Have Trump's Republicans Become An American Likud?

For any Israeli who lived through the “mahapach,” the electoral “upending” of 1977, which brought Menachem Begin’s Likud party to power, Donald Trump’s victory seems dreadfully familiar. It is not simply that America’s most benighted voters—people from the entitled, stressed majority, people living in what has been euphemistically called the “periphery”—turned a protest vote into an unlikely victory for an extremist leader. It is that this protest seems permanent, aimed not at a party or candidate but at the establishment, while the voters themselves seem so fierce in their resentment that they stand to become a permanent fixture of a rightist bloc. During the Obama Administration, Likud became an ally of the Republicans. Now it seems a model for them.

Many observers believe that Trump’s promises will soon prove hollow; that he cannot bring back coal, or tear up NAFTA, or deport eleven million undocumented workers; that he cannot just cut taxes on the rich and produce four-per-cent growth. The danger, as liberal Israelis have learned, is that his efforts to fulfill these promises will prove good enough. Likud Prime Ministers, beginning with Begin, have used defense budgets, and their command over infrastructure, to shore up some of the least employable Israelis in brazenly discriminatory ways. The settlements have involved the investment of billions of dollars in low-cost public housing; the roads and bridges connecting them to Israel proper and the West Bank barrier have created thousands of semi-skilled jobs. Israeli growth jumped from flat in 1977 to well over five per cent for three of the next four years. The Israeli left, like American Democrats, has assumed that the poorest voters could be appealed to as a class with social-democratic promises. Likud has proved that what anxious voters from the majority want is paternalistic action, and they don’t want the government promising broad measures that seem to advance minorities at their expense.

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