In Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966), Trappist Thomas Merton wrote prophetically: “The ‘nuclear realist’ can be quite cool and deliberate in his games with his computer and his ladders of escalation… perfectly calm dementia…” (p.209)
How appalled Merton would be by the unstable leaders of North Korea and the US today, threatening nuclear war, boasting about the size of their “buttons,” apparently oblivious to the tragic toll in human lives they so cavalierly ignore. This demented circus seems to have numbed the outrage one would naturally expect from thoughtful people everywhere. It shows how low the bar has sunk when some of the clearest opposition is coming from the entertainment arena.
“Sound and Fury,” the 1/14/18 episode of “Madam Secretary” showed the process of a president’s removal through Article 25 of the Constitution. It can NOT have been mere coincidence, although the plot is somewhat contrived. President Conrad Dalton begins to act wildly out of character, loudly denouncing Russia, threatening an attack out of proportion to the cause, which turns out to be groundless suspicion. To his credit, the Secretary of Defense refuses the order to bomb, knowing it will lead to world war. He is summarily fired. Secretary of State McCord begs with the president, “you’re not well,” enlists his wife’s help, and confers with the Chief of Staff. All agree this is not the measured, careful person they’ve known for years.
When the president continues to rage and refuses to back off his military escalation against all the advice he receives, the Cabinet convenes, invoking Section 4, which outlines procedures for the removal of a president deemed “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” After some debate, they vote for removal. Elizabeth McCord explains eloquently how the Constitution privileges the lay person, the ordinary citizen represented by Cabinet members. Perhaps the founding fathers foresaw the threat of military coups.
It’s all wrapped up a bit too neatly for viewers stuck with 3 more years of escalating rhetoric and impulsive leadership. Turns out the president has a benign brain tumor pressing on the frontal lobe, disrupting his objectivity, planning and response functions. With some medication and simple surgery, he’s back to himself. Indeed, Dalton goes on national television to thank the Cabinet which took the drastic step of removing him from office. In a moving conclusion, the camera pans the ordinary North Americans watching his broadcast, then shows beautiful, illuminated monuments such as the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials.
All of this—our most ordinary meals, conversations, jobs, sports activities, church services, family reunions, classes, etc.—would be annihilated by a nuclear bomb. Daniel Ellsberg believes only 1% of the human race would survive the ensuing nuclear winter.
If hopelessness stems from failure of the imagination, then we must vividly imagine what could happen—and alternative strategies. Would the current Cabinet have the courage to intervene if the danger worsens? What are we doing to preserve our beautiful blue-green planet, the human race beloved of God?