Singularly and obstinately, Senator Tommy Tuberville, Republican of Alabama, has refused to vote for promotion of senior military leaders, including the Joint Chief of Staff, and most immediately for the highest-ranking Marine General. His reason has nothing to do with the nominations. It is because he does not like the Biden Administration’s rule that military coffers will be used to pay for a member of the military or their family member who must travel out of state for an abortion. He alleges that this stand-off will not harm our military, national defense or security. He offers no evidence for that position. It is bold-faced blackmail. He knows it, and evidently his constituents know and like it. That is the real reason why he is doing it. Military leadership unanimously disagrees. Former Joint Chief of Staff, General Mark A. Milley, under the Trump Administration has publicly denounced the action in the name of combat readiness and national security.
Earlier this week, a Trump-appointed federal judge, Judge Terry A. Doughty of Louisiana, issued an order on First Amendment grounds that restricts government interaction with social media sites on matters of disinformation. While some of the evidence does suggest overreach on the part of the Biden Administration’s 2022 election efforts, this opinion paints a broad stroke, and probably violates the First Amendment on the side of the government too. Exceptions do include, according to The New York Times, “that the government could still notify the platforms about posts detailing crimes, national security threats or foreign attempts to influence elections.” All of those specifics fall under the rubric of cybersecurity, as does mis/disinformation. Does this judge have working knowledge of cybersecurity? Me thinks not. Like Senator Tuberville, he would prioritize his politics over the health and security of our country. Hunter Biden’s computer is more important than lies about election fraud?
For those who are not familiar with my reasons for running for Congress in a 2018 and 2020 Republican District, allow me to briefly retell the story. It was during the 2016 presidential campaign. Candidate Trump invited Russia to invade our servicers, supposedly to find “Hillary Clinton’s emails.” It may have been a joke, but it was not funny. I was eating a pizza in my new condominium in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts and I threw my dinner at the TV set, creating a little mess on the carpet. “You can do better than that, Tracy,” I said to myself. I revered my father, his four brothers and two brothers-in-law, who fought in World War II, as well as two cousins, one on each side of the family, who went to Vietnam. Maybe that reverence contributed to my sincere interest in cybersecurity. It is, after all, essentially national security. Frivolity about something so important, and so contemporarily in flux, was not becoming to a candidate from a major political party. Given what we came to know about his idolization of Putin, it was also boldly self-serving. I thought it was my turn to step up.
My parents were Republicans. My mother was very politically minded. She hated the Kennedys and I don’t think ever voted for a Democrat. English-Irish ethnically, she loved Patrick Buchanan and, I suspect, would have been an ardent supporter of Trump. My father was more practically minded. He voted for Mario Cuomo, believed in choice, and would not have appreciated the grifter aspect of the previous president. He might have voted for him in 2016, but I don’t think he would have in 2020. Don’t ask me how I turned out so different. Race had something to do with it. I never once, even as a child, aligned with my parent’s prejudice. I credit my Catholic upbringing. Some of my middle school teachers were pro-civil rights and anti-Vietnam War, but it goes back earlier than that. The spirit of love, hope and charity struck a chord in me.
Something has shifted from those years when my parents were all about supporting our country’s national defense. Memorial Day was a very big deal in my family. My mother was rabidly anti-Communist. They both supported the war in Vietnam and voted enthusiastically for Nixon. Even as I began to translate my feelings as more in line with the Democratic politics, national security remained common ground between us. I was 12 when the United States invaded Cambodia, and I would say that is when I became more aware of the issue and against our foreign policy on that front. But still, I believed strongly in our military and have always advocated for robust national security.
What is wrong with the Republican Party? It has become so unprincipled, Machiavellian and ignorant. Applied to national security, these three traits are a disaster for the United States. I am particularly concerned about the two developments this week, Senator Tuberville’s grandstand is based on polling in his state without a care for our country’s international fate. Naively, he acts as if our opponents on a global scale don’t watch such antics with their own self-interest. This decision about mis/disinformation is from a judge who punches way above his weight. It is ignorant of cybersecurity and its connection to national security. Trump, of course, remains a potent threat. He will continue to run so long as the money comes in to pay his many lawyers’ bills and feed his ego. But what comes with it, given his predilection for autocrats, bodes very ill for our standing on the world stage. Other Republicans don’t speak out. Elected officials run into elevators to avoid journalists. They shirk their responsibility embedded in the oath of office to defend the United States against threats both domestic and foreign. It is as if they live in an alternative reality.
Richard Hofstadter identified a paranoid style of American politics in the 1960s. His student, Christopher Lasch, called out the narcissism of American society in the 1970s and ’80s that we now know metastasized into Trump. As a card-carrying historian (who studied under Lasch), I am going to give it shot. The contemporary Republican Party acts as if it has a histrionic personality disorder. Their election playbook speaks directly to type: create a straw man/woman of your opponent, throw corrupt corporate and big PAC money to attack it, and then lie, fearmonger and, well, be histrionic to win votes. Nothing about the truth matters. If the opponent has nothing to distort or take out of context, make something up. Act on rash decisions. Rationalize your choices, no matter how mistaken. Above all, play the victim and win at all costs. The ends justify the means, and with that disposition goes sincere approaches to address our socially destructive tax policy, racism, civil rights, and—contrary to their claims—freedom and free speech. But the greatest loss of all, at least to me, is in the area of national security. I cannot forgive them for that lapse. They do not deserve credence because of it.
My little blog post, like my run for Congress, is not going to change a damned thing. If I learned one thing from that experience it is that, try as I might, I can’t fix big economic, social or political problems. But if you are reading this post, I must allow myself some degree of influence, and so here it is: Republicans voters in particular, and all voters in general, demand more of your representatives on matters of national security—recognizing that cybersecurity is key to that landscape. As frustrated as many of us get, steer away from demonization of the other party. Remember that we are all people. My historian’s diagnosis, as critical as it is of Republicans, is nonetheless an attempt at giving our differences a human face. That which is human can be addressed: Manichean notions of pure good and real evil cannot. Moreover, in a democracy, the electorate has the responsibility to demand that our representatives keep us safe. That is the first order of government. Republicans as a group are not doing their job with antics such as Tuberville’s and Trump’s or judicial decisions that create overly broad, extraordinary burdens on our government not grounded in an informed reality but on rank politics. The failure of other Republicans to speak up about these destructive directions is not strategic. It is cowardly. If, in reaction, you throw your pizza in a moment of pique, I get it. But we can all do better. And we must.