If there’s one thing you can always rely on Senator John McCain for, it’s doing his best to scare the American public. The Arizona Republican’s penchant for supporting aggressive military action against a variety of menacing actors overseas, or at the very least, consistently growing the number of threats to our national security and livelihoods, is well known. This week, he handed Vladimir Putin the number one spot on that list, calling the Russian President “the premier and most important threat, more so than ISIS”.
In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, McCain was careful not to distract too much from terrorism, warning, “I think ISIS can do terrible things, and I worry a lot about what is happening with the Muslim faith, and I worry about a whole lot of things about it. But it’s the Russians who are trying, who tried to destroy the very fundamental of democracy, and that is to change the outcome of an American election.”
It must be mentioned that McCain acknowledges in the interview, “I have seen no evidence that they succeeded” in reference to the Russians affecting the outcome of the election. Most Democrats are still unable to admit that. Even if it’s ever proven that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, there will still not be a way to determine that the results would have been any different. Donald Trump won, Hillary Clinton lost, and the factors attributing to that are innumerable.
There is however, no question that election meddling is an assault on a nation’s sovereignty. The results of 2016 also happen to be a particularly poignant topic, given that an unpredictable, thin-skinned, and egomaniacal billionaire is now the President of the United States. But McCain’s threat-level rhetoric actually works against American interests. If we learned anything (which it's questionable if we have) from 16 years of a global war on terror, it's that the trillions of dollars spent outwardly haven't made the country more safe.
The more we play up threats from abroad, the less pressure is placed on lawmakers to prioritize what’s happening at home. Vladimir Putin may be an antagonizing figure on the world stage, but he isn't threatening your ability to see a doctor. The President’s recently released budget would hurt the most vulnerable, while Republicans in Congress are attempting to take health insurance away from 23 million people. As if the sustainability of the planet is entertainment, the President is teasing his decision on whether or not to pull out of a historic global accord on climate while numerous bills have already dismantled regulations that protect our environment. The Justice Department is meanwhile planning to reverse course on criminal justice reform, continuing a system based on punishment rather than rehabilitation, that contributes to an inescapable cycle of poverty and disenfranchisement.
These examples make up just a fraction of the list of more pertinent threats facing Americans than either ISIS or Vladimir Putin. Recognizing that is neither distraction or denial. We can confront global terrorism and assertive foreign governments without constantly drumming up fear and increasing military budgets. That may take smart diplomacy that we currently don’t have, but fixing that dilemma requires a much deeper reckoning about how faith in our institutions reached such extreme lows that a real-estate and reality tv mogul with no political experience won so many minds. We can't confront the former without the latter.
As for the seemingly daily reports about investigations into President Trump’s advisors and the many previously undisclosed meetings with Russian officials or businessmen, let’s follow the money. Collusion would be criminal, but the larger questions circling this administration should be about profiting off of the Presidency at home and abroad, in Russia or anywhere else. That includes not only the Trump family's personal interests, but the industries who can benefit as well.
The American public deserve better from their elected leaders than to have their fears of foreign foes played upon while institutions and infrastructure and basic rights crumble around them. But why would Senator McCain stray from his old tricks, if no one demands it? We need the investigations into Russia to conclude so that we can get answers, but in the meantime, we shouldn’t let them take away from the pressing realities and needs of everyday life.