By Wendy Gittleson ·
When this headline came up from the Washington Post, I was inconsolable. What I read was of no comfort. Trump, it seems, has total carte blanche for destroying the world. No one can stop him.
If you recall, a few months ago Trump spoke with a foreign policy expert. Trump allegedly asked the expert three times why we can’t use nuclear weapons.
Beyond that, we know that Trump is terribly thin-skinned and set for vengeance upon anyone who dares offend him.
Yes, that’s terrifying, but doesn’t Congress provide checks and balances? Even congressional Republicans certainly know the consequences of nuclear war, right?
It turns out, it doesn’t matter. With congressional approval or without it, Trump can do whatever the hell he wants with nuclear weapons.
Now they’re his. When Trump takes office in January, he will have sole authority over more than 7,000 warheads. There is no failsafe.
The whole point of U.S. nuclear weapons control is to make sure that the president — and only the president — can use them if and whenever he decides to do so.
The one sure way to keep President Trump from launching a nuclear attack, under the system we’ve had in place since the early Cold War, would have been to elect someone else.
Why in the world would a single person ever have that much responsibility? Well, the short answer is that no one ever anticipated that in our electoral system, there would be a President Donald Trump.
The more complex answer is that the president is the check to balance a hawkish military.
The members of Congress who wrote the law, largely with the backing of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, framed it explicitly as a question of who controls the power to use nuclear weapons: Is dropping an atomic bomb a military act or a political one?
If it is inherently political, above and beyond a regular military tactic, then that power could not be entrusted to the military. Ultimately, the president was supposed to be the check against the Pentagon pushing to use nukes more often.
One person did predict a Trump of sorts. While the country was still reeling from Watergate in 1973, 21-year Air Force veteran Maj. Harold Hering asked:
How could he be sure that an order to launch his missiles was lawful? How could he be sure, for example, that the president wasn’t insane? Instead of an answer, he got the boot: an aborted promotion and an administrative discharge for “failure to demonstrate acceptable qualities of leadership” and for indicating “a defective mental attitude towards his duties.”
Now, there is one person between the President and nuclear annihilation, the secretary of defense. The SoD is actually the person to carry out the launch, not the President, but the SoD, unlike Congress, works for the President. It’s unclear if he (or she) can even say no.
Trump’s nominee is James “Mad Dog” Mattis. He’s a war hawk who once said that killing people was “a hell of a lot of fun.” In other words, even if he could tell his boss no, he probably wouldn’t.
Author Wendy Gittleson is one of the luckiest people on the planet. She actually gets to make a living out of two of her greatest passions, writing and politics. When she's not writing, she's hiking with her dogs, riding her bike or cooking a great meal with her friends or loved one. Follow Wendy on Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus.