While the Chinese balloon floated overhead this past week, the right found yet another way to focus on anything but their nonexistent productive political project.
First it was that the balloon, an unprecedented incursion on American soil, should be shot down immediately; any delay by the Biden administration to take down something the size of three buses was unacceptable (shoot first, ask questions later—an apparent ritual of the conservative brain).
Concurrently, some Republicans posted photos proudly pointing their firearms to the air, signaling their hunger to just shoot the darn thing down themselves!
The message was stirring enough that sheriff’s departments had to plead their residents not to be dumb enough to shoot in the air, and let gravity do the rest.
Fox News host Jesse Watters found a way to bring Covid—a virus that apparently matters when you can ding China on it, but doesn’t matter when it means asking someone to wear a mask or get a vaccine—into play. Watters suggested the balloon might be a bioweapon.
After the United States military shot down the balloon on Saturday, the Defense Department revealed similar balloons flew over the U.S. numerous times during the Trump administration.
But Republicans conveniently ignored that information. When asked about that report, Senator Tom Cotton instead blamed Obama, while Marco Rubio claimed the flight paths were different, so this time is definitely worse.
The reports came after former Trump secretary of state and presidential hopeful Mike Pompeo said he “can nearly guarantee” that the balloon would not have been flying “if we were still there,” and former Army lieutenant general and Trump administration official Keith Kellogg suggested a step-by-step procedure the Trump administration would have apparently used in a similar situation.
Despite any predictable absurd right-wing responses to the balloon, there’s more to consider. Even if the balloons were surveilling the country, such an operation does not present the kind of immediate risks to Americans that should prompt an all-out whip-up of nationalistic fervor. Interstate relations are fragile enough; an overblown frenzy is the last thing we need when dealing with other states—especially when we ourselves have such an outsized presence throughout the rest of the world.
The moment put nearly every broken facet of American politics on full display: sensationalizing and politicizing Republicans; a media apparatus ready to dedicate more concentrated attention on a balloon than to, well, anything from climate catastrophe to meaningful policy implementation; and the broader American security state that helps propel such irrational responses at all.