Near the end of his rambling, 75-minute long 2016 "Mourning in America" speech, then-candidate Donald Trump took a break from pitting minorities against one another and declaring the United States was beyond saving to do his best impression of a broken clock and make one salient point. "The most basic duty of government is to defend the lives of its own citizens," he graveled monotonously, "(and) any government that fails to do so is a government unworthy to lead."
Well, he wasn't wrong, for once. But, contrary to the GOP's opinion, national security means more than writing a blank check to the military-industrial complex, and spending trillions of dollars on boondoggles like a $14 billion aircraft carrier that can't launch aircraft, the costliest weapons program in history, the development of a gun that's too expensive to actually fire, or spending $6.4 trillion on the longest war in American history.
But even that notation is overly generous, so let's just be absolutely clear here: Donald Trump and the modern Republican party have no actual interest in national security. Absolutely none whatsoever. Unlike what most people associate with "authoritarianism" and "nationalism," Donald Trump didn't (and still doesn't!) care about America or its power any further than he could personally benefit. And as the GOP has become the party of Trump, it has followed suit, with leadership more concerned about performative virtue signaling in the pursuit of profit and power and no interest whatsoever in governing or making America "great."
True to form, Republicans are using one of Karl Rove's key strategies and accusing their opponents of their own weaknesses.
Sadly and predictably, too many of us feel the need to play this game by their rules, seemingly unable or unwilling to see that the Republican Party is a game of Calvinball masquerading as a political party.
Unless we want to concede American democracy to a generation of fascism, we need to stop fighting battles on the Republicans' terms; reframing the national security debate is a key component to that.
We don't even have to wonder what reframing the national security debate might hypothetically look like. Instead, we just need take a glance down to the great state of Texas. A once-in-a-century weather event—the kind that seem to be happening annually, multiple years in a row—has left the state devastated. Combined with an unholy blend of corruption, a total lack of investment in infrastructure, and a complete lack of leadership, the winter storms have become a ghastly tornado of failure that might’ve even given Donald Trump a run for his money.
And, again, I use the term “leadership” lightly; as everyday Texans are asked to freeze and go without electricity in order to keep the lights on for corporate America, what passes for "leaders" in Texas have shown they are completely unconcerned about anything but blaming anyone and anything else for what's going on.
But this is a perfect example for why Democrats have to seize the mantle of national security. National security means that we provide for the people of the United States, and keep their lives as stable as possible. But it doesn’t mean trillions in defense spending; instead, it means focusing on keeping kids in school, not bars and college football games.
National security means not forcing hospitals to bid against one another to buy critical PPE for their workers on the black market from an adversarial country, even better, preventing that problem from happening in the first place. It means not having your entire life ruined if you get sick.
National security means not tolerating extremism and terrorism, and working as a country to ensure we root it out proactively.
It means ensuring that we are energy independent as a nation, and that Americans can get reliable power to homes, schools, and workplaces without interruption.
National security means that, when the very worst does happen, the people who keep us safe in emergencies will be properly equipped and ready to take on that fight, instead of being left to hold the line for a government that refuses to care for its own people.
There is no better time than now. How many people do you know ache to go back to "normal", talking about their plans for "when the pandemic is over"? They want that stability. They yearn for it. But the problem is that that stability is simply not possible, and will never be possible, under Republican leadership.
We have to take this issue of national security, and its framing, and shove it directly back down the GOP’s throat. Because the threats are not going away; in fact, a whole mess of them are gonna get way worse. And the Republican Party is unable and unwilling to do anything about it.
Democrats must seize this unprecedented opportunity and prove to the American people that we still stand up to make their lives, and our nation, as secure as they can possibly be.