Democracy’s Woes

Democracy’s Woes

   What do Donald Trump, Binyamin Netanyahu and Jair Bolsonaro have in common? They are all right-wing politicians who have alternately won and lost elections and refuse to go away quietly. They all infuriate their enemies, political and otherwise, in ways that defy balance, reason, and common sense. And they are all persecuted by legal and judicial establishments that are controlled by the left, and this is the most ominous of all the comparisons.

    Brazil’s Bolsonaro recently lost a hotly contested election which he claims was rigged – and now finds himself under investigation by the man who defeated him. Netanyahu has been investigated for the better part of almost two decades and currently is in the middle of an interminable trial for conduct that is routine for most every politician. He would not be prosecuted but for the irrational hatred he elicits and the rational fear on the left that he keeps winning elections. And Trump is Trump.

    To be sure, no man is above the law, but no man should be beneath the law either, crushed by a behemoth of a legal system that is politicized and weaponized against an individual target. It is not a person being investigated for possible crimes committed but a person being scrutinized, like searching polluted for chametz with a candle, in the hopes of finding a crime for which he might be charged.

     Joe Biden, rather than lecturing Israel on democracy and the proposed judicial reforms here that will make our legal system fairer, would be wise to worry about his own democracy, the abuse of governmental power against individual citizens, and the dire need to rectify a system that no longer prosecutes most thefts, drug use, assaults or illegal aliens but uses its enormous resources against disfavored people who are targets.

    The weakness of the case against Trump is illustrated by two points. First, the misdemeanor charge of falsifying business records could not stand alone as its prosecution is already precluded by the statute of limitations. Thus it was a charge in search of a felony, which was necessary to get the prosecutor’s foot past the courthouse door. The felony chosen –campaign finance violation through payment of hush money – is difficult to prove and not only because it requires intent. It is difficult to prove because it is not illegal to pay hush money and when the money was repaid to Trump’s now disbarred attorney who paid it… the campaign was already over. In other words, the business records were allegedly falsified in 2017 through payments to the disgraced attorney but obviously could not have impacted a campaign that concluded in November 2016.

     Indeed, even if it was a “campaign contribution,” a highly debatable point, Trump would have been under no obligation to report it until the end of that quarter’s filing period, i.e., December 2016, long after Election Day. It is no wonder that federal prosecutors and the previous Manhattan District Attorney declined to prosecute. There is no case. But it is also no wonder why the current Manhattan DA decided to prosecute: he literally ran for office on a platform of getting Trump. That screams prosecutorial misconduct but the judicial system in America has become so politicized, and democracy so despoiled, that most liberal judges in the chain of jurists that will hear the initial motions and their appeals will not risk their careers and the leftist opprobrium they will receive by dismissing the case. Joe Biden –please focus on America and its judicial and democratic woes!

     There is a growing sentiment across the globe that democracies don’t work and its election results should be voided – unless the left wins. When the left wins, democracy is declared sacred and beyond reproach. Government decisions cannot be challenged no matter how tiny the government’s majority. Thus, in Israel , the first and second Oslo Accords – both catastrophic mistakes – passed with slim majorities, and the second only secured its miniscule majority by literally bribing two far-right wing Knesset members with cabinet positions.  Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, muscularly exercising his slender advantage, did not hesitate to taunt his opponents and those who protested his policies, even saying they could “spin like propellers” but the Oslo process would go forward.

     Whatever criticisms are levied against the Netanyahu government for its conduct of the reforms, they should pale before the heavy-handedness, even brutal dismissal of any opposition, directed towards the Oslo protesters. Similar, the utter contempt showed by the Sharon government – and the indifference of the judicial system – towards those who protested against and were victimized by the disastrous and immoral expulsion from Gush Katif. If anything, the current government has been too deferential to the opposition, certainly in comparison to its oppressive predecessors. We can only imagine what would have happened – and how the media would have reported it – if today’s protesters had received the Oslo and Gush Katif treatment.

     In France, as well, the streets have been overwhelmed with demonstrators who oppose President Macron’s unilateral decision to raise the retirement age by two years (how is that for democracy, but apparently there is such a provision in French law). Businesses closed, strikes were declared, police were attacked – and it is a good thing that Macron did not try to change the composition of the judicial selections committee, or who knows what would have happened. The protests in France, the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter riots in America, and the recent demonstrations in Israel may all have diverse motivations but they share in common discontent with, even rejection of, the democratic process.

    It comes out that when the left wins an election, they win and implement their policies. But when the left loses an election, they still win, because they claim the election was tainted, try to frustrate the implementation of the government’s policies, suddenly claim that the government’s responsibility is to respect the feelings of the defeated minority and decline to govern, and launch prosecutions of the winner.

     In essence, democracy is only a successful and admirable mode of governance when one side wins – the left. Something is wrong with that picture.

      The current effort to achieve some “consensus” on judicial reform sounds good on the surface – as long as it is not intended to impede or thwart the platform on which the current government ran in the last election.  Dialogue is great because no one side has all the answers and cogent suggestions can come from the unlikeliest sources. But, as Margaret Thatcher put it, caustically, consensus is “the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner: ‘I stand for consensus?”

     We shall soon see if the opposition’s idea of consensus is to so water down the reforms as to make them meaningless and inconsequential.

      The number of democracies in the world has steadily declined in the last two decades after reaching its peak in the early 2000’s. That is partly because some fledgling democracies abandoned that path and partly because some strong men seized power. But does democracy work anymore? Sure, democracies generally protect individual rights better but not totally, as witness the ongoing struggles for religious liberty in the US and Israel. There are favored rights and disfavored rights, favored citizens and disfavored citizens. But there is a price to be paid for elections that provide only an illusion of rule by the people.

      And, as Winston Churchill reportedly said, “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Most voters are easily manipulated, which is why negative campaigning is hotly criticized but continues unabated; it works. See how much of the Israeli public genuinely believes that our democracy is in danger if the justices cannot have control over judicial appointments, something that does not exist in any democracy on the planet. And in exchange for voting every few years in elections that practically mean less and less (even though each one is advertised as the most important in history), citizens in most democracies have to tolerate high rates of crime, personal insecurity, high taxes, deteriorating infrastructure, government favoritism of favored groups, political prosecutions, and cloying self-righteousness on the part of societal elites that lecture the citizenry over how they – the elites – know so much better what is good for them.

     Autocracies are gaining strength across the globe, aided by indifference to any moral strictures. Of course, the downside of autocracy is that we the people are literally at the mercy of the autocrat, who might be benevolent, but is usually not. But if democracies no longer work and autocracies naturally frighten us because of the plethora of bad people who seize power and wield it for their own good, what then is left?

     Fortunately, the month of Nisan – the month of past and future redemption – provides us with the welcome answer, which is to prepare ourselves for the individual who will inspire, unite, and guide us to a world that is peaceful, prosperous and spiritually uplifting for all. We could benefit from Moshiach’s coming, and soon.

     Chag Kasher v’sameach to all!


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