From a childhood expression to and adult feeling of inadequacy; those are the two geneses of today’s somewhat rambling article. Let’s explore.
A few weeks ago my wife and I were in a bookstore coffee shop when we struck up a conversation with a couple sitting at the next table. The man and I had a similar (rather nerdy) taste in reading. His undergraduate degree was from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, his graduate degree from Duke. His wife claimed his home library contained well over a thousand books. Both in our sixties, well read and having had academic opportunities that most Americans hadn’t, we still had the same nagging feeling that the more we learned; the more we realized that there was more knowledge to be acquired. That’s what kept us asking and searching.
In that vein I want to present a few interesting scenarios that I don’t know the answer to. In fact, in many cases the answer is either not publically known or has not been established. Offbeat as all these scenarios are; they are possible.
Is a native born Puerto Rican eligible to be elected President of the United States? A person born in an American territory is an American citizen. Since the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 a person born in the United States is a birthright citizen. Yet it is a legal unknown as to whether a person born in an American territory meets the natural born requirement in the Constitution to be eligible to be President. Considering we just elected someone as unlikely as Donald Trump is it really that farfetched that a Puerto Rican could be elected?
We all learn the order of succession to the presidency in school. If the President dies the Vice President takes his place. Next in line is the Speaker of the House followed by the President pro Tempera of the Senate and then the Secretary of State. We also have a separation of powers under our constitutional government that recognizes three distinct and co-equal branches of government. The President, Vice President and Secretary of State are part of the Executive Branch while the Speaker and President pro Tempore of the Senate are members of the Legislative Branch. If a member of the Legislative branch were to assume the Presidency (head of the Executive branch) wouldn’t that be a constitutional conflict? If so would the Secretary of State have the right to claim the presidency in the event of the simultaneous demise of both the President and Vice President? Normally I would say that was a matter for the Supreme Court to decide. My concern is what happens to the government in the interim? That is a serious concern because a simultaneous demise would certainly shake the nation and would most likely occur as a result of a national emergency (i.e. a military attack).
Garrett Graff’s new book Raven Rock is spurring some interesting conversations. In part the book deals with what I will call “extraconstitional” succession plans. I just outlined the problem with a plan we all learned as schoolchildren. How about you survive a situation like a nuclear war or asteroid collision only to find someone you never heard of claiming to be the (at least) interim head of the federal government? Would Americans even accept that person as their leader? Would they have any choice? Would they care? Is that the death of democracy? Those are all big questions!
Speaking of Doomsday survival plans: Are they adequate and practical? With sufficient warning the answer is: perhaps. In the event of something like a nuclear attack launched by off shore submarines the warning time would probably be woefully inadequate to evacuate anyone and the resulting chaos would reduce us to little more than animals in a primitive (and probably futile) fight for survival.
I guess it’s like my parent used to tell me, “Who died and left you boss?”
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Note: I have not read Raven Rock and am not certain whether I will or not, let alone include it in the Recommended Reading list. I have however watched a C-SPAN piece Mr. Graff did which was a major catalyst for this article.