A 1978 War Game Shows How We Weren’t Designed to Survive Trump

During October 1978, the US spent a month practicing World War III.

The military portion of the plan was given the jaunty codename “Nifty Nugget,” and when paired with a civilian plan called “Readiness Exercise 78,” represented the first ever computerized, nuclear age exercise to test the nation’s ability to mobilize for war in Europe, fight in the field, move equipment and troops, and absorb the damage and casualties that would occur when the conflict went nuclear.

It was a fiasco, and showed that if war broke out, we’d be utterly screwed.

American troops starved to death because food couldn’t be transported to them, while the Air Force required more planes than actually existed. The Army ran out of artillery shells, the Pentagon didn’t have enough rifles, and wartime production was inadequate. Minor deployment changes crashed massive computer networks, there was no way to call up reserves, Congress and the Pentagon lacked basic emergency powers. Many of the government positions needed to sustain survival during a nuclear attack weren’t filled, and millions of refugees would be greeted with no plan to house or or feed them.

In short, the military and civilian institutions of the US in 1978 weren’t designed for what war in 1978 would require.

I fear the same of the military and civilian institutions of the US in 2017 – they aren’t designed for a rogue presidency in the form of Donald Trump.

In the year since his election, Trump has made the outrageous normal and the unfathomable common place. Systemic breakdowns that would have been shattering to another administration are literally forgotten about by the next day, replaced with more outrageous antics.

Trump is emboldening our enemies, and sending our allies into despair. His Twitter account has become like a Fireside Chat of racist insanity. He’s allowed family members and cronies to pillage our institutions while a shrinking base of MAGA maniacs cheers him on, thinking they’ll profit from the carnage.

Trump’s cabinet has proven to be barely competent, with the State Department gutted, and basic programs unfunded. Congress is useless at best, and boot-licking toadies at worst. Media institutions are either totally paralyzed by their insistence on sticking to the old rules, or have become mouthpieces for the government’s daily missives.

And every day, we sink just a little deeper into a hole that it’s going to be difficult – or impossible – to dig out of.

The country wasn’t designed to withstand this. Not this level of insanity, and not at the speed with which it hits us.

Just THIS WEEK, we’ve been confronted by:

  • Trump retweeting three videos from a rabidly fascist British far right group, along with several unhinged tweets about Hillary Clinton’s emails and the “deep state.”
  • A possible plan to fire the Secretary of State, replace him with the CIA director, then replace the CIA director with an Arkansas Senator who thinks God put him on earth to go to war with Iran. (by the way, neither of these things have ever happened in US history)
  • The Senate likely voting to advance a tax plan that’s a radical redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich, even though this plan likely won’t even be completely written at the time of the vote, and nobody can explain how it works.
  • North Korea testing an ICBM that has enough range to hit Washington, and Trump responding only with a cryptic “we’ll deal with it” as the rogue nation creeps closer to having the capability to launch a massive nuclear strike.
  • Multiple reports that Trump privately continues to advance conspiracy theories that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the US, and that the infamous Access Hollywood tape was fake, despite his earlier admission that it was real.
  • The Republican candidate for Alabama’s Senate special election gaining momentum despite nearly a dozen accusations that he had sexual relationships with minors.
  • Oh, and we’re less than two weeks from the FCC voting to decide whether to end net neutrality, and turn the internet into a bundled cable package, unaffordable to the poor.
  • Plus, Congress still hasn’t reauthorized the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers nearly 9 million post-birth, pre-taxpaying fetusus, and is running out of money in states across the country.

It’s Thursday. And we’re fucked.

2017 has been a roller coaster ride that only goes down, and it’s impossible to imagine what 2018 will be.

Will we have nuclear war? Maybe! Will the tax plan cause a recession when all that sweet cash going back to rich people doesn’t get reinvested in jobs, but gets stashed in the Cayman Islands? Maybe! Will the Trump government collapse due to the unrelenting pressure of the Russia investigation, and the president’s unraveling mental state, leaving the ship of state totally rudderless? Maybe! Will the 2018 midterm election be cancelled due to some “national emergency” that demands we give up our liberty in exchange for security? Sure, why not?

Given everything that’s happened already, there’s no telling what will happen next.

And the worst part of it is that we can’t stop it. We can try, but we only get a few chances, and we’re sure to blow them.

Sure, we bombarded our congresspeople with calls and emails to save Obamacare. So they just found a way to destroy it with a different bill. We’re doing the same to save net neutrality – and it will likely be in vain because there’s five people on the FCC, and three are Republicans. The tax plan? It’s getting passed because the Senate has accomplished nothing, and damnit, they weren’t sent to Washington to accomplish nothing, they were sent to Washington to accomplish things they don’t understand that will hurt their constituents.

The one weapon we have against a rogue Congress, the fear of kicking their asses out of office, means nothing because gerrymandering has wrecked the makeup of House districts, and besides, when Alabama is on the verge of electing a fucking pederast to office because he’s a not a liberal, nothing means anything anyway.

And overseeing it all is President Donald Trump, a man so unqualified to be president that his electoral opponent more or less begged the nation not to give him the nuclear codes.

But we did. And we gave him a Congress full of complicit toadies who won’t carry out the one remedy for a criminal president that the founders gave us: impeachment.


Back in 1978, Nifty Nugget exposed the massive weaknesses in our military and governmental readiness. 2017 has exposed the massive weaknesses in our moral compass.

We weren’t ready for nuclear war, and we weren’t ready for Trump. The system failed both times, once in practice, and once in reality.

But in 1978, we started making changes. We improved our logistics, we got better computers (though they were still buggy and nearly sent us spiraling to war), we reinstated the selective service, we clarified emergency procedures and laws. The people in charge had the guts to realize that they failed, and had to do better.

In 2017…we don’t have anyone with any guts who has any power. And we don’t have anyone in power who has any guts.

We aren’t designed to survive a hostile takeover from the inside, not when the people who can stop it are part of it, at least.

So the time might be coming soon to stop fighting and start trying to ride it out until it ends. Maybe all we can do is survive as best as we can, mourn what we’ve lost, rebuild out of the rubble, and vow to never let it happen again.

You know, like nuclear winter.