Having enemies is important. It brings people together. In fact, having the British Empire as an enemy helped create America, one of the world’s most successful experiments in self-government. Can we say that having enemies is a value, even a core American value that constantly shifts with the political landscape? It certainly seemed that way in 2015. Iran came into favor with the nonsensical explanation that it would keep our people safe while our unconditional support for age-old ally Israel was scrutinized and years of good relations with Russia took a turn for the worse.
How do we choose which enemies are worth having?
We expend a lot of effort creating, defending against, destroying, and negotiating with our enemies. Sometimes old enemies cease to be a threat and friendlier relations are restored. That is what happened with Cuba last year and with Russia under Mikhail Gorbachev. America mended differences between North and South after a very uncivil Civil War at great cost of life. Some even think we are on the road to some sort of detente with Iran. Others would tell you that whoever believes that should be on our enemies list.
Just who our enemies really are, what they want from us, and what “enemy” even means has become hazier as the international banking system shifts money around, allegiances change, and the cyber world brings new opportunities for those who wish us harm. The president warned:
Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.1
With threats we can’t predict or even see and only so much money to guard against them, how do we know where to start to counter the bad guys? That depends on politics, which dictates not only how we deal with our enemies but also who and what they are. Nowhere has this been so apparent as the battle over who can come to America, which has forced us to redraw some political boundaries to accommodate religious differences. Harry Reid observed:
Our enemies have a plan. They want to divide the world between Muslims and non-Muslims, and between the defenders and attackers of Islam. By making Syrian refugees the enemy, we are playing into their hands.3
Reid’s remark is a perfect example of how a stance taken on one issue can force us to adopt an untenable position on another. For example, no liberal politician who said yes to amnesty for Mexican and South American illegals can say no to Syrian refugees. The opposite is true as well, even though the issues have almost nothing to do with each other.
When we have this type of ideological conflict, how does America respond? We have a bad habit of turning ourselves into the bad guys.
Foreign enemies united us, domestic enemies pushed us apart
While our enemies usually come from outside, we also create evildoers within. Having domestic enemies right here with us has political advantages. 2015 brought us lots of these kinds of enemies, already inside our borders and ready to cause trouble, including:
Republicans and Democrats
Gun owners and gun control advocates
Illegal immigrants, refugees, and xenophobes
Welfare recipients and the wealthy
Police, racists, and Black Lives Matter
Practically everyone working in Illinois government
Anyone running for president
Unions and those who oppose them
Barack Obama, John Boehner, and Paul Ryan
… and last but not least, Congress.
That’s just a start, but it raises a disturbing question: are the biggest threats to America those we create because having enemies is something we need?
Almost everything on this list is a fabrication, something that was created, twisted, and turned into an enemy because having enemies fulfilled a political necessity. For some, the police are enemies we need to be protected from as part of the dialogue about race in America. For others, our enemies are invisible members of a religion that is either all about good or all about evil. Yet others eager for tax dollars target the wealthy for creating inequality simply because they have more money. Some claim that immigrants sap our resources for their own gain, only to be turned into enemies for ignoring the most cherished American symbol of all, the ethnic melting pot.
What do all of these examples have in common? They prove that having enemies is what pushed us forward in 2015. That’s a very sad testament to where politics has brought us and a good indication of where it will take us during the year to come.