Tom Kirkman is having a extremely bad day.
Initially, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development finds out that all his proposals have been choped from the president’s upcoming State of the Union address. Then he’s asked to step down – the president wants to appoint a fresh face for his second term – and presented an unknown ambassadorship as a consolation prize.
Hours later, he finds out that he’s that night’s “designated survivor” – the Cabinet member who sits out the president’s speech in the event of a catastrophic attack on the U.S. Capitol.
There’s more? There is a catastrophic attack on the U.S. Capitol.
So starts off “Designated Survivor,” ABC’s unique Washington-based drama about an accidental president confronted with the worst crisis in American history. The series, which debuts Wednesday night, stars Kiefer Sutherland as the former academic with no political experience forced into power after the president, the vice president, the Cabinet and a large number of members of Congress are killed.
Crammed with explosions and broad conspiracies, it appears like yet another high-concept political thriller. But the storyline is based on the actual practice of sequestering someone in the presidential line of succession during the State of the Union and on similar occasions – and the arguable question of how we determine who takes over if the president and other senior officials die.
“I’m obsessed with Washington, D.C., protocols,” affirms show creator David Guggenheim, who first come to understand about designated survivors while viewing a State of the Union broadcast. “There’s inherently such a great character story in someone’s life changing in an instant, an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances.”
The idea of a “designated survivor” first came to exist sometime during the Cold War, in the midst of fears that the Soviet Union could wipe out the U.S. government with one well-timed nuclear strike when all the country’s leaders were collected in one place, such as at the State of the Union or an inauguration. It was a secretive but simple practice, with one Cabinet member removed from the event to head the country in case of a catastrophe.
Before 2001, being chosen as the designated survivor was a bit of escapade, a good tale to share after the fact. Take the oft-told history of Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. In 1997, he spent the night of the State of the Union at his daughter’s New York apartment encircled by the highest security. Once President Clinton was safely back at the White House, the agents vanished, and Glickman – on his way to a late dinner – discovered himself on the street powerless to get a taxi in the pouring rain.
But since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington 15 years ago, the role has become much more serious. Cabinet members chosen in recent years did not return calls inquiring about the experience, or they answered with a stern “no comment.” Ends up, it’s a security breach to talk about any particulars.
This much we do know: The president and his top aides determine who will sit out that year. The designated survivor is escorted out of Washington by the U.S. Secret Service, followed by military and communication aides. In earlier years, the chosen person was able to decide on a location nearby (Bill Richardson spent the evening in Oxford, Md., in 2000), but since 9/11, all have been taken to the same safeguarded government facility one or two hours from Washington.
And a little-known fact: For the past ten years, there have been 2 designated survivors – one Cabinet member to reconstruct the executive branch and one member of the congressional leadership to lead a new legislature.
Just like the president, the designated survivor has to be at least 35 years old and a natural-born citizen, so Cabinet members not born in the United States, such as ex – secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright, are ineligible. And the designee does not automatically become president: If another administration official higher in the line of succession happens to pull through, he or she would take office alternatively. In 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was overseas during the State of the Union, but because her schedule and whereabouts were known, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan was branded the designated survivor. If both had survived any harm, Clinton, outranking Donovan, would have been sworn in as president.
Pretty much everything is governed by the Presidential Succession Act, which decides the precise line of succession to executive power. And, states political scholar Norm Ornstein, is “a poorly crafted piece of legislation.”
Ornstein is actually writing about the problem since shortly after 9/11. When he noticed that the Capitol could effortlessly have been destroyed by the fourth hijacked plane, he recognized several flaws in the current law: It sets up a line of succession based on the order in which Cabinet departments were created (as opposed to jumping to the better-prepared Secretary of Homeland Security, for instance) and calls for special congressional elections that might take months. In the event of an attack that destroyed the nation’s leadership, “you’d have the complete fog of war,” Ornstein states. “It’s a mess the way it is now.”
He’d like to notice changes that would permit governors to designate successors to dead and incapacitated legislators so that there might be a functioning government within a week of an attack. And he also wishes politicians to take a hard glance at whether the historic line of succession would yield the most qualified president in the middle of a national tragedy.
In spite of his lack of experience, we understand that fictional President Kirkman will prevail because . . . hi, he’s Jack Bauer in glasses. And it’s a television series.
“From the very beginning, we wanted this to live in real Washington,” stated Rich Klein, who functioned in the Clinton administration and is a consultant for film and television productions which includes “Designated Survivor.”
“Our goal is that people who know Washington, know the presidency and know the town’s rhythms, watch the show and say, ‘They really know their stuff.’ ”
Indeed. so what exactly does Hollywood know that we don’t? Are they anticipating an attack on Washington so with a television show they will indoctrinate the masses so that when the “Event” occurs nobody is left in the dark? Right.
A recurrent mistake that numerous folks make when considering the idea of social or economic collapse is to imagine how folks and groups will behave tomorrow based on how folks behave today. It is, though, very challenging to predict human behavior in the face of terminal chaos. What we might expect, or what Hollywood fantasy may showcase for entertainment purposes, may not be what actually occurs when society breaks down.
It is also crucial to note that social and economic destabilization is typically a process, not an immediate event. This basically works in the favor of liberty activists and the preparedness minded. As a system moves through the stages of a breakdown, specific indicators in the psychology of the population can be noticed, and this gives us a warning as to how far down the rabbit hole we have actually gone.
Except in the case of a nuclear or EMP (electromagnetic pulse) event (which regrettably are issues because of the powder keg situation in Syria), vigilant liberty supporters could have considerably more time than the average person to preposition themselves safely. Having said that, there will be a host of expanding problems of a psychological nature we will have to deal with before, during and after the final leg down in the unfolding mess that internationalists often refer to as the “great global reset.” Enjoy the show folks.
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