna know if the Russians will share their intel with us? They will with me! Vlad’s got me on speed-dial. I’ll let you know if there’s anything you need to know. Meanwhile, get the hell outta here! Scram. I’ll let you know when I wanna see you again.”
Gee, Diary, it’s gonna be fun being POTUS!
Over the New Year’s weekend, Trump made two statements. Both reveal conjoined facets of his personality. Both are deeply disturbing, and call into question, once again, his mental fitness to be President.
The first, concerning #Electiongate—which Trump still denies had anything to do with his BFF, Vladimir Putin—was: The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what’s going on.” This is very telling, because it implies Trump’s worldview that, since factual knowledge no longer exists (if it ever did), then the interpretation of reality is a spectator sport in which Truth is the first casualty. This is what we would expect from a person who has based his political career on lies. “Nobody knows exactly what’s going on.” That is so Trumpian. If nobody knows what’s going on, then when Trump says he won an electoral landslide, maybe it’s true (even though it was a lie). If he said Obama was born in Kenya (even though that was a lie), maybe it really is true; if nobody knows what’s going on, then anything is possible. If he said he won the popular vote except for “millions” of illegal voters in California—another massive lie–that too may be true in some parallel universe, if nobody knows what’s going on. So we shouldn’t be surprised that Trump loves a world in which “facts” are as mythical as unicorns. He thrives in such a world, which he cohabits with (let’s face it) ignorant people who, like him, don’t believe in truth, or in any valid external reality. This is Trump as propagandist, spinmeister, deliberate obfuscator. This is also the incoming President of the United States: a man who can’t tell the difference between truth and falsehood or, if he can, doesn’t care. Our response should be: Actually, Mr. Trump, many of us do know what’s going on. And we are going to make sure the Age of Trump is mercifully brief.
His second statement, via—what else?—Twitter, was made on New Year’s Eve. It followed an earlier remark he made in which he called for unity following the divisive election: “Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together…I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans.”
Very inspiring! Very Lincoln-esque, for those who missed the reference to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. Whoever had the chutzpah to associate Trump with Abraham Lincoln–Kellyanne Conway?–is truly living in an alternate universe! Or maybe they were just being perverse.
But a little while later, sitting (coked up?) in front of his computer, Trump just couldn’t resist the impulse to let his vindictive, mean self emerge. “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”
Suddenly the spirit of “binding wounds” is shoved ruthlessly aside, and Trump’s dark Nixonian streak crawls out. Enemies! Wow. I thought the enemy was Islamic terrorism. But, no, in Trump world it’s the 66 million Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton—3 million more than voted for him. He isn’t even sworn in yet and already he’s calling Americans who disagree with him his “enemies.”
I don’t know how that makes you feel, but for me, it’s frightening and highly discouraging. Any hope we might have had that this was going to be a decent Presidency is disappearing by the second, with every stupid tweet, every ongoing lie, every revelation that at the core of Trump’s consciousness is a black lump of resentment and anger. (Of course, those are the very factors that turned his voters on, because they share them.)
I believe that our initial confusion in the immediate aftermath of the election—“OMG, what do we do now?”—is quickly clarifying into resolution. The #NotMyPresident and #TheResistance movements are gathering steam. Multiple counter-inaugural activities are scheduled for Jan. 20-21. The entertainment industry is giving him the finger; Trump is unable to find any entertainers for his big inauguration, except for the white supremacist has-been Ted Nugent and the rockin’ Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Meanwhile, a massive counter-inaugural event, “We the People,” is taking shape that could be one of the biggest shows since Woodstock. Donald Trump surely is aware that more Americans hate and fear him than ever before for any incoming President in modern history. A decent, morally-moored POTUS—a Barack Obama—would be deeply troubled by this, and would be searching his soul for ways to reach out, reconcile, change hearts and minds (as, indeed, Obama did when he was elected, and never stopped trying to do).
Instead, we have a Trump whining about his “enemies.” As he himself might tweet, #Pathetic.
Did you ever read an op-ed piece that made you so angry, you wanted to rip it up and flush it down the toilet? I did, yesterday—not once, but twice.
The first was called “Does a ‘Never Trumper’ need to be forgiven?” and was in the National Review. It was authored by Jonah Goldberg. A rightwing Republican, Goldberg was not for Trump during the campaigns. He admits upfront he was “wrong” in believing Trump could not win the nomination, or the election if he were nominated—which puts him in the same category as a lot of us. He admits also that his chief concern was Trump’’s “character,” which he describes as “unrestrained ego, impoverished impulse-control and contempt for policy due diligence…Character is destiny,” he warns.
Okay, so far, so good…right track, Jonah!
But then, Goldberg goes off the rails. Just when I thought that maybe, just maybe there’s hope for a Tea Party radical to occasionally stumble into the truth, Goldberg undermines his own argument by stating that Trump’s “Cabinet appointments and policy proposals [are] reassuring.” Trump, he claims, “has surrounded himself with some serious and sober-minded people who will try to constrain and contain the truly dangerous aspects of his character.”
How’s that again? After assuring us of Trump’s dangerous character, he tells us, Hey, Trump may be psychotic, he may be a lunatic with his finger on the nuclear codes, but not to worry, because he’s surrounded by sober-minded people–like Newt Gingrich? The religious extremist David Friedman? Rick “Ooops” Perry? Doctor Ben Carson, who doesn’t believe in evolution? Jeff Sessions, the former Ku Klux Klansman? Steve Bannon, the white supremacist? Rex Tillerson, who makes his money off bromancing Putin? I suppose some “good Germans” convinced themselves in the 1930s that Hitler, who everyone knew was mad, couldn’t do much harm because he surrounded himself with “sober-minded people” like Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Goering and Joachim von Ribbentrop.
Look Jonah Goldberg, if you had the awareness to discern Trump’s mental sickness, then nothing gives you the right to predict everything will be okay because he’s surrounded by sober-minded people. You knew during the campaign that Trump was unfit to be President. You know he still is. You’re either fooling yourself with these lame excuses, or you’re hoping to earn your way into his good graces so you’ll get invited to press conferences and state dinners. But then, consider the source: Jonah Goldberg is the son of Lucianne Goldberg, who in the 1990s was one of the nastiest rightwing activists in the country, a spy who infiltrated McGovern’s campaign to discredit it, and the woman who talked Linda Tripp into bringing her Monica Lewinsky tapes to the abominable Kenneth Starr. Jonah, her son, was raised in this poisonous atmosphere of sexual obsession and hatred for liberal democracy; he worked alongside his mother to bring about Clinton’s impeachment, and now is a denizen of the worst rightwing rags in the country. This is clearly a man who isn’t running on all cylinders; one feels almost sorry for him these days, having alienated himself from his own party and, apparently, from his own conscience. As Trump might tweet, #Pathetic.
The other article—even worse—is by the foremost Clinton and Obama hater of our generation, Karl Rove. It was in the Wall Street Journal and was called “A Preview of Obama’s Post-Presidency.” When I saw the headline, I thought, this could be interesting. Perhaps Rove will speculate, in a genuinely historical way, about what Obama might do, comparing him to other former Presidents, like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton (both admirable ex-POTUSes) and George W. Bush, who seems to do nothing but hang out in Crawford and occasionally give a paid speech.
But no, Rove just can’t get that lump of hatred out of his sphincters. Instead of something intellectual, in the very first sentence Rove calls Obama “whiny, self-justifying, and bursting with excuses.” And that’s just for starters. In the last sentence, Rove predicts Obama will be “a carping, persistent presence in our nation’s capital.” As for the nonsense inbetween the opening and closing sentences, it’s nothing but a screed of vile insults.
All I will say is that President Obama’s job approval rating in the third week of December, according to Real Clear Politics, was 53.6%, higher than both Ronald Reagan’s and George W. Bush’s when they left office. (And let’s not forget Michelle Obama, another frequent target of Rove’s character assassinations, whose approval rating was much higher than her husband’s, an amazing 66%.)
Rove knows, I know, and you know (although Trump may not) that Obama is going to go down in the history books as a major President—and Republicans will be vilified for their obstructionism and racism. If history records Rove at all in some footnote, it will be as a partisan attack dog of the far right who developed the skills (since mastered by Trump) of lies, innuendo and disinformation, from his first political campaign to the dirty work he did for George W. Bush, who Rove also knows will be ranked by historians in the lowest tier of U.S. Presidents. The last thing Rove wants is an articulate former Democratic President, particularly a black man, having a voice of influence in coming years, who is trusted by wide majorities of Americans. That, I would argue, is exactly what we need–and there is no better person to fulfill it than Barack Obama.
One of the first things I learned when I started blogging and engaging on social media was to avoid C.U.I., or “commenting under the influence.” We all know that people get into trouble when their judgment is impaired and they say and do stupid things online. Anthony Weiner is a good example. But there’s a new poster boy in town for C.U.I. and his name is Donald Trump.
I couldn’t say whether or not Trump’s tweets are influenced by drugs. (I believe he doesn’t drink alcohol.) There have been rumors about cocaine, which make sense, given his fitfulness, but that may just be his type-A New York personality. But if he’s not doing drugs, nonetheless he really should have someone by his side—Kellyanne Conway?—to keep him from tweeting when he would be better off keeping his mouth shut.
Look at all the trouble he’s already stirred up, and he’s not even sworn in. From Electiongate to his ridiculous claims of an electoral landslide to his lovey-dovey suckup to Putin to his frightening remarks about a nuclear arms race to his insults of a sitting President to his dismissive remarks about NATO to his lie that millions of people voted illegally in the election to his interference in the Middle Eastern peace process, Trump has been acting like a stoner, impulsive, angry, provoking, totally unreflective about the consequences of his actions, just flashing out hormonal kneejerks. He probably thinks very highly of himself, and is relying on his trusted intuition, when in reality most observers—including senior Republicans—are terribly upset by his utter lack of thoughtfulness. But Repubs can’t really say anything because they’re afraid of him.
Trump likes to say that he wants to be unpredictable, but I don’t believe that. I think he stumbles from one bizarre position to another, often contradicting himself halfway, because he hasn’t studied issues, and doesn’t understand them, and doesn’t want to take the time to understand them (hence his refusal to read his daily intelligence briefings). Trump himself is sensitive to criticism of his ignorance, which is why one of his reassurances has been that he’ll surround himself with smart people.
Well, considering the people he’s surrounding himself with, that’s not terribly reassuring. But I want to explore further this notion of “unpredictability” because, while I consider it absurd and dangerous, many of Trump’s followers cite it when they declare their allegiance to the man.
They like the notion of unpredictability because they, themselves, have very little understanding of big issues of war and peace, diplomacy, energy, budgets, trade agreements and so on. Because they know so little, they are intellectually incapable of crafting intelligent solutions to America’s problems. But they feel like they know it all, and they believe that their own angry instincts are good enough guides to policy decisions, as does Trump. So when they see Trump—in whom they’re so personally invested—flailing around and saying contradictory things, they make a series of conceptual assumptions to rationalize his erratic behavior. “I, myself, have no idea what he’s talking about. But he must know something I don’t, because he will Make America Great Again. Moreover, these foreigners also don’t know what he means. Trump will keep them guessing—which is good, because most of them are America’s enemies, and we don’t want to give aid and comfort to the enemy.”
Well, so much for red state thinking. As far as Trump goes, it’s convenient for him to pretend that his “unpredictability” is actually a strategy he adopted after careful thought. If I may be so bold as to insinuate myself into his thinking process, it goes like this: “I really have no idea what I’m talking about half the time. But that doesn’t matter, because my fans don’t care one way or the other, as long as they feel I’m strong and I ‘say it like it is.’ Besides, the predictability of past American administrations hasn’t worked out so well for us, so maybe it’s time for the world to think the U.S. President is a madman.”
Hitler had pretty much the same approach to geopolitics. He was aware that most of the world considered him insane, and he used that to his advantage, to keep nations on their toes and on the defensive. But that’s a double-edged sword: an edgy country may be more easily bullied by a confident country, but edgy countries are also more dangerous, because they’re apt to do silly things if they feel threatened. Hitler liked for other leaders to think him a madman; but he really was mad. And Trump? Stability is the most important thing in the world right now. Trump’s impulsive behavior is about to make the world incredibly unstable, just as Hitler did in the 1930s.
I’m going to tell you a little bit more than I did yesterday about the pernicious influence that rightwing Jews have, both here in America and in Israel.
Yesterday I explained how the presence of about one million Russian ultra-orthodox Jews (out of Israel’s total population of eight million) has poisoned Israeli politics and actually endangered that small nation’s security. Today I want to explore these notions more fully, based on what we now know about Trump’s new ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.
I’ve never met Friedman but I’ve known orthodox Jews like him. They are angry religionists, putting their theological views above everything else. These are people who still live in the Middle Ages: no man is allowed to touch a woman, not even to shake her hand, unless he is her husband. The absurdities of the Old Testament are taken literally: if you mow the lawn on Saturday, you’ve committed an abomination and may be stoned to death. Homosexuality is, obviously, also worthy of the death penalty.
But of course, these Jews don’t have the power, yet, to inflict their medieval views on the world, and they know it, which is why they continue to await for the arrival of “Moshiach”—the messiah. When he comes (and it will be a “he”), then Jewish law, halakha, will be imposed upon the world, and there will be plenty of executions. You don’t believe it? Try talking, off the record, to an orthodox Jewish rabbi, perhaps one of the Lubavitch faith, as I have done. You will have a glimpse into insanity that will leave you shaken.
Friedman is clearly a hater of Arabs. So, for that matter, are most orthodox Jews. They believe that Jews are God’s chosen; everybody else is dreck, and Arabs are the dreckiest of all. They believe that God gave “the holy land” to Israel for all of time, and they have no intention of sharing it with anybody. They do not accept a “two-state solution”—certainly, Friedman doesn’t—even though common sense tells us it is the only solution for the problem of the Palestinians. Friedman consistently accuses anyone who disagrees with him, including his fellow Jews, of being “anti-semites” and calls them “worse than Nazis,” insults that explain the affinity he and America’s new insulter-in-chief, Trump, have for each other. (Their friendship goes back to the 1990s, when Friedman’s bankruptcy law firm represented Trump.) Both men are aggressive, in-your-face screamers, convinced of the rectitude of their positions, and determined to drive their many enemies into the dirt.
Diplomats are supposed to be, well, diplomatic. Mature leaders understand this, and find suitable people to represent them abroad. Confrontational ambassadors can have serious, unwanted consequences. One reason for the outbreak of World War II, many historians believe, was Hitler’s appointment of von Ribbentrop as, first, his consul in London, and then Foreign Minister. Ribbentrop was appallingly rude and crude; his views were as extreme as those of his master, and he was widely disliked, even by his fellow Nazis. Had Ribbentrop been more even-tempered, more measured in his responses, it is possible Hitler could have achieved all his desires without war. But Ribbentrop was a case of the tail wagging the dog: Hitler, who knew virtually nothing about foreign affairs (he never left Germany before becoming Chancellor, and then only for a quick trip to conquered Paris), was dragged to extremes by his mentally unstable Foreign Minister.
The similarities between Friedman and Trump, on the one hand, and Ribbentrop and Hitler, on the other, are striking. Trump shows no evidence of ever having thought seriously about Middle Eastern affairs. Now that he has to, he has hired an unpleasant ideologue, and a religious nut, to boot, who has shown fascist tendencies. For example, shortly before the election, but after being appointed Trump’s “Israel expert,” he released a statement containing his recommendations for Israeli policy under a Trump administration. Included was this nugget, which should alarm everybody: “The Trump administration will ask the Justice Department to investigate coordinated attempts on college campuses to intimidate students who support Israel.” Just what we need: the FBI running riot on college campuses, investigating—whom? Anyone rightwing Jews don’t like.
Look, I agree with much of what the Israel-firsters say. Palestinians do have to renounce violence. They do have to accept the right of the State of Israel to exist. The stupidity they teach children in their madrasas is contemptible. But people like Friedman are unable to perceive the beam in their own eyes when they criticize Muslims. How open to the GLBT community is Friedman’s orthodox religion? Could two men or two women marry in his synagogue? Would his synagogue allow a woman to be a rabbi? Would gay Jews be accepted into the congregation? If I could have a sit-down with Friedman I’d ask him this one simple question: When Moshiach returns, will rabbis impose the death penalty on gays? And I wouldn’t let him weasel out of answering, as orthodox Jews have a tendency to do when you call them out on their madness.
I want to end with an anecdote that perhaps illuminates more clearly my concern with orthodox Jews. When I was a little boy my parents sent me to “Hebrew School” to become educated in Jewish language, religion, history and culture. One year, when I was about nine, we had a rabbi, a tall young man from an ultra-orthodox wing of Judaism. He was explaining to us how the World was then about 5,715 years old, according to Jewish creation theory. Now I, being a kid fascinated by dinosaurs, raised my hand and asked Rabbi about fossils that scientists said were tens of millions and even hundreds of millions of years old. Rabbi replied that the scientists were all liars. He told us about Piltdown Man, to this day one of the most infamous scientific hoaxes in history, and insinuated that all scientists were committing similar hoaxes, if they did not accept Jewish creation theory, which also precludes evolution. This was an Aha! moment for me. It’s when I realized that extreme religious belief and intelligent understanding of the world are mutually exclusive. I threw my lot in with intelligent understanding and have never regretted that decision. Jews such as Friedman made, sadly, another choice.