Pres. Trump Should Not Have Cancelled His Masada Trip

Sarah E. Bond has a nice article in Forbes this week about Donald Trump’s decision to skip Masada during his visit to Israel and the West Bank. In it, my colleague discusses the reasons President Trump should have gone to visit the famed hilltop fortress. While it once served as an opulent southern hideaway for the tyrannical Herod the Great, well-removed from the established Judean capital of Jerusalem, Masada is best remembered for its role in the Great Jewish Revolt against Rome (66-73 CE), and concepts of honor, loyalty, and the Jewish history of perseverance in the face of oppression.

But the president didn’t go.

Mr. Trump cancelled his visit to Masada after he was informed that he wouldn’t be allowed to land his helicopter on the over two-millennia-old archaeological ruins atop the mountain.

Thus, while there are many reasons the president should have visited Masada, there are also plenty of reasons the president should not have cancelled his visit–political reasons, symbolic reasons, and reasons that give us a glimpse into the mindset of our 45th president.

Masada Snake Path

Masada’s Snake Path can be seen below the cables of the Masada cable car, both of which lead to the Visitor Center at the foot of the mountain.

The first reason is simple: it’s Masada. From the Visitor Center, you either walk the Snake Path or take the cable car to the top. For two millennia, Christian and Jewish pilgrims, tourists, and soldiers have made the arduous journey up the mountain to visit this monument to perseverance. Tourists do it. Soldiers do it. Staff members do it. President Trump should do it like everyone else, including Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

However, when President Trump was told he couldn’t land his helicopter on the famed archaeological remains in order to avoid the heat and sweat of the journey, he cancelled the visit. The fact that Donald Trump cancelled says a lot about how he views himself as opposed to literally everyone else on earth, including other U.S. Presidents.

Second, if riding the cable car is too much work for President Trump, then he wouldn’t be able to see the site anyway. The top of the plateau is massive–over 1.6 million sq. ft., or 36.78 acres! Furthermore, many of the key components of Masada lie on the perimeter of the top of the mountain–with some even carved into the side of the mountain–and these are accessible only by lengthy, rather precarious staircases. Any tourist who has visited Masada knows this. Only those in relatively good shape and possessing strong legs and great balance are able to descend into Herod’s hanging palace. You simply cannot experience Herod’s resplendent extravagance if you’re not willing and able to put in the effort. Even via the cable car, visiting the mountaintop Masada fortress requires some sweat and getting dirty–two things the president loathes and typically lets others do for him.


The mountain of Masada from the east/Dead Sea. Photo by: gaspa, Creative Commons.

Third, the entire ordeal of President Trump’s cancellation of Masada tells us a lot about how he views the relationship between effort and reward. Like many other things in his life, President Trump wanted credit for the difficult journey, but insisted upon a means of getting there not available to everyone else. (And no, the Russians did not build the cableway; it was built by two Swiss companies.)

President Trump wanted credit for reaching the top of the mountain, but needed more help getting there than others who are required to work for their achievements. And when he couldn’t take the easy route, he quit.

Finally, it is quite telling that when the president was told he could not ascend Masada–a monument to resistance–via helicopter, he backed down. This tells us something. When faced with strong resistance, Donald Trump backs down, because taking on the resistance requires discipline, patience, and persistent focus and effort–all clubs the president has repeatedly demonstrated he does not carry in his bag.

President Trump did a great many other things on his trip to Israel. But sometimes it’s the things you don’t do that say the most about you. And our president has shown us repeatedly that while everyone else must work hard for what they achieve, he will take a shortcut whenever he can. And when he is told he must work like everyone else, he quits.


The top of Masada, looking south. Photo by: Godot13.

Masada is about perseverance, honor, resistance, and hard work. It’s about being willing to die for what you believe in. And in the end, perhaps it is best that President Trump didn’t visit Masada. This mountain has already experienced one paranoid, conspiracy-laden hegemon, who achieved his position with the help of a foreign power and by agreeing to use his government to pursue their interests. Perhaps it’s best we remember Masada for those who have made the effort and the sacrifice, and not for those who fled when they didn’t get their way.





3 Responses

  1. Trump embarrasses this country — and me — every day and in every way he possibly can. I live in New London, CT. He embarrassed the USCG, the Academy, and the Corps of Cadets when he spoke there — complaining about his treatment by the press. (I am also a USCG “brat” and a USAF veteran. — He renounces any and all responsibility for anything that he does. BAH HUMBUG!) He was disgusting when he demanded to use a helocopter at Masada. He would do the same for the Athenian Acropolis probably. He is a man with no virtu/arete as are everyone he surrounds himself. Would you like to join my Society of Diogenes? We need more members. :-)

  2. While I do not ascribe to the conclusions here I was standing in Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate last week and was struck by a parallel. The Turkish Ottoman government opened the centuries-old walls of Jerusalem in 1898 so that Kaiser Wilhelm could ride through in pomp and circumstance in his chariot. So are we guides trained, In contrast, by the way, General Allenby in 1917 dismounted outside the gate and walked in humbly, as conqueror of Jerusalem, for where Jesus had walked he was not going to ride. Now, I personally helped land a helicopter on Masada as an Israeli soldier around 20 years ago for an American general, throwing the smoke grenade for two landings to let him off and pick him up, so the pilot could check the winds. Archaeologists, and I am now one too, determined that these landings were damaging ancient structures. So Kaiser Wilhelm would not have entered Jerusalem without the Turks permanently damaging structures, and brought about destruction through his arrival. Would you like an overview of the whole hill from the helicopter and then ascend by cable car, or would you like to know that your landing permanently damaged a country’s ancient history? He ultimately did not land and do damage. I do not know all the president’s considerations, and the press looks for the negative, but this is a point to consider.

  3. Barnea, Do you think Trump’s visit was part of a military effort? Or do you there no it was like Presidents Bush and Clinton before him, that is diplomatic tourism?

    My second point would be that once we’re comparing President Trump to Kaiser Wilhelm and the Ottomans, you’ve made my point. Oh would that our president could act at least like Gen. Allenby, even with all of his faults.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: