Indian-American presidential candidate Kamala Harris is right. We need to reconsider what makes for a national security risk

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., during an event in Oakland, Calif., to launch presidential campaign on Jan. 27, 2019. (Bloomberg photo by David Paul Morris)

This weekend, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., drew big crowds in Iowa, spoke in bold terms and showed greater ease in discussing policy (with fewer rote answers) in media interviews. Among the best of the latter was her sit-down with NBC News’s Chuck Todd, in which she said this about Russia:

Harris: But here’s the thing, we also have to, on this election issue, understand that this longstanding adversary decided they wanted to attack us where we are strong. And one of the almost intangible strengths of America is that we can hold ourselves out as a democracy, imperfect though we may be, flawed though we may be. And it’s an intangible strength. It gives us the authority to walk in rooms and actually talk about human rights, talk about civil rights, talk about concepts of freedom, right?

So they decide, let’s get at them. Let’s attack that. So they decide to attack what is the strongest pillar of a democracy, which is free and open elections. So let’s get Americans going at each other. What’s going to get heat?

Todd: The easiest way to do it.

Harris: And they tried out a bunch of different things. and you know what caught heat? The issue of race. So Russia exposed America’s Achilles heel. And all of a sudden, then guess what, for those who want to marginalize the conversation about race and racial inequities and say, oh, well, that’s identity politics or that’s this or that, guess what, now it is also a national security issue, and we need to deal with it.

Russia attacked “us where we are strong” and “exposed America’s Achilles heel,” Harris said. “For those who want to marginalize the conversation about race . . . now it is also national security issue.”

It’s worth underscoring how authoritatively Harris speaks about national security, refusing to get sidetracked about whether Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism. (Sponsorship is less an issue than its direct violence and human rights abuses in Syria and Ukraine.) Her analysis of what is and is not a security threat is intriguing and timely.

The administration, determined to stir fear and hate against Muslims and migrants and simultaneously loath to take on white nationalists who share President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, has focused resources against external terrorist threats while minimizing the threat from white nationalist terrorism. It is in that vein that we need to discuss not only Trump’s lies, which sow discord and paranoia about the government, but also his conspiracy theorizing (highlighting the “deep state,” another gambit to drive alienation and paranoia) and his blatant racism.

Trump is said to be bothered that he is being called out as a racist. The Washington Post reports:

“The president views the characterization largely through the lens of politics, said one close adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private conversations, explaining that Trump feels the charges of racism are just another attempt to discredit him – not unlike, he believes, the more than a dozen women who have accused him of sexual misconduct or the investigation into Russian election interference.”

The mounds of evidence that Trump is a racist, not to mention the complaints of numerous women and his own statements on the “Access Hollywood” video that support the charge that he is a sexual predator, are conveniently ignored by Trump’s enablers, including virtually the entire Republican Party. The president, a master of unfounded accusations, attributes bad faith to adversaries who refuse to soft-pedal his racism as he continues to spew a toxic mix of lies, conspiracies and racism – all of which play into the mind-set of those who think that the government and dark forces are conspiring against them.

Trump insists, for example, that a caravan of men, women and children desperately fleeing violence at home is an “invasion,” populated by criminals and terrorists. He thereby echoes and reinforces the “replacement” theory spouted by the suspects in the killings in Christchurch, New Zealand; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and El Paso, Texas. Americans should not shy from discussing Trump’s conspiracy-mongering or his racism. If he were echoing and reinforcing radical Islamist terrorists’ ideology (e.g. America is the Devil!), everyone would properly view him as emboldening our enemies; it should be no different when it comes to white nationalism.

Trump apologists accuse his critics of “blaming” him for El Paso. That’s false. No one to my knowledge has claimed that without Trump’s encouragement the killer would not have slaughtered 22 people. Trump isn’t guilty of conspiracy or incitement. He is, however, throwing gasoline on the fire. The white nationalists think Trump is on their side, which strongly suggests that he is providing some of the publicity and normalization they crave.

How can an entire party and acolytes in right-wing media continue to back someone who gives aid and comfort to white nationalists? Well, they have backed someone who has given deniability and encouragement to Russia’s Vladimir Putin to attack our democracy. Putin, white nationalists, North Korea – Trump seems to have an affinity for those who threaten our national security and our democracy. And the GOP and right wing lamely respond, “But taxes . . .” or “But Gorsuch . . .”

The irony of his slogan “America First” is that Trump puts America far behind his need for ego-stroking by dictators and behind his fixation to bond with his base over white grievance.

So, yes, supporting Trump is enabling him to fill the well of racist hate from which terrorists drink and to provide cover to the United States’ aggressive foes. The Republican Party is responsible for keeping him there, just as Fox News hosts and other sycophants are responsible for boosting him and attacking defenders of decency, democracy and the American creed (“all men are created equal . . .”). We’re not talking about criminal liability; we’re talking about moral responsibility for enabling a major threat to our democracy and a megaphone for white nationalists – the president of the United States.



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