You can’t be sure of much in our unpredictable world

James Zogby on a trifecta of baffling events: Trump leading or pulling level in polls; Congress passing the 9/11 bill and the Obama administration reaching a $38bn deal with Israel

Hillary Clinton is not seen as honest and trustworthy by a majority of American voters. Andrew Harnik / AP Photo
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I am stymied. I’ve been writing this column each and every week for years now. Most weeks, the columns practically write themselves. This week is different because the news is dominated by events that almost defy explanation.

In the first place, there’s Donald Trump leading the presidential race or tied in a number of national polls. Added to this, Congress overwhelming passed legislation allowing the families of September 11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia. The icing on the cake is the agreement reached between the Obama administration and Israel guaranteeing Israel $38 billion [Dh140bn] in military assistance programme over the next 10 years.

Individually, these stories are confounding. Collectively, they are appalling.

After Hillary Clinton fainted while leaving a September 11 memorial event, it was revealed that pneumonia had been diagnosed a few days earlier and would, therefore, stay off the campaign trail for a few days until she regained her strength. Because Mrs Clinton hadn’t made public her illness until after the fainting spell, the press pounced, denouncing her penchant for privacy, secrecy and whatever.

Now that charge has some merit and is reflected in polling, which shows that Mrs Clinton is not seen as honest and trustworthy by a majority of voters. This trust issue continues to plague Mrs Clinton and is, to some degree, responsible for her declining poll numbers.

While that may be understandable, what is impossible to comprehend is how Mr Trump becomes the beneficiary of her slide. The Republican nominee is, by far, the least transparent candidate to ever run for president. The health records he has revealed are a joke. He continues to withhold his tax returns. And we now understand that many of the donations he claimed to have made to charity are questionable.

Given Mr Trump’s record, his appeals to bigotry, the contradictory nature of the positions he has taken on critical issues and his lack of experience in government, how can one reasonably explain the fact that none of this seems to matter to the 42 or so per cent of the electorate who say they would choose him as president over a person who is the most qualified candidate in the field.

I have written extensively about “Trumpism” and the anger, fear and deep trauma of the group of voters who propelled him on to the national stage. But I assumed that the majority of the American electorate would ultimately reject him. I can still hope that they will. That this race is tied is both confusing and worrisome.

I shouldn’t have been stunned when Congress passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. But I was. Congress frequently considers bills that are baseless, outrageous and/or just plain dangerous. Because these efforts are often motivated by crass politics, they usually die as saner minds prevail.

In proposing this bill, Congress was preying on the deep residual pain resulting from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The legislation is premised on the notion that there was a direct Arab governmental role in the attacks, despite the findings of the September 11 Commission to the contrary. In fact, it is only because of the persistence of deep anti-Arab sentiment that some members of Congress continued to advance the bill. By passing it and sending it to the president they are putting at risk US relations with important Arab allies and they are opening the door for other countries to pass similar legislation that could hold the United States or Israel (with US support) accountable for their actions in the Middle East.

While Congress often sees Arabs as soft targets who can be attacked with impunity, this legislation is clearly a step too far. Just as I assumed that it would not pass, I am assuming that the Obama administration will veto it and that his veto will not be overridden by Congress. Given the unpredictable climate, I am no longer sure of anything.

The icing on the cake was the conclusion of a monumental disaster of an agreement — the 10-year, commitment to a $38bn military assistance package for Israel. Even though I understand politics, this aid package is inexplicable and even dangerous. It rewards Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to sabotage the president’s Iran deal and his blocking of any movement towards Israeli-Palestinian peace. And it takes away any leverage the US may have had to restrain Israel’s unconscionable behaviour in the occupied territories.

One would have thought that this president, after more than seven years of dealing with Mr Netanyahu, has learnt that by rewarding bad behaviour he only enables it – allowing the Israeli leader to act with impunity.

If this were not troubling enough, the administration’s lame statement, accompanying the announcement of the deal, still advocating two states (which Mr Netanyahu’s policies have now buried) and decrying continued settlement expansion (which Israel routinely ignores), was embarrassing.

And what I found deeply troubling was the statement that this massive demonstration of “unprecedented support for Israel’s security” was being touted as part of this White House’s proud legacy — a far cry, indeed, from the Middle East goals they had established seven years ago.

All of this defies reasonable explanation. That it all happened in a week (together, I might add, with the US-Russian “Syrian peace deal”, that provides neither “peace” nor a “deal”) left me stymied.

Dr James Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute

On Twitter: @aaiusa