Blaming other countries for its problems and branding China and Russia as “revisionist powers” will not bring back US manufacturing, repair crumbling infrastructures, improve security or stop violence. Those problems are rooted to America’s flawed political culture and a system in which money dominates the narrative.
Politicians receiving donations from the military-industrial complex, made up of defense contractors and lobbyists, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) approve big military budgets and legislation making it easy to own guns.
According to OpenSecrets.org, the US defense budget exceeds US$600 billion each year. Other news outlets report that the NRA has donated tens of millions of dollars to politicians, including US$21 million to Donald Trump’s election campaign in 2016 and more than $3.3 million to US Senator Marco Rubio during his years in politics.
Trump and Rubio are just two of the many politicians who have received political donations from the military-industrial complex and the NRA, including Hillary Clinton, John McCain and a long list of others. Full lists and the amounts each received can be found at OpenSecrets, Metro and other media outlets.
Domestic effects of huge defense spending
As if a defense budget averaging over $600 billion each year were not enough, Trump said he wanted to increase it by more than 10% to exceed $700 billion, plus another $1.2 trillion to upgrade America’s nuclear arsenal, in his first State of Union address on January 30. The money is to come out of other government budgets such as education, health care, transportation, and foreign affairs.
Increasing the military budget might enhance the financial interests of a few (defense contractors, politicians, lobbyists and propagandists disguised as “analysts”), but will worsen the economic and social plights of the middle, working, and poor classes who make up the majority of the US population.
The employment prospects in manufacturing and other high-paying non-defense sectors still elude the US. Of the more than 2 million jobs created in Trump’s first year in office, more than 80% were in low-paying service industries, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. This would suggest that many Americans continue to struggle to put food on the table.
Further, huge defense spending causes the US to endure a crumbling infrastructure system. Its bridges, highways and airports and others are in such bad shape that they have held back the ability of the country’s economy to reach its potential. Trump seems to have acknowledged that, but may have difficulty raising $1.5 trillion to fix the infrastructure system. The US is already up to its eyebrows in debt, with both government and external debt-to-GDP ratios exceeding 100%, according to The World Factbook and the International Monetary Fund.
Not paying attention to the working class and poor and easy access to guns might be the causes of hundreds of shootings in public places that kill thousands of innocent adults and children every year. The latest tragedy was a Florida high-school shooting in which 17 students were killed and 14 wounded. Disillusionment and an uncertain future might be the reasons some individuals or groups turn to violence to gain attention or to vent frustration.
Flawed US liberal democracy
There is something wrong with the US political system when vested-interest groups are able to influence government policies that put public safety and the national economic interests at risk.
Trump and Rubio expressed “outrage” at the Florida high-school shooting, but refrained from promising to impose tougher gun laws. Rubio, a Florida senator, even stated on the Senate floor a day after the shooting that making it harder to buy guns would not preclude people from buying them. His insensitive comments upset many of his constituents, particularly those who had lost children.
What’s more, Rubio is wrong that tougher gun laws do not stop public shootings and killings. Countries such as Australia, China, Japan, the UK and Canada where buying a gun is very difficult have a lot fewer public shootings than the US. Even terrorist acts there are carried out largely with knives, home-made explosives or trucks.
Lawmakers making unsubstantiated accusations of Chinese, Russian, Iranian and North Korean “threats” or claiming that the US is “losing the military edge” are those receiving large donations from the military-industrial complex or representing defense-dependent states.
What’s more, creating enemies or scapegoats to justify huge defense and law-enforcement budgets has made the US a divided nation and created racial tensions. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray, who has alleged that China might be using diplomats, scholars, tourists, businesspeople and students to spy on the US, has been accused by C100, a group of prominent Chinese-Americans, of fanning the “yellow peril” narrative. Meanwhile Muslims are routinely viewed as terrorists, resulting in a surge of hate crimes against them.
Increased global tension
Raising the defense budget and spending more than $1 trillion to upgrade the nuclear arsenal will exacerbate the problems of America’s allies. For example, Japan and South Korea spend billions of dollars to host American troops and buy US weapons each year to counter a perceived enemy.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks arms transfers, Japan purchased more than $250 billion worth of US arms between 2005 and 2015.
Perhaps as a way to offset the costs of importing arms and sustain economic growth, Australia, Japan and India recently announced that they would increase weapons production for sale to countries in Asia to counter Chinese “aggression” in the South China Sea. Meanwhile European allies such as France and the UK are exporting weapons to any country that wants to buy them.
Russia and China are also upping their arms sales, becoming respectively the second- and third-largest weapons exporters in the world after the US.
Promoting arms sales to the developing world might be a factor in their inability to escape poverty and misery. Conflicting factions in Syria, Iraq and Libya are buying foreign-made arms to kill thousands of citizens, destroying large numbers of cities, and sending millions of refugees to Europe.
However, protecting the interests of the military-industrial complex and the NRA not only hurts and endangers the US and the world, but does nothing to cull Chinese or Russian military “threats.”