Politics and Neurosis
To the Editor:
Abe Greenwald has a questionable thesis about Americans politics, which downplays (if it does not simply ignore) Democrats’ electoral calculations (“Neurotic Nation,” May). Democrats are holding their base with demagoguery, broadening it with illegal immigration, and unfairly characterizing Republican policies that are invariably more principled.
Regarding foreign trade, it is not a myth that jobs have been lost to ill-considered policies. Nor has free trade caused China to soften its harsh defining features or pull back from seeking world domination. Indeed, we have been paying for its dangerous rise while American corporations have been interested only in access to its markets.
But it is illegal immigration that Greenwald most seriously misunderstands and regarding which he is most condescending. There is nothing the least neurotic about the president doing all within his authority to put a lid on it. Does Greenwald believe liberal media outlets that only recently admitted that the crisis at the border is real and not a product of Donald Trump’s imagination?
It was particularly galling to read Greenwald’s analysis of the alleged “dead-end fights” that President Trump is having with Congress. He is not the first chief executive to engage in fights that are difficult, if not impossible, to win. And he won’t be the last. Not only does Trump reassure his supporters that he has not given up this necessary fight; he continues to show the nation that this matter of national security cannot be ignored.
Richard H. Reeb Jr.
Abe Greenwald writes:
Richard H. Reeb Jr. believes that I ignore Democratic political calculations in my analysis of the issues that animate the Democratic base. But the fact that demagoguery has become so politically useful—on the right and left—is only further evidence of our increasing national neurosis. In healthier eras, demagogues were unable to gain the degree of support they enjoy today. And while it’s true that Democrats are seeking to expand their base with immigrants, it’s irrelevant to my article. I was examining the exaggerated sense of crisis around certain issues.
As for trade and unemployment, if free trade were such a job killer, how is it that unemployment has fallen dramatically while our trade deficit reached an all-time high with Trump in office? I agree with Mr. Reeb that free trade does not soften authoritarian or dangerous regimes; I never said it did. And I’m all for striking more equitable deals with Beijing—that’s smarter trade. What’s neurotic is the American right’s increasing antipathy toward free trade altogether.
Illegal immigration is certainly a real problem, as I stated more than once in my article. I, like Mr. Reeb, feel that Trump needs urgently to address the border crisis. Unfortunately, we’ll never know how much easier it might have been for him to do so had he not first turned the matter into an outrageous political spectacle. As I stated in my article, the data show that illegal immigration was waning during the time that Trump made “the wall” the cornerstone issue of his campaign. If he had a more realistic grasp of the facts and offered a less cartoonish solution, we might be closer to sensible policy today.
Bibi and Sharon
To the Editor:
I appreciated Seth Mandel’s take on Benjamin Netanyahu’s longevity in public office and the reasons behind his winning record (“How Bibi Did It,” May). There are some additional reasons Netanyahu has been able to hold on to power and maintain the confidence of much of the electorate.
First, he understands not only the history of the region but also Jewish history and the struggle for survival amid hostile forces. Netanyahu is able to apply that understanding to current trends and maintain a relevant vision for the future of the State of Israel.
Second, he has convincingly exposed the various malign intentions of those nations that are opposed to Israel. Netanyahu has frequently called attention to the fact that these countries have invested in armaments that are aimed at crippling the Jewish state. Moreover, he has consistently pointed out that leaders in these countries, such as Iran and Syria, persecute their own citizens.
Third, Bibi doesn’t go out of his way to antagonize neighboring states, but he does stand firm when Israel and its interests are attacked. In this, his approach has been somewhat similar to those of Ronald Reagan and Teddy Roosevelt. He understands that a robust national-security apparatus is required to deter Iran’s proxies and prevent Israel from becoming a victim.
Fourth, he has simultaneously worked to develop better relations with Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Experience has taught him that negotiating a good agreement is better than demanding a perfect pact.
Fifth, Netanyahu didn’t make the mistake of attempting to make “land-for-peace” deals with the Palestinians, as Ariel Sharon did in 2005. Sharon turned over Gaza to the Palestinians with the promise of peace in return. Less than two years later, Hamas had sent Fatah packing to the West Bank. Hamas has mismanaged Gaza ever since by, among other things, squandering foreign aid on weapons.
Last, Bibi has elevated Israel’s standing internationally. Israel is an example of the triumph of liberty, rule of law, and entrepreneurship in a region that sorely lacks all three.
Christian P. Milord
Seth Mandel writes:
I thank Christian P. Milord for reading and engaging with my essay on Benjamin Netanyahu, and I agree with much of what he writes. One of Mr. Milord’s points is worth examining further: “Netanyahu didn’t make the mistake of attempting to make ‘land-for-peace’ deals with the Palestinians, as Ariel Sharon did in 2005.”
It’s true that hindsight is favorable to Netanyahu here. Sharon broke with Likud, including Bibi, over the Gaza disengagement. But in doing so, he—or, perhaps, the Palestinians who squandered the opportunity granted them by Sharon—made Netanyahu’s restraint on land-for-peace all but inevitable. Yasser Arafat not only rejected the offer from Sharon’s predecessor Ehud Barak but responded by launching the intifada, the quelling of which fell soon to Sharon. The lesson Sharon learned from this was not “make no concessions” but rather “security first.” His Gaza disengagement was done under this banner. Whether there was a realistic alternative remains unanswerable, but the aftermath of disengagement surely further soured the Israeli public on land withdrawals.
But there is more to consider than hindsight alone. Sharon was a legendary figure, a military hero from the Jewish state’s early days to its victories in 1967 and 1973. Sharon was defense minister during Israel’s first Lebanon war, in 1982, and while the combination of Israeli casualties and the Sabra and Shatila massacre brought his name into disrepute in official circles for a while, they did nothing to dent his reputation as a man who vigorously pursued Israel’s security. All of which is to say that when Sharon left Likud to push through disengagement, he was (barely) able to do so because of the half-century of political capital he had built up on the question of Israeli security.
This, too, makes Bibi’s job easier, because it is unthinkable that he could do the same today. U.S. and European diplomats think Netanyahu won’t, but the reality is that he can’t. Israelis desire peace no less today than they did in the heady days of the Oslo ’90s. But it isn’t that they oppose land for peace per se. They have already paid in land. It is the peace they are owed. This is not a right-wing talking point; it is reality. And Israelis know the difference.
Hope for Ibsen
To the Editor:
I write not to argue with Terry Teachout’s conclusions about Ibsen, but rather to add a few (hopefully) relevant observations (“Henrik Ibsen, Part 2,” May).
My wife and I saw the Pearl Theatre’s production of A Doll’s House (years ago) and found it to be quite persuasive. The set and costumes created a Victorian household. The actors were able to convey a sense of the era in which they lived. This encouraged the audience imaginatively to enter a world that preceded its own.
Nora’s husband had the condescending attitude toward his wife that Ibsen regarded as a feature of Victorian/Edwardian domestic life (though surely not in all households). As the play progressed, we became aware that Nora was not simply a victim of social circumstance: Her own actions contributed to her dilemma. She had once forged some documents in order to advance her husband’s career. Her husband, a Victorian prude, informed her that, should the forgeries come to light, he would not come to her assistance. The shock registered on Nora’s face upon that revelation was a powerful dramatic moment. The issue was not her social standing, it was her husband’s empty-souled vanity. She acted with firm resolve, even if it meant turning her life upside down. Moments later she walked off, and we heard the famous door-slam. Her husband turned out to be the doll.
A Doll’s House is arguably Ibsen’s most audience-friendly play. Other plays, such as Rosmersholm, The Wild Duck, Hedda Gabler, Ghosts, The Master Builder—with their obsessed characters—were problematic even in Ibsen’s day. In exploring the human psyche’s perverse depths, he was relentlessly honest, and that honesty is what makes him a difficult companion in the theater. He was a superb craftsman; one wishes that, like Shaw and Wilde, he had a touch of the rogue in him.
New York City
Terry Teachout writes:
Ithank Francis Quinlan for his excellent letter. I haven’t quite given up on Ibsen, and I long to see a production of A Doll’s House that causes me to see what Mr. Quinlan saw in it off Broadway at the Pearl Theater in 1995. Alas, I grow increasingly doubtful that it will ever happen!