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Tomgram: Rajan Menon, Making America Insecure Again

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Terror attacks like the recent one in London send a shudder through Americans. Since 9/11, they have been the definition of what TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon calls "national (in)security." They've also been the lifeblood of a media machine that loves to focus 24/7 on immediate and obvious horrors (especially against folks like "us"). In the age of Donald Trump, preventing such attacks has, if anything, become even more the essence of what American security is all about.

And yet, in the context of the insecurity to come in this world, they are essentially nothing. It is, of course, a terrible thing when some disturbed fanatic or set of fanatics gun down or run down innocent civilians in London, Berlin, Paris, or San Bernardino (as it should be, but in our American world isn't, when a U.S. plane or drone kills innocent civilians in distant lands). But if, for a moment, you stop to think in either nuclear terms (as in the pairing of North Korea's unnerving leader Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump) or in climate change terms, then those attacks are the smallest of potatoes when it comes to national insecurity. If you really want to think about acts of "terror," consider what Donald Trump and his climate-denying crew at the Environmental Protection Agency and elsewhere in his administration would like to do to the environmental policies of the world's second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Trump's urge is clearly to negate every positive act of the Obama administration when it comes to reining in the use of fossil fuels -- from the Paris climate agreement to the Clean Power Plan aimed at shutting down coal-fired power plants. In the end, if a Trump presidency takes this country out of the climate change sweepstakes entirely, if it opens the flood (and fracking) gates yet wider on the development of fossil fuels of every sort while tamping down the development of alternative energy sources, you're talking about an act of terror on a scale that would once have been inconceivable. What the Trump administration is already trying to do should lead to constant headlines of a sort that would put the recent London ones to shame. However, because the full impact of Trump's climate terror won't strike home until the era of our grandchildren or even great-grandchildren, because his version of terror will be enacted on a time scale that plays havoc with our usual sense of history and of our own lives, he'll undoubtedly get only the most modest of attention for it -- while Khalid Masood, the London killer, and his successors will remain the eternal headliners du jour.

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Still, make no mistake about it, in his rented vehicle of choice President Trump will run over future generations. Even on a less drastic time scale, as Rajan Menon makes vividly clear today, he will certainly prove to be a heavyweight in the national (in)security business. Tom

National (In)security
What a Trump Presidency Really Means for Americans at the Edge
By Rajan Menon

Donald Trump's supporters believe that his election will end business as usual in Washington. The self-glorifying Trump agrees and indeed his has, so far, been the most unorthodox presidency of our era, if not any era. It's a chaotic and tweet-driven administration that makes headlines daily thanks to scandals, acts of stunning incompetence, rants, accusations, wild claims, and conspiracy theories. On one crucial issue, however, Trump has been a complete conformist. Despite the headline-grabbing uproar over Muslim bans and the like, his stance on national security couldn't be more recognizable. His list of major threats -- terrorism, Iran, North Korea, and China -- features the usual suspects that Republicans, Democrats, and the foreign policy establishment have long deemed dangerous.

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Trump's conception of security not only doesn't break the mold of recent administrations, it's a remarkably fine fit for it. That's because his focus is on protecting Americans from foreign groups or governments that could threaten us or destroy physical objects (buildings, bridges, and the like) in the homeland. In doing so, he, like his predecessors, steers clear of a definition of "security" that would include the workaday difficulties that actually make Americans insecure. These include poverty, joblessness or underemployment, wages too meager to enable even full-time workers to make ends meet, and a wealth-based public school system that hampers the economic and professional prospects, as well as futures, of startling numbers of American children. To this list must be added the radical dangers climate change poses to the health and safety of future citizens.

Trump may present himself as a maverick, but on security he never wavers from an all-too-familiar externally focused and militarized narrative.

Conjurer-in-Chief

Barack Obama wrote a bestselling book titled The Audacity of Hope. Perhaps Donald Trump should write one titled The Audacity of Wealth. During the presidential campaign of 2016 he morphed unashamedly from plutocrat to populist, assuring millions of people struggling with unemployment, debt, and inadequate incomes that he would solve their problems. The shtick worked. Many Americans believed him. Fifty-two percent of voters who did not have a college degree chose him. Among whites with that same educational profile, he did even better, winning 67% of their votes.

Unemployment, underemployment, stagnant wages, and the outsourcing of production (and so jobs) have hit those who lack a college degree especially hard. Yet many of them were convinced by Trump's populist message. It made no difference that he belonged to the wealthiest 0.00004% of Americans, if his net worth is the widely reported $3.5 billion, and the top 0.00002% if, as he claims, it's actually $10 billion.

Former Louisiana Governor Huey Long, perhaps the country's best-known populist historically speaking, was born and raised in Winn Parish, a poor part of Louisiana. In the 1930s, his origins and his far-reaching ideas for redistributing wealth gave him credibility. By contrast, Trump wasn't cut from humble cloth; nor in his present reincarnation has he even claimed to stand for the reallocation of wealth (except possibly to his wealthy compatriots). His father, Fred Trump, was a multimillionaire who, at the time of his death in 1999, had a net worth of $250 million, which was divided among his four surviving children. The proportional allocations are not publicly known, though it's safe to assume that Donald did well. He also got his start in business -- and it wasn't even an impressive one -- thanks to lavish help from Fred to the tune of millions of dollars. When he subsequently hit rough patches, Dad's connections and loan guarantees helped set things right.

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A man who himself benefited handsomely from globalization, outsourcing, and a designed-for-the-wealthy tax code nonetheless managed to convince coal miners in West Virginia and workers in Ohio that all of these were terrible things that enriched a "financial elite" that had made itself wealthy at the expense of American workers and that electing him would end the swindle.

He also persuaded millions of voters that foreign enemies were the biggest threat to their security and that he'd crush them by "rebuilding" America's military machine. Worried about ISIS? Don't be. Trump would "bomb the sh*t out of them." Concerned about the nuclear arms race? Not to worry. "We'll outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all."

Yet few if any Americans lie awake at night fearing invasion by another country or the outbreak of nuclear war. Fifteen years after 9/11, terrorism still ranks high on the American list of concerns (especially, the polls tell us, among Republicans). But that danger is not nearly as dire as Trump and the U.S. national security state insist it is. A litany of statistics shows that deaths from car crashes leave death-by-terrorist in the dust, while since 2002 even bee, hornet, and wasp stings have killed more Americans annually in the United States than "Islamic terrorists."

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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