Eight billion dollars. That’s enough to hire over 100,000 more teachers and lower student to staff ratios. To increase the funding of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which is set to expire due to a lack of funding, by over 58%. To improve thousands of miles of existing highways and thousands of bridges. Eight billion dollars is a large sum of money with the power to drastically change the lives of the American people.
But, this extra eight billion dollars isn’t being used for building better schools or making children smarter. It’s not being used to provide healthcare to struggling families or improve American infrastructure.
This upwards of eight billion dollars is going to what President Trump calls “the space force.”
By 2020, the Trump administration is proposing to build a new branch of the military, complete with a special operations force made up of “warfighters,” a U.S. Space Command, a Space Development Agency, and assistant secretary of defense for space. The “space force” aims to protect the country’s satellites from threats by countries like Russia and China.
Yes, the over 1,000 American satellites are integral to American security and communications. They’re responsible for broadcasting radio and television shows to the millions around the country, allowing people to navigate everywhere from bustling streets to stormy seas, monitor dangerous weather phenomenons, among many other tasks. Many are used for government and military purposes to protect the country from foreign threats.
However, the Trump administration is exaggerating the vulnerability of American satellites to be a far larger crisis than it really is. Vice President Pence pointed to events like a Chinese missile that accidentally destroyed one of China’s own satellites as well as Russia and China’s research on technologies to disrupt satellites as evidence that foreign countries are poised to attack American satellites.
However, to paint American adversaries as Russia and China as one-sided attackers of foreign security would be far from the reality. The United States has been developing its own anti-satellite technology, even back in the 1980s. In 2014, the Obama administration started a plan to develop anti-satellite technologies against China. And if Russia and China were to initiate attacks against American satellites, the United States is already prepared to defend itself. The U.S. already has programs like the Air Force Space Command involved in satellite communications and space capabilities. And even if an all-out “war” on satellites emerged, reports show that China’s high dependency on satellites would weaken the country. The United States would gain an advantage as China would lose many of its satellites’ military advantages.
There are real concerns and conflicts back on Earth, but the Trump administration is still not resolving them. Even though the Russian government’s interference in American elections poses a legitimate risk to American democracy, the president still refuses to take action against Russia. Instead, the administration has set its sight on much smaller and less problematic issues to distract from the real problems and progress.
The real purpose of the “space force” isn’t to defend America from foreign security threats but to stir patriotism for the country. To evoke the same heart-wrenching pride as when Neil Armstrong first bounded across the moon. To convince people that America is “winning” a non-existent battle and “dominate” the final frontier. To elevate Trump’s image as an American hero and solidify his re-election. It’s a flashy, gaudy campaign ad to get people excited about voting for space logos and fantasizing about Mars explorations.
In a time of political clashes and personal economic struggles, eight billion dollars could go a long way to improving the lives of everyday Americans. We must cast aside the appeals to plastic patriotism and devote our resources and energies to fighting real issues and creating real solutions. Perhaps one day satellite wars and space defense will be essential to American security – but for now, we have to stay grounded and focus on our problems on Earth.