Robert Reich: Stand Up To Trump And Bibi – OpEd


Juan M. Merchan, the judge in Donald J. Trump’s criminal trial in Manhattan, has again held Trump in contempt for violating a gag order banning attacks on witnesses and jurors, and is threatening to jail the former president if he persists. “It appears that the $1,000 fines are not serving as a deterrent,” Merchan said. “Going forward, this court will have to consider a jail sanction.”

Judge Merchan criticized Trump for saying that the jury was “picked so quickly” and made up of “95 percent Democrats.” Trump “not only called into question the integrity, and therefore the legitimacy of these proceedings, but again raised the specter of the safety of the jurors and of their loved ones.”

Half a world away from that Manhattan courtroom, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems intent on invading Rafah. Just hours after Hamas accepted a ceasefire proposal put forth by Egyptian and Qatari mediators, Israel stepped up bombing raids and is signaling that a long-promised ground invasion is imminent. 

Biden again warned Netanyahu not to launch a military offensive in southern Gaza.

Of course, the stakes in Trump’s defiance of Judge Merchan and Netanyahu’s defiance of Biden are vastly different. At worst, Trump could be jailed. Netanyahu’s invasion of Rafah could mean tens of thousands more deaths.

But both men are using defiance strategically, to advance their authoritarian politics. 

Defiance signals to their supporters that compromise is out of the question, and that both men will continue to fight despite mounting pressure on them to relent and despite personal cost to themselves and others.

Their defiance also fuels the fanaticism of supporters and communicates determination — for Trump, that the trial will not silence him or his followers; for Netanyahu, that he will do whatever necessary to protect Israeli lives. 

Their defiance is intended to make them appear strong and their opponents weak. Trump believes that if he continues to defy Judge Merchan, the judge will back down from jailing him. And if he’s jailed, his supporters will be enraged and galvanized into action. 

Netanyahu believes that if he defies Biden, Biden will take no action against Israel, and that Israelis will rally behind Netanyahu in any event. “If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone,” Netanyahu said Sunday at Israel’s Holocaust memorial. “But we know we are not alone because countless decent people around the world support our just cause. And I say to you, we will defeat our genocidal enemies. Never again is now!”

But as long as their defiance brings no consequences, they are less constrained. 

If Judge Merchan continues to allow Trump to defy him without putting Trump in jail, then Merchan — and, by implication, the entire court system — will be weakened and Trump perceived as strong. (Merchan seemed to understand this when he said “as much as I don’t want to impose a jail sanction … I want you to understand that I will if necessary and appropriate.”)

And if Biden continues to allow Netanyahu to defy him without ending U.S. military aid to Israel, then Biden — and, by implication, the Biden administration and the United States as a whole — will be viewed as weak, and Netanyahu as strong. Biden’s power and presidency hang in the balance. 

Both Trump and Netanyahu are authoritarians. The authoritarian personality sees everything as a contest between strength and weakness. To compromise is to capitulate. This makes both men especially dangerous. 

These two contests also test the capacities of the major individuals (Judge Merchan, Joe Biden) and institutions (the courts, the U.S. presidency) now capable of reining in these two authoritarians. 

Hence the importance of responding forcefully to their defiance. If Trump continues to badmouth witnesses and jurors, Merchan should jail him. If Netanyahu orders an invasion of Rafah, Biden should cut off all military aid to Israel. 

It’s time to stop coddling these authoritarians.

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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