Why America needs a caretaker to lead her future

The U.S. has focused on the advancement of the protector-hunter role to secure our nation, but building on gatherer-caretaker roles are equally important to the advancement of the human race, writes guest columnist Gina Bennett.

August 5, 2022 4:00 am
U.S Capitol Building

The U.S Capitol Building on the National Mall on Jan. 18, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Wars, mass shootings, pandemics, droughts, supply shortages, recession and political  divisiveness … it’s ugly in America these days.

Do you ever remember a time when you were a kid and everything seemed dark around you? Maybe you were being bullied or your parents were divorcing, or perhaps you just lost a loved one. If during that moment of despair someone swooped in and gave you a hug, some tenderness and a word encouragement, can you recall that immediate feeling of comfort? Of finding the courage to go on and the hope that things would get better?  

That’s the kind of moment America needs right now. We need a nurturing caretaker in charge rather than a bellicose commander. 

America’s national security has long been founded on physical protection, military defense and  law enforcement — all elements of physical security that owe their roots in the protector-hunter traditions of early humans.

I am not arguing to abandon our national defense or law and order, but can we please be honest about how one-sided our national security priorities have been?  

Our posture against physical threats to the territorial integrity of the United States has done nothing but increase over two and a half centuries. The idea of America may have been vulnerable to extinction by a conquering force at one point, but that was a long time ago.

Even as recently as the Cold War, did we really think that in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust surviving Americans would have bowed to communist Russia? No! Americans would have resisted by remaining steadfast in their commitment to democracy despite the physical toll. 

In reality, America’s national security has never been comprised of territorial and physical safety alone. Even before the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln disputed that armies from abroad were an existential threat to the still young United States when he said, “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.”

Lincoln understood that America’s security rested only in the sustainment of the Constitution by willing Americans.  

While we have traditionally focused on the advancement of the protector-hunter role to securing our nation, what has been missing is building on the gatherer-caretaker roles that are equally important to the advancement of the human race.

Ancient gatherers were the community planners, responsible for short and long-term resource strategies for the growing demands for water and food as families and societies grew larger and lived longer. And they excelled at manufacturing, sustaining and preparing the most important product of all: people. Caretakers teach children everything they need to know to survive, thrive, and be the presidents, CEOs, entrepreneurs, scientists and citizens of the future. 

This omission of the caretaker role as a national security imperative is why America is suffering so greatly from bitter divisiveness and distrust in democratic institutions. Had caretaking all along been a priority on par with border security and military readiness, every American would understand their individual role in citizenship.

Civics would not be an easy class in high school you take as a one-time requirement. Americans today would understand exactly how our  democratic republic is supposed to function. And they would know their individual and combined responsibilities, how to participate and engage in every aspect of governance, and how to fend off all threats to the pillars of democracy regardless of their origin.  

And gatherers would have prioritized strategic and innovative acquisition and sustainment of the resources required for healthy living with the same fervor that protectors demonstrated in expanding our industrial military complex. With that level of urgency, gatherers would have planned to mitigate the impact of droughts, ever expanding energy needs, weather and climate  changes, and food shortages as well as the technologies in medicine to fight off pandemics and other threats to human health. 

Keeping our territory, infrastructure, public places and people safe is a national safety priority. But there is a difference between national safety and America’s security. And if you don’t see that, picture America as one massive prison. We can live in a safe and impenetrable fortress, but have absolutely no freedom.

Ensuring the sustainability of the Constitution against all kinds of threats — whether from malign influence abroad or political polarization, citizen apathy, or  even self-sabotage as Lincoln warned in his Lyceum Address — is national security.  

As a footnote, I want to point out that I never used gender in describing any of these roles. So if you thought I said that a woman should be president — that’s on you.

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Gina M. Bennett
Gina M. Bennett

Gina M. Bennett is a retired member of the CIA’s Senior Analytic Service, author of two “National Security Mom” books, and adjunct professor at Georgetown University, where she teaches “Hunter-Gatherer National Security” at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. She also serves on the board of directors for the Alturas Institute, an Idaho Falls-based nonprofit organization created to promote the Constitution, gender equality and civic education. She also serves as strategic adviser to Girl Security.