The “Red Scare” of the 1950s and 1960s was a real-life reaction to the Soviet Union’s threat of nuclear destruction as an integral part of its foreign policy. The Cuban Missile Crisis was a high point that could have taken this from a threat to a nuclear exchange.
The American institutional response was both military and political. While President Kennedy and the White House assessed and responded to the Soviet placement of missiles and nuclear armament in Cuba, United Nations Ambassador Adlai Stevenson sought to sway world opinion to defeat that placement, and the Pentagon instituted a naval blockage, brought troops to Florida for a possible invasion of the Island and Air Force General Curtis Le May had missiles and B52s ready to deal such destruction in a response that would do away with the world as we knew it then.
That period also featured our educational institutions responding to the Soviet threats by conducting drills in every school building in the country. Several times a year our schools practiced getting students into “secure” locations (even though there was no such place) or under desks.
It is the duty of these institutions and others to defend and protect the American people. They did this by employing the best personnel and funding effective strategies to the point that the United States and its allies achieved such a powerful and overwhelming response threat that the danger of nuclear annihilation was greatly reduced.
The enormous expenditure of resources involved in the conceptual and territorial competition between the 2 superpowers eventually caused one to give up. America under President Reagan presided over the fall of the Soviet Union at the end the 80’s decade.
It was the will of free people, the quality of their leadership and the power of their institutions that ended Communism as an adversary to Democracy and free enterprise. In this case, the give and take of American political practices at home looked for ways to improve our institutions rather than make them subservient to the whims of any one person or group.
Unfortunately, that is not the case today. Because of tendencies to protect their mission and their existence, institutions are sometimes seen as inflexible, slow to change and unresponsive to the political winds of the moment.
Furthermore, corrupt practices designed to manipulate institutional outcomes tend to fail when the institutions are strong. It is when they are weak that the country begins to act like a banana republic.
The attacks and politicization of our defense, intelligence and foreign service institutions are beginning to create a noticeable weakness. A reduced request for funding of the Center for Disease Control and the National Institute of Health, our two most important institutions designed to protect our health, as well as deliberate attempts to find political solutions to our stock market downturn, have the effect of hamstringing their effort to effectively respond to health crisis around the world.
The preliminary results are that despite the alerts to the fact that Russia is interfering in our 2020 election as they did in the 2016, not enough has been done to prevent it. Also, putting politicians instead of health experts in charge of our fight against the Coronavirus has resulted in a late response to the crisis and reduced reliance on those health professionals that know best how to deal with the threat.
What holds our values, protect us in every way and advance our interests as a nation are our institutions. Weakened, they cannot stand guard on our behalf.