The upside of defeat

December 23, 2020 by Ruthie Blum - JNS
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In an op-ed in the New York Post on Saturday, Kyle Smith—conservative critic-at-large for National Review—offered U.S. President Donald Trump “a nickel’s worth of free advice” on how to “destroy [his] enemies” after he leaves the White House.

Ruthie Blum/JNS

“All you have to do is stop talking,” Smith wrote, addressing the outgoing POTUS whom he has supported over the years against “Never Trumper” hysteria. Within six months, he said, CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post would be bleeding financially and otherwise.

Indeed, he pointed out, since June 2015, when Trump made his famous ride down the escalator and announced his candidacy for president, “all of these news outlets’ business models have been built around the same strategy: Turning [his] words into their profits.” Yes, every tweet—each outrageous statement—has been pounced on by the press with glee.

“And if Trump, as a private citizen, should stop providing the media with 24/7 OMG moments, what then?” asked Smith.

It’s a rhetorical question that I answered three years ago—albeit in a far less witty and acerbic style than Smith’s—but from the opposite perspective. Though, like Smith, I pointed out that members of the anti-Trump camp were in a state of exhilaration every time their nemesis opened his mouth and provided them with fodder for their attacks, I explained why I was able to identify with them.

In a piece called “The downside of victory,” I said that I understood the predicament of such people since it was exactly what I experienced during former U.S. President Barack Obama’s two-term tenure. When he was inaugurated in January 2009, I wept tears of sadness and joy—miserable that a radical Saul Alinskyite with an anti-Semitic pastor was about to occupy the Oval Office, but thrilled to be able to spend the next several years calling the powers-that-be in Washington to task, rather than having to defend them.

It’s much easier to be a critic than a champion, particularly where attitudes towards politicians are concerned. Not only do those whom we elect to represent our worldview have flaws, but we’re lucky if any of them understand the debate, let alone know how to articulate it. As a result, we end up attempting to do it for them, and that takes a lot of work.

It’s exhausting having to preface support for an idea by acknowledging its blemishes—as Winston Churchill did when describing democracy as the “worst form of government … except for all those other forms.”

But to make a good case, we have to anticipate the prosecutorial argument of our adversaries and head it off at the pass by presenting its merits, even when we don’t really wish to see them. Any writer on the left or the right who fails to do so comes off as foolish or fanatical.

In contrast, being on the offensive requires little more than hurling darts at sure-fire bullseyes, which is why the likes of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and their apologists in the West are comfortable targets.

Far trickier is standing up vigilantly for the person at the helm in one’s own country.

As a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, I have had to bear the burden—along with the satisfaction of seeing policies I support implemented by Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—of voting for the victor on both sides of the Atlantic.

Though I decidedly didn’t wish for Trump’s exit or threats to Netanyahu’s leadership, they contain a hidden consolation prize: the freedom to let it rip while watching the other side scramble to stick up for poor alternatives.

As Smith so cleverly stated: “On the off chance [President-elect Joe] Biden makes it to 2024 without lapsing into a vegetative state, in which case praise of [running mate] Kamala Harris’ godlike virtues will turn every media outlet into the equivalent of the Pyongyang Kim-Tribune, the media can’t report anything that makes Biden look bad, which means they can’t report anything Biden does.”

Yes, defeat definitely has its benefits.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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