Have the Terrorists Already Won?

Mideast Islamic State Syrian Stronghold

In the wake of the deadly Paris and San Bernardino attacks, national security and terrorism now trump the economy and jobs as the number one priority among American voters, according to a recent WSJ/NBC poll. Government spending, health care, climate change, and immigration weren’t even close.

Considering that it’s top of mind for a whopping 40% of those polled, and the prior GOP presidential debate on FOX Business was focused on economic growth, it made sense for Tuesday night’s CNN debate to be devoted solely to national security. But it also begs the question, have the terrorists already won?

More important, what does it say about a culture whose priorities shift so dramatically after a series of events that we had every reason to expect and prepare for in advance?  What does it say about our leaders in Washington? And what does it portend for the future of our free society?

After all, if it’s so easy to change what matters to us – to distract us from our day-to-day lives and make us suddenly fearful – then maybe we’re too reactive or not focused on the right priorities. Perhaps there are some critical insights we can take away from the events of the past few weeks that can inform how we go forward.

We’re too media-centric.

As a relatively narcissistic society that spends way too much time obsessing over what everything going on in every part of the world means to us, how can we possibly maintain any sense of perspective on what really matters? Instead of seeing the big picture, we blog, post, comment, and tweet about anything and everything.

That’s why we’re bombarded by media content 24x7. That’s why networks spend an entire week sensationalizing every trivial angle on a single event that, forty years ago, would not have even pre-empted primetime programming. Because there’s demand for it. The media simply takes us where our eyeballs want to go.

Our culture is consumerized and fiscally irresponsible.

We say we care about so many things these days but what we really care about most is our stuff. Our culture is constantly looking out for deals, for ways to supposedly enhance our lives, for every gadget and toy that we just have to have, for every fad we have to follow, and for ways to make and spend more and more money.

We’re too easily distracted by every shiny new object to maintain any kind of consistent long-term fiscal strategy. That’s why so many of us are in debt up to our eyeballs and still continuing to consume more and more stuff we don’t need everyday. And when we get in over our heads, we expect the government – meaning more responsible taxpayers – to bail us out. And that makes us dependent.

We’re utopian and entitled.

Instead of facing and dealing with issues as they happen, we sweep bad news under a rug of magical thinking. There’s actually nothing more egotistical than believing that the thoughts in our heads can actually change our environment. They can’t. But that doesn’t stop us from believing we’re entitled to things that we didn’t work for or earn.

By making believe that all good things can and should come to us and searching for quick fixes and easy money – instead of simply working hard, making good decisions, and holding ourselves accountable – we become more and more dependent on the government to take care of us.

No wonder we’re so reactive, fearful, … and predictable.

When we spend all of our time thinking about our stuff, our entitlements, and ourselves that makes us surprisingly predictable. Ironically, it also makes us easy to manipulate by both politicians that want nothing more than to make us dependent on them and our enemies that would do us harm.

Just look at our Middle East strategy. It’s as utopian and reactive as we are. We go in with ideals about helping others and, when things look a little better and we get tired of fighting, we pull out and leave the resultant power vacuum to ISIS. And now here we are again, reactive and fearful, as usual.

We’re making it remarkably easy for radical Islamic terrorists to observe us, predict our behavior, and disrupt our lives. Likewise, we’re making it just as easy for politicians to overreact to singular events, push overreaching legislation and programs with enormous budgets, and gain more and more control over our lives every day.

Indeed, the terrorists have already won, but so have our own politicians. In this equation, the American people are the only ones who lose.