The Republican Party finds itself caught between Donald Trump, and his increasingly tenuous relationship with reality; and their own steadfast, cult-esque refusal to do even the slightest thing to oppose him.
But in the wake of Trump’s Not All Fascists moment after Charlottesville, Republicans know they are at risk of losing their sweet gigs in 2018, and others in 2020. They know Robert Muller is lurking, putting together an investigation that could eviscerate the Trump administration. And they know that Trump is closing the window they opened by winning the White House and both houses of Congress.
If enough does become enough, they might act, if nothing else, just to save themselves.
There are a number of things Republicans can do to rein in a flailing president. They can censure him for his Charlottesville remarks. They can announce that a firing of Robert Mueller will being instant impeachment. They can subpoena his tax returns.
They might not do any of this. But there’s one thing they can do, something that can take away a huge part of the hold Trump has on the national psyche, and make the whole world a damn site safer.
They can remove sole nuclear launch authority from the president.
Donald Trump should not have the power to launch a first strike. Honestly, nobody should. And it should have happened a long time ago.
The ability for the president to unilaterally order a nuclear strike is a relic of the early days of atomic warfare, when Harry Truman feared unhinged generals ordering their own attacks, and put nuclear weapon control in civilian hands. It also ensures the president can launch if a moment comes where an enemy strike is inbound or imminent. There was considerable fear that the Soviets could strike at any time, and that the U.S. would only have minutes to respond. There wasn’t time for debate or discussion.
That time, fortunately, has passed. But we’re still living with its sword on our necks.
The entire nuclear chain (much of which remains classified) is based on the “two-man” rule. It takes two officers turning their keys at the same time to launch a missile from a silo. It takes the top two officers on a submarine concurring to do the same.
Only the president acts alone in launching nukes, and he can do it any time for any reason, or for no reason other than he wants to watch the world burn.
Theoretically, the Secretary of Defense functions as the other key-turner, authenticating the order and passing it on. But research from nuclear expert Alex Wellerstein found that there’s no legal requirement for anyone else to be involved, and that if the SecDef refused to authenticate, the president could simply fire him and move on down the chain.
There is no legal basis to refuse a launch order, and no way to stop the process once it starts. If Trump wakes up in a snit from a North Korean state media story, or a mean remark on CNN, he could order the nuclear football briefcase opened, strike options presented, and a launch initiated. He could hit Moscow with 1,000 nuclear warheads simply because he wants to destroy any copies of the pee tape.
And nobody can stop him.
Congress should immediately hold hearings on taking sole launch authority away from the office of the presidency. In a new system, only POTUS could order a launch, but without a second party concurring and giving their part of the nuclear codes, a first strike couldn’t take place. If a president did order a strike that was refused by the other party, they’d likely face instant impeachment and removal.
It’s not a punishment of Trump so much as it is correcting a system that’s long been due for one. At the same time, it takes away Trump’s ability to unleash hell, which unquestionably will make every living thing on this planet safer.
A few days ago, Naval War College professor Tom Nichols tweeted the idea that a second party should be outside the line of succession with no possibility of benefiting from a president being removed from office. They should also be an elected official who wasn’t appointed by the president they’d be concurring with. A truly independent body who gains nothing from refusal other than saving the world.
Because the Speaker of the House is next in line after the Vice President, and every major military and civilian authority is appointed by the president, that leaves the Senate Majority Leader as the logical choice for a second key-turner. In war, or with evidence of a first strike inbound, the system could go back to a hair trigger, and the Leader’s codes would go dead.
But a second voice in the form of the Senate Majority Leader would ensure that SOMEONE stands between the president and nuclear horror. This is a change that, frankly any president with a shred of sanity should welcome.
And it’s something Congress should begin bi-partisan, bicameral hearings on right now.
Before it’s too late.