The most disappointing thing in the Democratic debate Saturday night was that both Clinton and especially O’Malley accepted the Republican frame about the threat of terrorism and how afraid we should all be. And I’m really trying to get my head around all this. Here’s the thing: I’m not afraid. Yet I consider myself a complete coward. How can that be?
I think it has something to do with my clear grasp of sampling bias. Let us suppose, for a moment, that the San Bernardino attack had not been committed by a couple of Muslims. Imagine if it had been a white couple of the Alex Jones inclination. In that case, we wouldn’t be talking about ISIS as though they were some kind of existential threat to the United States. The San Bernardino attack did not change anything on the macroscale about the United States, but somehow it is an entirely acceptable position to think that everything changed — like it was 9/11 all over again.
Other than this attack being more successful than most, how is this any different from any other attack? Even if you want to limit it to Muslims who think they are part of some worldwide jihad, how does this attack change things? Has there been an uptick in these attacks? What about Nidal Hasan? Why didn’t that attack require that we change the whole fabric of society and our foreign policy? Could it be, I don’t know, that there is a presidential campaign on now?
Despite the fact that media and the political class are convinced that the San Bernardino shootings are Very Significant, I haven’t found many people who think this. And those who do think this are people who have been frightened into it by that very media and political class. As a people, we live in a nation is used to mass shootings happening every day. Unless 5 people get killed in one, it isn’t likely to even make national news. But we have been told that this is one that we must really pay attention to. It is so very meaningful that we must monitor the internet and destroy encryption.
At the beginning of the debate, Clinton gave far too much emphasis on this. But Martin O’Malley seemed almost hysterical about it. He calmed down eventually, but for a while I thought he would have fit in better at last Tuesday night’s debate with his clear acceptance of the Republican frame about terrorism. Sanders was the standout in this part of the debate, because he just didn’t go there. He’s good at focusing on what’s important.
But it was quite an interesting contrast. Because even when the Democrats are talking about terrorism, the focus is on specific things that we might do. I watched the whole Republican debate. It contained nothing that you couldn’t get from six seconds of The Fly, “Be afraid; be very afraid.” It’s interesting that the film came out in 1986 at the height of the “Reagan Revolution.” At least we had cause to be afraid then.
The truth is that as gullible as Americans are, they are even more quick to distraction. So the San Bernardino attack will fade from memory and they will get back to focusing on what they always do: their poor economic situation. This Republican frame will not last. But it does raise a concern that a similar attack in July or August of next year could throw everything into chaos and we could end up with President Trump.