Nukyular is the new Nuclear

by zunguzungu

James Mann’s Rise of the Vulcans is a book you should really read, and do so before you forget/repress the memory of how fucking bad the Bush presidency has been (we should be so lucky, actually). Here’s a bit I want to share, from chapter nine. In the eighties, Dick Cheney was a congressional leadership for the minority party and Donald Rumsfeld was running a company that made NutraSweet and Metamucil. But they would periodically disappear to an “undisclosed location” where they would run through highly classified exercises in continuity-of-government, to prepare for what to do if both the President and Vice President were killed. To quote:

“Once the United States was (or believed it was about to be) threatened by a nuclear attack, three separate teams would be sent out from Washington to three different locations around the United States. Each team had to be prepared to proclaim a new American “president” and to assume command of the country. Then, if the Soviet Union was somehow to locate one of the teams and hit it with a nuclear weapon, the second team could take over, and, if necessary, the third. This was not some abstract textbook plan but was practice in concrete, thorough and elaborate detail.”

Each team would have a minor cabinet secretary (Mann mentions Agriculture and Commerce) who could plausibly serve as figurehead president, as someone actually in the executive branch, while experienced executive branch types like Cheney and Rumsfeld would actually run the country’s war-time defenses. It’s a runaround around the problem of what the constitution has to say about presidential succession and democracy: after the VP, the next in line is the speaker of the house, because that person is a democratically elected politician (as opposed to your Cheneys and Rumsfelds). However, such a person might fundamentally disagree with the president’s policies (and during the eighties, when democrats controlled congress, this was seen as exactly the problem) or, even worse, be unable to function with the kind of rapidity that a nuclear war scenario necessitates. Therefore, out the window with the constitution; the survival of democracy and the American way requires that both be put on hold.

You can make an argument, plausibly, that this was all justified in the case of nuclear war, that in such a circumstance, democracy is no longer an option. You can make that case, because it seems to me that a rational attitude towards nuclear war is that, if the bombs have already been dropped, it’s all pretty much over anyway, and you might as well let democracy go anyway.

But isn’t it funny that the very people (the actual same people) who were making this argument then, who were arguing for why wartime conditions necessitate devolving unlimited power to an unelected executive, these are the very people responsible for the war-without-end scenario we’re now in, who are making the most strenuous argument for unlimited executive power, and who show the most contempt for democratic process in memory? What a coincidence that is. Which is precisely the point that Mann is trying to make, I think. Which is why you should read his book.