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Elephant in the Room: The GOP’s Terrorism Dilemma

“Supporting the outdated and discriminatory War on Drug laws whilst permitting terror suspects to purchase explosives legally runs counter to any notion of keeping America safe.”


This week all but one Senate Republican, Sen. Mark Kirk from Illinois, voted against a bill that would ban those on “the F.B.I.’s consolidated terrorist watchlist from purchasing guns or explosives”. For a party that claims to be tough-on-terror, this vote seems to directly contradict the party’s mantra, but delve a little deeper into the state of today’s GOP and one may note that hypocrisy and irrationality are rife. Supporting the outdated and discriminatory War on Drug laws whilst permitting terror suspects to purchase explosives legally runs counter to any notion of keeping America safe. Failing to acknowledge the gun violence problem at home whilst preaching anti-refugee fear-mongering may win over a handful of xenophobes, but runs completely counter to the nation’s ideals and to its security interests, both issues Republicans claim to value deeply. Many Americans are aware of the illogic of GOP policy stances on security, as supported by recent polls concluding Hillary Clinton is more trusted on handling terrorism than any of the Republican candidates for President. As the Grand Old Party continues to grapple with its self-identity in the 21st century, its members must decide whether to go the route of reason or fear.

The aforementioned Senate vote was in fact a measure tacked onto a GOP-proposed bill repealing parts of the Affordable Care Act, put forth by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. Though proposed frequently since 2007, this week’s vote was particularly timely. It came less than a week after a shooting spree at a Colorado Planned Parenthood facility and only hours after America’s most deadly mass shooting since the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 which left 20 children and 6 school staff members dead. Also on the Senate floor that day was a proposed measure to “enact universal background checks” to screen out convicted criminals from legally purchasing firearms. This too was voted down by all but four Senate Republicans. While the latter vote may not surprise political pundits, the former is clearly at odds with Republican values of national security.

Equipped with the knowledge that the weaponry used in the San Bernardino massacre this past week, including assault rifles, semiautomatic pistols, tactical gear, and over 1,500 rounds of ammunition, were purchased legally by American citizens, House Speaker Paul Ryan attempted to articulate his party’s position with the statement “it’s very important to remember people have due process rights in this county, and we can’t have some government official just arbitrarily put them on a list”. In defense of Speaker Ryan, it is a noble pursuit to ensure law-abiding citizens do not end up on suspected-terror lists. However, his assertion that the government “arbitrarily” assigns people is ignorant of the F.B.I.’s expansive terror-suspect process, and runs counter to his support for no-fly lists and other such anti-terror measures. Ryan is also absolutely correct in saying that due process is an inalienable right, endowed to American’s by the Bill of Rights. Yet, the irony of his comment is as ridiculous as it is horrifying, given that Republican front-runner Donald Trump has “absolutely” supported registering Muslims, and even the supposedly moderate Chris Christie suggested this week that we track immigrants like we do Fed Ex packages.

These intra-party contradictions have largely been written off as side effects of running for President in today’s radical-right Republican primary system, as well as the impact of Donald Trump on the race. But they are, in many ways, indicative of the Republican Party’s lack of any serious or coherent political plan. In the wake of the devastating violence in Paris only weeks ago, GOP nominees have attempted to outdo each other in the magnitude of their rhetoric. Even at the state level, governors across the nation have staunchly rejected taking in new Syrian refugees, despite most states having exactly zero Syrian refugees living there, and the fact that immigration laws lie within the domain of the federal government. Yet refugees are by and large escaping the very violence the United States is fighting, as well as undergoing a drawn-out vetting process that would be quite possibly the most inefficient method of gaining access to the United States for foreign terrorists. Why then, when terror strikes at home in a very real way, leaving fourteen dead and damaging countless more lives, do Republicans respond only by offering empty prayers and a vote that could actually aid potential terrorists?

A true evaluation of this question is far beyond the scope of a single article, though two potential explanations come to mind. Firstly, the Republican Party is aware that their policy suggestions are irrational and hypocritical, but not wanting to give any ground during a key election cycle are instead digging in their heels and doubling-down on the rhetoric. Alternatively, it could be that GOP lawmakers are ignorant of alternate worldviews and actively opposed to expert-driven factual analysis. The truth, of course, lies somewhere at the intersection of these two explanations. Thus we have a climate-change denier heading up the Senate Environment Committee and presidential front-runners making completely factually inaccurate claims, like Ted Cruz’s suggestion that most violent criminals vote Democrat.

Until the Republican Party is able to deal with its own demons and come to terms with its contradicting version of reality, we are likely to have more partisanship in Congress and more nightly news stories starting with “Here we go. Again” like CNN reporter Brooke Baldwin’s somber coverage of the second mass shooting in less than a week. Preventing terrorism is a respectable initiative Americans can support, but pretending that locking out helpless women and children escaping conflict all the while allowing FBI-suspected terrorists to purchase guns and explosives legally in America, is not in any way preventing the slaughter of innocent civilians, furthering our national security, or enhancing our civil liberties. The Senate vote this week and the rhetoric of many of our governors and prospective leaders has been lamentable, and diminishes the political discourse in this nation to a shameless new low. America should and can be so much more.

– Michael Swistara


Picture: DonkeyHotey/Flickr

About Michael Swistara

Michael graduated from McGill University in 2015 with a double major in political science and economics, and currently attends Columbia University where he is pursuing a master's degree. As former Editor-in-Chief of the Political Bouillon, Michael continues to occasionally contribute articles on his favorite topics, including American politics, economic policy, and foreign affairs.

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