Some of the responses to the terror attack at the GOP baseball practice this week have ranged from anger to shock to sorrow or even despair. But here and there, particularly among more liberal leaning commentators, I’ve been detecting one other type of response. It’s more along the lines of, ‘I don’t see what you people are so worried about! ‘ Now, at least among the folks who live on my ideological street that type of reaction is not only unbelievable but cause for concern, if not criticism. And yet it’s real. Take for example this op-ed at USA Today from Paul Brandus.
He starts out with one of the garden variety comparisons of President Trump to Joe McCarthy, claiming that the latter’s tendency to see a communist hiding behind every closet door was now being replaced with Trump seeing “Muslims everywhere.” He then pushes the already dubious analogy further, saying that there were real things to worry about during the McCarthy era (because communists were fictional, apparently) and they included serious threats like polio.
Having set the table in that fashion, Brandus gets down to business and lets us know why wasting our energy on things like terrorists among us is just plain silly. (Emphasis in original)
One of Trump’s top worries is ISIS. Scary? In the abstract, sure. But you know what scares me more? Some moron texting behind the wheel while barreling towards me. Distracted driving killed 3,477 Americans in 2015, the government says, while injuring 391,000 more. Accidents of all kinds, in fact, kill about 372 people per day in this country. Can you imagine the outcry and panic in this country if terrorists inflicted that kind of damage?
The shooting attack Wednesday on Republicans at a congressional baseball practice was a reminder of another internal danger. In 2014, 11,008 Americans were murdered by guns. We would surely label this a huge national security threat if the killers were “radical Islamic terrorists.” But we don’t, because we inflict this damage upon ourselves.
Here’s the part where people say “Terrorism’s different.” Yet statistical probabilities are what should count. The chance of dying in a terrorist attack is tiny, so why worry about it? If I have far greater odds of getting killed by someone holding a phone or gun, isn’t it more rational to focus on that — and more irrational to focus on the statistically negligible threat?
See? You’re just being irrational. And so is the President. There’s just one thing wrong with Paul’s analysis. Okay… scratch that. There are probably too many things wrong to count. But let’s focus on what is hopefully the most obvious one.
Yes, Mr. Brandus. Distracted drivers, along with a range of other accidents, kill thousands of people every year. And it’s also true that a terrible number of people are murdered with guns, particularly in some of our major cities like Chicago and Baltimore where gang violence has murder numbers climbing back up to shocking levels. The number of people being killed in this country by terrorists every year is, by comparison, quite small. (For now.)
Here’s another set of facts that you unfortunately omitted. Who works on combating domestic terrorism? Let me help you out with that one. The FBI and CIA jointly operate the National Counterterrorism Center. (It’s worth noting that the CIA can’t conduct field operations inside the US.) But in general terms, the top dogs in domestic terrorism law enforcement are the FBI. They’re helped out by a number of other outfits inside Homeland Security as required.
Now, who is responsible for handling distracted drivers? During and after the commission of an offense it’s the local cops. Preventing it falls on the shoulders of various public awareness campaigns, some government funded and some private. Ditto for other types of accidents. Shootings largely fall on local and state police unless there’s some special task force summoned up for particularly entrenched and heinous groups.
Are you suggesting that we should divert the resources of the Department of Homeland Security to sit by the roadsides and monitor to see if anyone is texting while on their way to work? Would they be better deployed to every city, town and village each time some drunken idiot shoots another drunken idiot? Or perhaps they could be welding stronger supports on all the guardrails so fewer people died in accidents. If you’ll pardon the rest of us with less cavalier attitudes, they are doing precisely what they need to be doing. And in fact, they need to be doing a lot more of it.
One terror attack is too many. One person killed by a terrorist – even a home grown one who was simply “inspired” by ISIS – is one too many. And yes, they are more frightening than all of those other threats. We have people working on those domestic issues and we have people trying to stop the next terror attack. Your head-in-the-sand attitude is helping us with neither of these problems.
Oh, and just for the record, when McCarthy was in office we didn’t use the FBI to fight polio. We had doctors for that. Still do, in fact.