Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, President Obama was busy using diplomacy to test his culinary abilities, serving world leaders his signature dish: an order of milk toast, topped with a generous helping of weak sauce. The President bravely condemned the mass murder of innocent people, promising to do something or another in cooperation with our NATO allies to make sure those schmucks never let it happen again. Following his remarks, the President said he needed to lie down, relax, watch a ball game, and surrender to the nearest Communist dictator. Fortunately for President Obama, there just happened to be one present.
If Donald Trump has a path to the presidency, it is a trail that will be blazed right through the perceived weakness in Democratic foreign policy and national security. Even if Americans would normally vote against Trump for a litany of other reasons, if they believe that his Democratic opponent lacks the resolve or the desire to both protect and represent the country, Trump will win. When people feel that their personal security is threatened, that tends to become issue number one very quickly.
In a concerted effort to stop the real-estate developer, Democratic presidential candidates have acknowledged that terrorism is something we probably ought to be concerned about, as they probably realized that comparing dying in a terrorist massacre to dying in a bathtub wasn’t going to play well in an election. They recognized that a much more forceful response was needed. For, you see, in much the same way that gelatin makes for a comparatively stronger foundation than quicksand, so too were the responses from the Democratic presidential candidates comparatively stronger than President Obama’s.
Secretary Hillary Clinton reiterated both the need to defeat ISIS and called for America to “toughen our surveillance.” On her campaign website, Clinton also lays out a four-point plan in terms that are so nebulous, one gets the impression that whoever wrote them either has no understanding of national security or is trying to uncomfortably skirt past this campaign issue and get to the next one. One of her four points is essentially to “defeat ISIS” by utilizing such brilliant, cutting-edge tactics as “dismantl[ing] the global terror network.” No explanation is provided on how this will be done, but clearly that’s part of the secret plan. The first and fourth points are devoted to insulting Republicans (clearly a solid counterterrorism measure), while the third is a call to strengthen ties with American allies (somehow).
Senator Bernie Sanders also promised to defeat ISIS (with a “coalition of countries in the region”). In a rather bizarre statement released via Twitter, Sanders also referred to the Brussels attacks as “cowardly.” I can think of several adjectives to describe a man walking into an airport and blowing himself and everyone around him to smithereens. “Evil” springs to mind. As does “barbaric.” But, in this context, “cowardly” seems uniquely unfit for purpose.
In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Senator Sanders added:
“We cannot allow the Trumps of the world to use these incidents to attack all of the Muslim people in the world. That is unfair. To imply that if somebody is a Muslim they’re a terrorist, that is an outrageous statement.”
Nothing Senator Sanders said here is inaccurate. It is morally wrong to use incidents of radical Islamic terrorism to blame Muslims for an act of violence they didn’t commit. However, cryptic warnings about Islamophobia are simply not the appropriate response from presidential candidates following an act of mass murder. If Sanders was attempting to allay public concerns, his statement does nothing of the sort. The correct answer to the question, “How do you intend to prevent terrorism?” cannot begin with advice on what to do following a terrorist attack.
Donald Trump reiterated his position that non-American Muslims should be banned from entering the United States. Trump went on to say that such attacks illustrated the need for a wall along the United States’ southern border. Of course, the notion that somehow stopping all Muslim immigration to the United States will prevent terrorism is idiotic. Not many people who intend to strap bombs to their chests and blow themselves up in populated areas will have qualms lying about their religious affiliation. But at least Trump is proposing something. It’s a stupid, simplistic, and ineffective something, but it is unquestionably a something.
And it is precisely for this reason that if there is another attack on a major city in a developed country – and the only response the Democrats can muster is weak, deflective lollygagging as cities are burning and bodies flying – Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.
The Democratic fallback for projecting national security strength is to talk about how they will bomb ISIS. Calls to defeat ISIS will largely be seen as an irrelevance. While there is overwhelming public support for taking military action against them, ISIS is a symptom; it is not the disease. For the foreseeable future, there will always be some radical Islamic group plotting the murder of American civilians, regardless of whether ISIS continues to exist. Against radical Islamism, there can never be victory. There can be only security.
“But wait!” comes the Clintonite cry, “You’re far more likely to be killed by a domestic criminal than by a terrorist. The real problem, and the one that kills far more Americans than terrorism, is gun violence. Why concern ourselves with something that affects so few Americans by comparison?”
I could argue that going full-Vox and trying to downplay the importance of terrorist attacks by comparing them to “gun violence” is dangerous and stupid (which it is), but I don’t have to do that. I just have to argue that it doesn’t work.
And it doesn’t.
Despite the many, many articles telling us all how afraid we should be of our gun-wielding countrymen, Americans simply do not buy the claim that “‘gun violence’ is a massively more important issue than terrorism.”
“Gun violence” is a red herring, an answer desperately searching for a question that left some time ago. No amount of gun control legislation, regardless of its scope or scale, has the slightest chance of preventing the sorts of attacks we’ve seen in Belgium and Paris. No one is going to allay the voters’ concerns about terrorism by pretending it isn’t especially important. If anything, this weak-kneed, apathetic response to terror will strike fear into the hearts of the electorate, and it will drive the voters straight into the stubby-fingered hands of Donald Trump.
I will concede the point that, as we are reminded ad nauseam by the President, ISIS is “not an existential threat to [the United States].” But does it really have to be? Should we really not be concerned about a foreign threat until it threatens our existence, regardless of what it destroys or whom it murders? What low standards we have for being worried about national security.
If Americans believe they are making a choice between an incoherent buffoon who will keep them safe and a seasoned politician who won’t, they will pick the former without hesitation. If Americans believe that their lives are at risk, absolutely nothing else matters. And if Americans continue to be subjected to vague, irrelevant, and diversionary responses by Democrats to acts of terror, we had all best get used to the phrase “President Trump.”
 The Belgian attacks were carried out exclusively with acetone peroxide explosives. Paris attackers used both explosives and fully automatic weapons, the latter of which they had smuggled into the country illegally, most likely from Eastern Europe.
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