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Palestinians in the Age of Trump

I just dropped my request for an Ohio absentee ballot in the Palestine Post in Ramallah. Although thousands of miles away, I can see and feel the heavy, dark clouds descending above all 50 states. This presidential election is not about Trump’s top contender, it is about getting over this four-year bump in the hope that lessons were learned, and a historic correction can begin. A Biden win is not the correction, it is getting over the bump.

As I was contemplating this all-important upcoming election, my two daughters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, sent me a message, “Dad, you must watch this.” They were referring to the Broadway smash-hit Hamilton: An American Musical, a sung-and-rapped-through theatrical musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Watching this amazing performance of a snapshot of U.S. history—myths included—was all the inspiration I needed to share a question that has lingered in my mind for four years.

Why is the U.S. system of democracy allowing Donald Trump to complete a full term in office? Scarily in Trump’s case, he has a real chance to manipulate the system yet again and win a second term. Americans of conscience, or even those with an iota of common sense, must answer this question before it is too late. Now is not the time for blind commitment to the broken political system that produced a Trump presidency in the first place.

With everyone transfixed on the November presidential election, this single most important question is being replaced with wishful thinking—and a lot of hard work—to vote Trump out of the White House and remove his finger off the U.S. nuclear button, just to name one of the unthinkable powers he holds. Uninterrupted elections are a sacrosanct American democratic tradition, but do they remain so when the entire U.S. system of democracy is under attack?

As an American citizen, it is surreal to watch the U.S. unravel from my home in occupied Palestine while living under military rule by Trump’s only real global ally, Israel.

We Palestinians are one of the people that bore the brunt of a Trump Administration’s recklessness. Every day we feel the real damage that Trump’s America brought upon us, but we will not buckle. Trump and his yes men and yes women led a political smear campaign against the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence, today’s global hallmark struggle for justice. He copied from his playbook against the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S., and added his preferred battering tool, financial strangulation, in a failed attempt to bring Palestinians to their knees. We are living the results of the damage caused in our hospitals and schools as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the start of a new school year, but we are still standing tall. All of this and more are packaged in a theatrical performance that markets his actions as progress and as making history.

Having a hyphenated identity, being American and Palestinian, I have the unique vantage point of knowing both societies. I do not fear the future of Palestinians, we know crisis management better than most and I’m confident, even with our leadership misgivings, that the Palestinian people will still be standing, long after Trump is out of office, be it in 2021 or 2025. From Gaza to Jerusalem to the refugee camps in Lebanon, we are like our country Palestine, “young, scrappy, and hungry” for freedom so we have no option but to “Rise Up” because we are “not throwing away [our] shot.”

My fear, and what keeps me up at night, is my American side. Today, it is old, arrogant, fraught with overconsumption, obsessively focused on the individual to the detriment of the community, and witnessing troubling brutality in its treatment of movements for social justice. Then came Trump to take advantage of this challenging reality, unleashing and enabling that brutality and undermining the foundational elements of American governance and democracy, starting from the Office of the President.

Trump has already taken an example from the worst pages of military strategy, the scorched-earth policy, and has put into motion a scorched-democracy policy. This is a policy that will bring the pillars of American democracy down with him. From stacking the Supreme Court to bringing the U.S. Postal Service (yes, remarkably the venerable U.S. Postal Service) to its knees, these and everything in between, are fair targets for his revenge on the majority of American people that question his absolute conviction that he is due a second term.

What Trump is doing and what his character is made of is no longer a question. Today, he is a known commodity for all to see. To be sure, The New York Times’ Opinion Columnist Roger Cohen wrote it most succinctly, “You know because the president’s personality is consistent: a mix of coward, racist, liar, con artist, narcissist, grifter, and blowhard, with uncanny antennae for the worst instincts of humanity, and for how to use the media to channel insecurity and hatred into a mass political movement galvanized by his fiendish energy.” If you still have any doubt, think about all that has happened since he assumed the office and, if you still need convincing, we now have three books that clearly call out his lack of character, “Rage” by Bob Woodward, “Disloyal” by Michael Cohen, and “Too Much and Never Enough” by Mary Trump.

While America prepares for Trump’s scorched-democracy fallout can someone pause for a second to explain why he is even still in our lives? Why has the U.S. democracy and political system not spat him out long ago? The Democrats tried to impeach him, but they failed, so is the system built over 244 years faulty at its core? The handling of the COVID-19 pandemic aside, for sure, America is no “banana republic,” so suggesting that a time-tested democratic process be interrupted is not being haphazardly suggested. Just the opposite; the realization being made is that a serious flaw in the system has been exposed and requires dramatic action to be fixed. Allowing the tenets of democracy to be used (read: abused) as an excuse for those wanting to bring the house of democracy down on its head makes swift action a duty, not an option.

Here in Palestine, for two decades, until Trump took office, we witnessed countless U.S. officials and experts—many mere wannabe experts—come and go to “teach” us how to build a democracy. They met with Palestinian political leaders, business leaders, civil society organizations, students, and so many more. Supposedly, they had the secret ingredients on how countries are ideally built.

I can recall the countless times when these visitors were challenged about Israel’s disingenuous role in U.S. foreign policy and the pro-Israel lobby’s illegal and overarching influence on U.S. lawmakers. The visitors, especially the officials among them, had a canned answer that ended the conversation, or so they thought. American democracy, they claimed, is an experiment not yet finished, always improving itself, and we should trust that these institutional hiccups will find a way to work themselves out. Too bad our budding Palestinian democracy was viewed by these same “experts” as needing to be hardwired from the outset with no room for experimenting, but that is a story for another day. Needless to say, America’s “democracy” is not looking all that attractive these days and the experts noted above are hardly in a position to teach us anything.

If America’s democracy is to survive Trump something must happen before November 3. Trump must be removed from office, forcibly if needed. I am not a constitutional lawyer or a five-star U.S. general, but if I were, I would recall two songs from Hamilton, History Has Its Eyes On You because The World Turned Upside Down under Trump and without bold action, merely getting over the bump is not a guarantee for the much-needed historical correction.

Sam Bahour is managing partner of Applied Information Management (AIM), a policy analyst with Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, a secretariat member of the Palestine Strategy Group, and chairman of Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy. He blogs at www.epalestine.com. Twitter: @SamBahour

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