The good news: A broad coalition of politicians sublimates its substantial differences on ideology. They understand no leader in a democracy should be able to convert the instruments of state power for his own benefit. Corruption and intimidation, they know, will devour democracy, so they join hands to banish the increasingly autocratic leader.
Israel or the United States? The “bad news” applies to both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the 45th U.S. president. Netanyahu is already on trial; Donald Trump is at this stage only facing multiple inquiries and lawsuits. In the main, however, the narrative applies to both countries. It is noteworthy that religious factions often ally themselves with a secularized authoritarian whose nationalistic message serves those who want to use the authority of the state to enforce religious doctrine.
Also in both countries, the right has sought to diminish judicial independence, making judges allies in their ideological designs. (As Jonathan Cook reported for Middle East Eye in 2019, Ayelet Shaked, a secular Israeli politician and leader of the New Right, “intimidated the courts and promoted a large number of conservative religious judges, including to the supreme court” and reversed the Justice Ministry’s position to legalize outpost settlements.)
When it comes to the “good news,” however, the two countries diverge. In Israel, a coalition that includes Arab Israeli, ultranationalist and center-left parties — despite having little in common — came together this week to end Netanyahu’s power. In essence, they seek to normalize politics and observe a central tenet of democracy: Elected leaders are entrusted with power for the benefit of the country, not for personal gain, political vendettas and ego gratification. Their policy positions on many issues might be irreconcilable (a two-state solution vs. a one-state solution), but even fundamental policy positions must be deferred for the sake of democratic stability.
Unlike Netanyahu’s right-leaning opponents (such as Naftali Bennett), however, even Trump-wary Republicans still prioritize retention of power over the health of the democracy. Republicans refuse to allow an independent commission to investigate the Trump-inspired insurrection. They continue to propagate the “big lie" that the election was stolen, and worse, they use it as a justification for rigging elections.
Vice News, in surveying scholars alarmed by the descent of the GOP, finds:
The overwhelming concern among scholars isn’t so much the continued personal influence of Trump but the impact of his continued false claims about election fraud and efforts to overturn the 2020 election. They worry what the 2024 election could look like as the Republican Party has further radicalized and the embrace of “big lie” has become a foundational belief of many on the right.
Even the most enlightened, pro-democratic Republicans do not grasp the stakes. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) confesses she voted for Trump because she could not fathom voting for President Biden. She now “regrets” her vote, but apparently not enough to cease supporting a party that remains in Trump’s thrall or to stop defending voter suppression tactics.
Cheney and other Republican dissidents might look to Bennett for inspiration. Bennett owes his entire political career to ultranationalists and retains his foundational belief that Israel should retain Judea and Samaria. On that issue, there is a far greater difference between Bennett and his allies (including Arab Israeli parties!) than between Republicans and Democrats on any issue on which they disagree (e.g., how much to spend on infrastructure, which gun regulations are acceptable).
Bennett nevertheless put that aside for the sake of national preservation. "The political crisis in Israel is unprecedented on a global level,” he said on Sunday. “We could end up with fifth, sixth, even 10th elections, dismantling the walls of the country, brick by brick, until our house falls in on us. Or we can stop the madness and take responsibility.”
Stop the madness and take responsibility. Not a bad rallying cry for an anti-authoritarian coalition to drive the MAGA crowd out of power.
Never Trumpers Tim Miller and William Kristol, playing off of “Blue Dog” Democrats (conservative Democrats who might have been former Republicans), have urged the formation of “Red Dog” Democrats — disaffected former or almost-former Republicans who understand the need to make common cause with the only pro-democracy party around. Miller wrote for the Bulwark in December:
I don’t want to minimize the differences over scope of government between the Red Dogs and the mainline Democrats. They are real and genuine and deeply held.But are the passions around limited government so widespread to make a new party centered around it viable? Are the disagreements between the Red Dogs and the Democrats over the size of government so vast that they merit blowing up this new coalition and potentially helping a populist, nationalist, anti-democratic Republican party? (Which, by the way, has no interest in “limited government” either.)It seems to me the answer to these questions is a big fat No.
The differences are also surely less significant than what Israeli coalition partners must navigate.
In essence, the choice in both Israel and the United States is whether normal democracy or some semi-authoritarian, illiberal regime should prevail. This is the only issue that truly matters. It is time for pro-democracy patriots to copy the Israeli example: Get on the right side of democracy, and fight about the rest later.