The Moment Before The "Bad Palestinian" Slur

At the debate, what Trump had to say about Biden's illusory ceasefire was as revealing as his use of "Palestinian" as an epithet. It seems like a harbinger of his restored presidency

The Moment Before The "Bad Palestinian" Slur

At the debate, what Trump had to say about Biden's illusory ceasefire was as revealing as his use of "Palestinian" as an epithet. It seems like a harbinger of his restored presidency

Edited by Sam Thielman

ALL DEBATE COMMENTARY pales in comparison to that of my 9-year old, who watched in real time with me as President Biden powered down on Thursday night. She couldn't believe someone could fail to make the case against Trump. Her epitaph was a line I wish I’d come up with: "Biden disconnected from the wi-fi."

While I would trust my daughter's observations more than I would 90-plus percent of pundits, the Democratic Party freakout is beyond the scope of this newsletter. All I would say is that it is revealing how much of it is driven by (1) the regnant Democratic faction that made this bed and now contemplates a long and sleepless night in it, and (2) the party's donor class, as expressed by this hedge fund guy who lamented, "if the man I saw at the debate is the real Joe Biden right now, then it would be a waste of my time and money to support him." They were told by Applecare that they could walk into the White House and get the part. If this truly is another twilight for what passes for democracy in the United States—something that has happened before, remember—then historians will study the decisions of the 21st Century Democratic Party like they study those of the last Ottoman generation.

But I want to focus on a particular moment in the debate that has been overshadowed. And that's the lead-up to Donald Trump using the term "Palestinian" as a slur. You've read a lot by now about the meaning of that particular derogation, and a friend of mine may soon publish a really good take on it, which will be worth reading as well. I don't have anything special to add to that discourse. Instead, I want to call attention to what set up the slur. 

There have been a lot of responses to the debate from liberals that have taken the form of Trump lied relentlessly while Biden told the truth incoherently. The first part of that—Trump opening the spigot of nonstop lies—certainly captures Trump's performance. But this episode undermines the narrative from both directions. 

The moment that led up to Trump calling Biden a "Palestinian… a bad Palestinian" began with Biden not telling the truth. Prompted by Dana Bash, Biden defended his moribund May 31 ceasefire proposal by saying "Netanyahu endorsed it" and that "the only one who wants the war to continue is Hamas." Readers of FOREVER WARS know that is bullshit. Netanyahu and everyone to his right, which is much of the Israeli government and legislature, want a pause for hostage releases before resuming the war in pursuit of the illusory "total victory" Netanyahu routinely promises. 

Trump seized on that bit of bullshit. "He said the only one who wants to keep going is Hamas. Actually, Israel is the one." There's no way around it here: Trump is correct. Trump is voicing what everyone paying attention to Israeli media can see. With the important exception of the hostage families, the Israeli voices for a ceasefire are from the marginalized left and the saner voices within the security establishment—a coalition that MAGA is well accustomed to loathing, since it's a roughly analogous Israeli version of the American coalition that is MAGA's first (and not last) target, which it calls the Deep State.

Biden has put a lot of effort into the illusion that Hamas are the rejectionists. I read that as Biden trying to maneuver Netanyahu into an off-ramp from the war that saves face for the Israelis and makes America seem like a peacemaker, rather than the enabler of the deaths of tens of thousands of Palestinians. Biden is acting as if the coalition he wants is making the decisions in Israel. 

Trump, however, sees a natural ally in the far-right coalition that is actually making the decisions in Israel. He also recognizes that through the War on Terror, there is a well-cultivated domestic appetite for enabling Israel to inflict as much violence on the Palestinians as possible. But Trump is not making an analytical point about Biden lying about the Israeli appetite for a ceasefire. He's setting up his policy on a Gaza slaughter and its regional ripple effects he will now likely inherit as president: "You should [let] them go and let them finish the job."

Then Trump said that the ceasefire proposal shows that Biden is a lowkey Palestinian lover and thereby reveals his weakness and mendacity.

In case it needs to be said, saying Israel should finish the job is yet another mask-off moment for the dovish image Trump's boosters perpetually attempt. A man talking about enthusiastically permitting the completion of a genocide—to say nothing of promising a mass deportation at home—is obviously no man of peace. The longer Israel is in Gaza, the greater the pressures become for another round of regional escalation that risks drawing the United States in militarily.

Biden didn't just jeopardize his presidency at this debate. He jeopardized his ceasefire. If Netanyahu watched the debate, he surely thinks that now he can run out the clock on Biden's presidency and get a better deal from Trump. That lays a path into the next U.S. war in the Middle East and is no deviation from the forever wars. And that's to say nothing of the violence to be experienced here at home by your Muslim neighbors from vigilantes and the security apparatus. 

The episode reminded me of the time Bill O'Reilly tried to get Trump to agree that Vladimir Putin was a killer and Trump shot back: "You think our country's so innocent?" Socialists and nationalists recognize the history Trump invokes with greater clarity than liberals and conservatives. The difference is socialists know that's a shameful legacy to dismantle and nationalists consider it a glorious legacy to restore. Only the nationalists look set to get what they want out of this election.

IF YOU'RE IN NEW YORK ON JULY 11 AT 7 PM, I'm going to be interviewing Elle Reeve at The Strand about her great upcoming book Black Pill: How I Witnessed The Darkest Corners of The Internet Come To Life, Poison Society and Capture American Politics. Come join us, this is going to be a—well, fun isn't the right word, but fun-adjacent. A fun-reminiscent discussion of a crucial issue!

IF YOU'RE WORRIED ABOUT TRUMP ENDING AMERICAN DEMOCRACY, cheer up. Over the last ten days it appears the Supreme Court has already done it. 

ALEX LO, writing in the South China Morning Post, takes stock of the appetite for a China Cold War within elite U.S. publications like Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs. 

LET ME JOIN THE CHORUS praising John Ganz's excellent new book When The Clock Broke, about the early-1990s MAGA prefiguration in American politics and its socio-economic origins. Ganz is an incisive, rigorous thinker and an elegant writer. I think Jeet Heer's blurb is correct in predicting many great Ganz books in the years to come. When The Clock Broke is going to be a favorite of the cranky left or left-ish uncle in your life.

And while I try not to recommend books before I finish them, I'm almost done with Kaveh Akbar's sublime novel Martyr! All I can say is that it is not fair to the rest of us writers when poets master fiction. "I want to be the chisel, not the David" is the kind of line most writers, myself unfortunately included, don't have in us.

OK, now to plug my comic book.

WALLER VS. WILDSTORM, the superhero spy thriller I co-wrote with my friend Evan Narcisse and which the masterful Jesús Merino illustrated, is available for purchase in a hardcover edition! If you don't have single issues of WVW and you want a four-issue set signed by me, they're going fast at Bulletproof Comics

No one is prouder of WVW than her older sibling, REIGN OF TERROR: HOW THE 9/11 ERA DESTABILIZED AMERICA AND PRODUCED TRUMP, which is available now in hardcover, softcover, audiobook and Kindle edition. And on the way is a new addition to the family: THE TORTURE AND DELIVERANCE OF MAJID KHAN.