Sunday night Madam Secretary produced a 42 minute long dramatic tutorial on how to remove the President using the 25th Amendment.
The episode started with an unexpected 'sonic' attack on an American embassy from a unspecified source. President Dalton used aggressive language on TV to threaten Russia. He then secretly ordered an attack on Russian satellites. Dalton's staff questioned his decision and the Secretary of Defense refused to launch an attack. The President said, "You're fired!" and replaced him with an underling.
The Secretary of State and Chief of Staff knew something wasn't right with the President's aggressive behavior. They worried it could lead to war. They started looking for the reasons he was acting strangely, then they looked at their options to prevent him from acting. In a meeting of cabinet members to discuss the options, the replacement for the Secretary of Defense reminded the Chief of Staff, National Security Advisor, and Secretary of State that the President is their Commander-in-Chief and refusing an order isn't something you do lightly, even if the President's order could lead to a global war.
As I watched President Dalton's cabinet debate enacting the 25th Amendment, I mentally put the names and faces of Trump's cabinet onto the actors playing the corresponding roles in the show and wondered how they would act. Are these the faces of people who would say no to Trump?
The Madam Secretary writers used a serious physical medical problem to explain the behavior change in President Dalton in order to sell the story. However, in our universe Trump's behavior is NOT an aberration from his earlier behavior.
President Trump's behavior in office is like his behavior before he took office. The bullying, lying, flattery, bribes, threats and legal tricks he used in his "deals" won't necessarily work when dealing with an unpredictable leader of a nation-state with nuclear weapons. Trump's business failures didn't lead to the death of millions, just his multiple bankruptcies. What would it take to convince Trump appointees that his twitter strategy against Kim Jong Un in North Korea won't work? An ACTUAL nuclear attack? We already know his behavior has increased tensions.
The show focused on getting a doctor to evaluate the physical and mental health of the president because his behavior was out of character. On the show finding a physical reason for the behavior gave the President's staff an excuse to stop him from acting on his out of character behavior.
Tuesday's announcement from White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson said, "President Donald Trump’s overall health ‘‘is excellent’’ and he did ‘‘exceedingly well’’ on cognitive screening." This report will be used by the White House as proof to the public Trump is fine. But remember, this is an incomplete snapshot in time. It might also be inaccurate. I'm hoping Trump takes the James Gunn Challenge and he is weighted and his height measured publicly. Think of it as asking for a long-form girth certificate.
The show ends with President Dalton realizing he was acting like a madman who could have started World War III over a misunderstanding. He then praised the people in his Cabinet who voted to remove him for the good of the country. This episode reminds us that the constitution gives us a framework to deal with a President who has become mentally or physically incapacitated. It also gives us the option of impeachment if the conditions for 25th Amendment aren't met at this time and the President is seen as unfit.
The Time To Act Is Now
Speaking of time, for 38 minutes hundreds of thousands of people in Hawaii thought that their time was up. Their world might have ended on Saturday and there was nothing they could do. They felt powerless. So what can they do now? Madam Secretary showed us one process. It needs to get started now, because as we learned last Saturday in Hawaii, we can't be debating someone's fitness to command 7,000 nuclear warheads during a 15 minute response window. Here are some actions we can take now:
First: Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard should become a cosponsor of H.R.1987 - Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity Act introduced by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) in April. The 25th Amendment might still be needed, especially since health changes in a 71 year-old with a bad diet and serious stress can happen rapidly.
Second: Reintroduce H.R. 6535, The Nuclear Sanity Act It was put forth by former Rep. Alan Grayson in December 2016.
Nuclear Sanity Act
This bill requires the President to obtain the approval of the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of State prior to the use of nuclear weapons, except: (1) in the case of a foreign military attack on U.S. territory, or (2) if it is impossible for the President to communicate with DOD and the State Department for a 24-hour period.
The bill requires: (1) the U.S. military to disregard all orders from the President in violation of this bill, and (2) any violation or attempted violation of this bill to be deemed a high crime or misdemeanor under the Constitution.
Third: Create multiple opportunities to put elected officials on the record with their support for Trump. This can be useful after indictments come down. We need "What did he know and when did he know it?" markers.
Politicians are slippery, and the press gives politicians multiple chances to "walk back" a comment. This is where regular people can help. Get your politician on the record at Town Halls supporting Trump and his actions. Those comments will be very useful this November.
This episode was written by David Grae and the creator of the show, my friend Barbara Hall. (Okay, friend might be a bit much, she liked one of my tweets months ago, so I'm totally counting her as a friend.) I thought the show was helpful because it shows the 25th Amendment process as a story.But I know some people don't like fictional characters on TV shows explaining serious things. So if you want to know more about why Trump is the sole authority for launching a nuclear weapon I recommend you read this article by Alex Wellerstein
If you watch TV and are interested in who would launch (or not) if Trump wants to push "The Button," you should know about Air Force Gen John Hyten. Wellerstein points out in this CSPAN interview that Hyten and his legal staff would be the ones to tell Trump about the legality of a nuclear strike. Hyten is also the one that would launch the weapons.
Wellerstein notes that it is dangerous to only use legality as a reason when using nuclear weapons, since the US has not made using nuclear weapons illegal. White House lawyers can create an argument to justify a nuclear attack.
After Saturday's false alarm I'm hoping @Wellerstein has been advising congress and is being booked on cable TV shows. I've suggested him as a guest to friends doing podcasts and radio, but if you are in the industry, check out the whole CSPAN clip, it has excellent information and analysis.
In a world where a reality TV host has become the most powerful man on the planet, it may seem strange to look to fiction and science fiction for answers, but the "What if" potential of these shows provide a truth we can't always see.
Madam Secretary is set in a fictional universe and, like Star Trek's universe, it is an aspirational one. Roddenberry envisioned a future where we can learn from our past and find a path forward where we don't always use violence to solve our problems. That is a future I want to live to see.
"We're human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands, but we can stop it. We can admit that we're killers, but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes. Knowing that we won't kill today." -- Captain James T. Kirk, A Taste of Armageddon written by Robert Hamner and Gene L. Coon