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President Trump raised hackles in Congress last week with his veto of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Pentagon’s bloated budget is a $740 billion, 4500-page monstrosity that siphons vast amounts of the public’s scarce resources into what former Republican President Dwight Eisenhower called “the military industrial complex.” Trump’s grievances that prompted the veto include Congress’ refusal to overturn a law commonly referred to as Section 230, heralded by groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Free Press as a bedrock protector of free speech on the Internet. Trump is also against the military renaming bases currently named after Confederate officers. A Congressional veto override of Trump’s petulance and racism, however, is only a victory for the warmakers.
The political fight over the war budget is happening amidst the surging COVID-19 pandemic, as hospitals consider rationing oxygen, daily death tolls shatter world records, and as Trump’s bungled “warp speed” vaccine rollout falls far short of his promises. Trump himself compounded the nation’s pain by temporarily refusing to sign the already disastrously delayed COVID-19 relief bill last week. He delighted Democrats by decrying the paltry $600 relief check the bill specified for working class Americans and demanding a $2,000 relief payment instead. His threats, made as he golfed in Florida, proved idle, as he ultimately signed the bill without any changes. His antics did manage to interrupt state-run unemployment programs, delaying payments to millions of those who are most in need.
As thousands of Americans die each day of COVID-19, Trump continues his crusade to overturn the election, raising hundreds of millions of dollars to fight baseless claims of voter fraud. Much of the money will likely end up in his pocket. Trump is now summoning his followers to Washington, DC to protest Congress’s confirmation of the Electoral College results: “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election,” Trump tweeted. “Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” The last “wild” Trump rally in DC, on December 12th, organized to protest the state-by-state Electoral College vote count, included hundreds of neo-fascists, white supremacists and Proud Boys rioting and attacking pro-democracy counter-protesters, at least four of whom suffered stab wounds. The Proud Boys, the same group Trump told to “stand back and stand by” last September, have adopted the historic Hotel Harrington and its bar as their unofficial DC headquarters. The hotel announced it will be closed from January 4th-6th, “for the safety of visitors and employees.”
Trump also said his veto of the Pentagon budget was over the bill’s requirement to rename military bases that currently bear the names of Confederate officers. There are at least ten bases in the United States, all in former Confederate states, named after men who took up arms against the United States and led troops into battle, leading to the deaths of an estimated 750,000 soldiers on both sides — more casualties than the U.S. suffered in all of its other wars combined. The NDAA requires the renaming of these bases, from Fort Hood in Texas to Fort Bragg in North Carolina to Forts Pickett and Lee in Virginia. They were all named between 1917 and 1942, a time when Jim Crow laws, lynching, and racial terror dominated the lives of African Americans in those Southern states.
Trump wants to control the press and restrict speech. His push to overturn Section 230, another rationale for his veto of the Pentagon budget, is central to that, allowing him to sue and pressure internet platforms while at the same time continuing to exploit them for his relentless campaign of lies and abuse.
Ultimately, the $740 billion budget is a vast waste of our collective resources. Progressives in Congress annually present an alternative budget, placing human needs over corporate greed. “The priorities are wrong, and so I’m not going to vote to override his veto,” California Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna, said on the Democracy Now! news hour. “$740 billion is way too much defense spending. We’re spending money on aircraft. We’re spending money on the modernization of nuclear weapons. And we can’t find money to get food in to people who need it? We can’t find money to get more rental assistance for folks who are going to face evictions? We can’t find money to g et $2,000 into the pockets of Americans?”
We should budget our priorities, and limit military spending to amounts needed to promote peace and justice. Weapons and warfare won’t lift us out of this pandemic, the epic battle of our time.