JEFFREY Frank writing in the New York Times reports that, in 1961, John F. Kennedy told the United Nations, “Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.”
A partial test-ban treaty followed two years later, and important arms limitation agreements to limit strategic nuclear weapons under succeeding administrations, Republican and Democrat. Nuclear war became a high intellectual discipline, with Nobel Prize winning geniuses like Schelling and Graham Allison mapping the strategy of how to use the threat of nuclear weapons to deter its employment, each side sharing insights with the other so neither side would be taken by surprise. Far more precise and predictable than even a game of chess played by masters. Why nuclear war never broke out. It was under the supervision of people with brains and not money.
Last week Donald Trump tweeted, “Let a new nuclear arms race begin.” “On a drive-by cable TV show” he added, “We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”
No one outlasts a serious nuclear arms race—if one side is led by a crazy person.
He went back on Twitter and tweeted, “North Korea is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the United States. It won’t happen.”
Why not, especially if you keep speaking out of turn about nuclear war—to put it mildly? A preemptive nuclear strike? Fat boy in Pyongyang is sure to think that.
Frank, citing Eric Schlosser, writes that “the risks of nuclear catastrophe are greater today than ever before, and the safeguards are alarmingly inadequate. Yet a president in waiting,” he says, “uses Twitter and a drive-by cable TV moment to kiss off the excruciatingly difficult history of nuclear strategy and arms limitation treaties.
“This raises questions that go beyond policy to competence and rationality,” wrote Frank. What if a “President loses Control” is the title of his New York Times piece.
“The American constitution provides for impeachment. That requires a
high crime or misdemeanor, a House bill, and a Senate trial.” All of which take time. Meanwhile, the president is talking crazier by the minute.
Eighteen months before the end of his term Woodrow Wilson fell mortally sick. His wife Ethel quietly took over. No one disputed her role. American class.
David Eisenhower suffered a stroke. His Attorney General asked Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter what to do. The justice answered, “The framers of the Constitution purposely ignored the issue. They believed that any solution created its own problems.” I would add: and invited a palace coup as a shortcut to power.
“So the matter,” Frankfurter went on, “was best left to the pressure events when the contingency arose.” In short, no answer is the wisest one.
Frankfurter observed “that there were no keener, more resourceful drafters than Hamilton and Madison yet they left it blank, preferring to leave the matter in the undefined form in which it now stands.”
Ike recovered. “Two months later he asked his Vice President Richard Nixon to sort out the problem. Ike proposed that Nixon could make the call that the president was incapacitated while Eisenhower retained the power to declare himself recovered.”
Ike did not like Nixon but he respected the office of vice president. American class. Nothing personal, everything is duty to country. Ike’s personal solution was a personal letter to Nixon on what he should do. That letter would control the situation should it arise again—but only with respect to Ike himself. Future presidents would make their own arrangements.
“In 1965, the 25th Amendment passed. The Vice President with a majority of the Cabinet or of Congress may inform the House Speaker and the Senate president pro temp that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. The Vice President takes over as acting president. But if the president objects and declares that no inability exists, the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet or of Congress can tell the Speaker and the Senate president pro temp that the president cannot do his job. Then it is up to Congress, which has 48 hours to meet, 21 days to decide, and then vote by a 2/3rds majority whether to give the president’s powers to the Vice President.”
That requires both parties to work together. This is impossible in a highly partisan era, Frank observes.
And yet I observe that in the United States, president and vice president are elected as a pair from the same political party. Still Frank wonders who will cross party lines for the sake of country? He must be thinking of Trump’s unique case because Trump was elected despite sniping from the Republican Party whose leaders suspect him of being a secret Democrat. A suspicion not without basis because how do you get as rich as Trump without making deals with people of all colors, creeds and political convictions so long as they have the money he wants.
Eisenhower, like Hamilton and Madison, recognized the problem, the danger, and yet the wisdom of leaving things unsaid. Ike did not impose his solution on succeeding occupants of the office but restricted it to his own case. And Ike admitted of his solution—by personal letter recallable by him—that “if a man were so deranged that he thought he was able,” that he was still up to the job, “but the consensus was that he was not able there would have to be something else done.” In the silence of the constitutional lacuna some Americans would step up to the plate and take the lunatic away to where he can do no harm.
If no one steps up, the country takes the consequences it deserves. In 1983, Filipinos stepped up to the challenged of a dictatorial succession by staging in 1986 people power for a democratic restoration.
My interest is in the refusal of the Founding Fathers to provide a solution other than full faith and confidence in the people to save their country—with or without authority of Congress or article of law.
If that confidence is not merited, no one steps up to the challenge, then the people do not deserve a country of their own.
It makes perfect sense.
If a country does not deserve to exist it should not.
Even God did not protect his Chosen People but let them to be led into Babylonian captivity when they fell short of His expectations.
Americans believe they are God’s chosen people. They should know that is not a privilege but a responsibility.
Whether you like it or not, we must always look to America, at her best or in her worst moments, for inspiring solutions conducive to human flourishing. Certainly not to Russia and China.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.