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Designated Survivor: A Trumpian Nightmare

October 2, 2016


When it premiered on November, 6, 2001, the FOX series 24 came close to never making it to TV. September 11—dubbed 911—had occurred only two months previously, the devastating attacks in a matter of hours by a handful of terrorists which led to sweeping changes in America’s national security, law enforcement and military institutions. The country changed that day in profound ways.

So when 24 commenced, it was with a huge amount of trepidation by FOX. How would the American public react to a fictional TV show about terrorism so soon after 911? Yet the series lasted eight seasons for 192 episodes. Jack Bauer, played by Canadian actor Keifer Sutherland, knew how to catch and interrogate terrorists in Dick Cheney fashion. In typical American media culture, Jack Bauer was held up as a national hero, with the underlying tone that wasn’t it too bad that this bad-ass terrorist fighter wasn’t indeed real.

Fast forward 15 years exactly to another Keifer Sutherland TV thriller: Designated Survivor, which debuted on September 21st. Although just at the start of this new made-for-TV series on ABC, it has delivered a powerful visual impact on the chaos that would reign in the event of a massive attack on Capitol Hill.

In the series, most of the Cabinet, the President, Vice-President, Speaker of the House, Supreme Court judges and others are wiped out in a brutal terrorist attack during the State of the Union address. President Tom Kirkman, played by Sutherland, is in another building watching the address on TV when the attack occurs. His position in the Cabinet to that point was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; hours before the attack he was informed he was to be demoted and sent to Montreal in an ambassador role.

The bombing of the Capitol building changes that in seconds. Kirkman’s whisked to the White House by the Secret Service where he faces absolute chaos in the Oval Office (below photo: Kirkman visiting the remains of the Capitol).


Granted it’s a TV show, but in episode two the chaos and anxiety present in the Oval Office is palpable when President Kirkman attempts to speak to a large number of advisors and officials. No one listens to him, despite having been just sworn in as President. Those in positions of influence and direct contact to the Office of the President are becoming unglued as they react without thinking, throwing advice and demands for decisions at Kirkman. His chief of defence staff wants to bomb Iran for a provocation in the Straits of Hormus. Within minutes, the President exits the Oval Office to seek refuge in his Cabinet boardroom so that he can think, and then act.

As news spreads around the country hours after the attack, reaction turns violent. Muslims in Michigan begin to get rounded up and beaten by police under orders from the governor. President Kirkman phones the governor who at first hangs up on him. The governor later backs down under threat from Kirkman.

In the frightening scenario that Donald J. Trump became President of the United States on November 8, 2016 (technically President Elect until sworn in on January 20, 2017), the Designated Survivor title for this leadership post serves as a warning for Americans: you can’t undo an emotional decision for whatever reasons drove you to make it.

What’s emerging so clearly from Designated Survivor is the critical need for a President to act calmly and rationally in a time of extreme national crisis. Could Donald Trump do that? A man who has the attention span of a fifth grader, who throws insults at those who question or confront him, and who wants to “bomb the shit” out of terrorists. Indeed.

Take a moment to read My Pal Vlad: Leadership on a Slippery Slope to gain some insight into Trump’s admiration for Vladimir Putin, a head-of-state leader who has thumbed his nose at the international community by invading countries of his choosing and purportedly ordering the assassinations of political opponents. And check out The Whole World is Watching and Donald Trump’s Dystopian America for additional perspectives of what may lie ahead under a Trump presidency.

The election of Donald Trump would cast a dark cloud over America in many ways. And in a time of crisis, such as with an effective and targeted terrorist attack on the locus of American political power, a Donald Trump presidency would risk the entire civilized world.

Sober, reflective judgement is the hallmark of an effective President of the United States.

I have made the tough decisions, always with an eye toward the bottom line. Perhaps it’s time America was run like a business.
— Donald J. Trump

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