On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, I went to see a podcast live show in Brooklyn. When the show was over, I joined some friends at a bar where everyone was anxiously watching results continue to come in from around the country. Newscasters kept saying that one of the states Trump needed to win was Michigan. As a Michigan native, I kept telling people, in a calm and reassuring manner, that during every presidential election I could remember, the Republican always started the night winning Michigan, and then Wayne County’s votes came in and the Democrat won.
As it turned out, this time was different. Trump won the state by an absurdly narrow margin — 47.5 percent to Hillary Clinton’s 47.27 percent.
In 2020, Michigan was back to looking like the blue-leaning swing state it had been for decades. Joe Biden won the state by a margin of 50.7 percent to 47.84 percent.
He may pull it off again this fall. But it’s far from a sure thing. Michigan has more Arab Americans than any other state, both by percentage and raw numbers — and Biden has been offering maximum support to the extreme right-wing government of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as that government engages in indiscriminate killing and mass displacement of its Palestinian subjects in Gaza.
Even after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a preliminary ruling in favor of South Africa’s charges of “genocide,” the Biden administration has doubled down on its relentless support for Israel. Biden has rushed extra funds and extra shipments of arms to Israel, often sidestepping Congress to do it more quickly. He’s provided Netanyahu with diplomatic cover at every turn. He’s spuriously cast doubt on the numbers of the dead provided by Gaza’s beleaguered medical professionals — even though the Ministry of Health numbers have been consistently accurate in past conflicts. And he’s directly entered the United States in the conflict, bombing Yemen to try to break the Houthis’ naval blockade against Israeli ports.
Under those circumstances, it’s little surprise that many Arab Americans in Michigan have increasingly turned against the president. Last Friday, Biden’s campaign manager, Julie Chavez, was supposed to meet with Arab and Muslim leaders in Dearborn. The meeting was canceled because of what the Detroit News called “fury over Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war.”
What might be a little more surprising is that the fury isn’t limited to Muslims and Arab Americans. It’s shared by a huge plurality of Biden’s base.
To be sure, those Americans who are most dedicated to convincing themselves that no war crimes have been committed in Gaza — and certainly no genocide — can just about pull it off. Close your eyes and repeat mantras popularized in previous wars about how the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are the “most moral army in the world” taking “extraordinary measures” to minimize civilian deaths. Tell yourself that the ICJ’s ruling was a result not of the facts of the case but “the world” hating “the only Jewish state.” Don’t let your mind wander to how much worse the civilian death and destruction is in Gaza than, say, what was inflicted in Iraq by the US invasion in 2003 or Ukraine by the Russian invasion in 2022. Definitely don’t think too hard about how difficult it would be to accidentally drive 1.9 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents out of their homes while “trying” to minimize damage to civilians, or how exactly a controlled demolition of the last university standing in Gaza can be squared with the idea that the goal of “the operation” is anything but the obliteration of civil life in the Palestinian territory. Above all, don’t let yourself watch any of the videos.
If you do all that, you might be able to avoid what George Orwell called “wrongthink” in his dystopian novel 1984 — the crime of coming to forbidden conclusions. But fewer and fewer of the voters Biden will need in November seem to be able to jump through all the hoops.
A new poll from YouGov and the Economist showed that a whopping 50 percent of Democratic voters think that Israel is “committing genocide against Palestinian civilians.” Another 30 percent aren’t sure. That only leaves one in five Democrats who think that the Democratic president isn’t actively assisting a foreign country in committing genocide.
You can make all the rational arguments in the world about the ways that Donald Trump would be worse. And, to be clear, he would be. In the domestic sphere, Trump’s first term was a four-year orgy of union busting, deregulation, and tax cuts for the rich. In foreign policy, he doubled the rate of drone strikes, escalated tensions with Russia, and tore up Obama’s diplomatic pact with Iran.
And Trump was even worse on Israel-Palestine. He was consistently subservient to Netanyahu — not even giving the Israeli prime minister the half-hearted remonstrances to show “restraint” that we’ve heard from Biden (even as Biden has continued to sign the checks and provide the diplomatic cover). Trump moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. No president, Democrat or Republican, had been willing to do that in the decades since Israel’s illegal annexation of Palestinian East Jerusalem. Signing off on that annexation was a bridge too far for even George W. Bush, but Trump did it.
Furthermore, Trump’s Abraham Accords directly led to the current explosion of the conflict. The whole point of those accords — beyond closer unity against Iran between Israel and US-aligned Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain — was to put in place a version of regional normalization that permanently froze out the Palestinians, leaving Israel’s fifty-seven-year-old occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in place forever.
But we’ve reached a point where the idea that calmly pointing out that the other guy would be even worse will save Biden’s presidency is starting to feel delusional. If the Middle East is still on fire in November, most of Biden’s base may be willing to look past the growing mountain of Palestinian corpses. But some won’t. And it won’t take many to tip the election to Trump if the race ends up being anything like as tight as polls were making it look long before October 7.
If you want to sternly lecture people who are horrified by the genocide in Gaza about why they should enthusiastically campaign for the president who’s supplying the guns and bombs and diplomatic cover — and bombing anyone who tries to get in the way — because the other guy would be even worse . . . well, be my guest. Tell me how it goes for you. Especially if you’re delivering this message in Michigan, where some of the recipients of your lecture have seen members of their extended families driven from their homes or killed by two thousand–pound bombs in areas the Israelis had ordered them to evacuate to.
If you’re concerned about what a Trump win could mean on issues ranging from labor rights to reproductive freedom, though, I’d suggest you don’t direct your anger at the 80 percent of Democratic voters who either think the president is a genocidaire or aren’t sure. Instead, direct it at the single person on the planet with the most power to end that perception.
Take all of your anxiety about what a second Trump presidency could do to the country and the world, take all your anger that what’s going on in the Middle East could lead to that outcome, and direct it at Joe Biden in the form of the most important message anyone on the planet can be delivering right now — the message he needs to hear, loud and clear, every time he opens his mouth in public: