Kathleen Parker

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WASHINGTON -- By now a few million Americans have met “Rick,” the aide-de-camp who carries the nuclear “football” for President Trump, and Richard DeAgazio, a Mar-a-Lago club member who posted a selfie of the two on his Facebook page.

The entire Saturday evening in Palm Beach, where Trump hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the Mar-a-Lago terrace among assorted high-dollar patrons, felt like touring comedy director Adam McKay’s imagination. World leaders huddling over documents, reading by the light of an aide’s cellphone; a Hugh Hefneresque character played by the president receiving news about a North Korean missile launch; and a Palm Beach fat cat snapping a picture of the nuclear satchel and posing with Rick.

Love the trailer; when’s the movie?

Kidding aside, we who worry, worry. Shouldn’t the football be sitting quietly in a discreet corner, minding its own business? Things have gotten so wacky in Week Four of the Reality Presidency, even Vladimir Putin must be wondering: Is anybody in charge over there?

To calm my nerves, I called a former nuclear-football minder, now a happily anonymous civilian family man, about the photo and other concerns.

“Jack,” I’ll call him, is beyond careful with his words. Ever faithful to mission, he’s a patriot who follows the rules and stays in his own lane. He’s so cautious, every other answer is “I can’t tell you that.” But he did tell me enough to ease my mind, so I thought I’d share.

First, Jack says he wouldn’t have posed for the photograph, but doesn’t think it was a breach of any sort, nor did it pose a security risk. Jack still doesn’t have a Facebook account as it was a firing offense when he was “in.” Everything on the nonpolitical side of things in Washington is governed by rules, and there was zero tolerance for mistakes. The president may goof around, but the people in charge of keeping him alive and the continuity on course are deadly serious.

The satchel also has strict rules. It must always be within a specified number of feet to the president. It is essentially a portable command center, not a nuclear launch pad per se. When the president activates the satchel, he is sending a message to the Pentagon rather than firing off missiles at his whim, as some would have you believe.

The case, as others have described it, contains a book of retaliatory options, another of classified site locations, a manila folder containing procedures for the Emergency Alert System and, of course, the essential 3x5-inch card with the authentication codes. Yes, it’s a little chilling to imagine Trump trying to read the codes with a flashlight app while the Palm Beach set posts videos to Instagram.

One may find comfort, however, in being reminded that the military aide holding the bag, so to speak, isn’t the only one with eyes on the suitcase. “There are a million things going on behind the scenes that people don’t understand,” Jack says, reassuringly. Standing close by are at least two others locked, loaded and poised to act to protect the football if necessary.

“The point always is continuity of the presidency,” says Jack. “The country should never be without the ability to use the nuclear arsenal for more than a minute.”

Continuity was interrupted once when President Clinton misplaced his “biscuit,” his personal identifier code, as related in the autobiography of Gen. Hugh Shelton, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during Clinton’s second term. The vice president has the same satchel and biscuit, by the way, but they’re inoperable until and unless the president is confirmed dead or is otherwise unable to perform his duties. This would include being under sedation during surgery. The transfer of power and the making operable of those alternate instruments are executed immediately.

Those worried that Trump might get his nose out of joint and start Armageddon should probably relax. There’s no red “launch” button in the bag. Once the president sorts through his options, and decides on a course of action, he launches a (BEG ITAL)process(END ITAL) -- have you ever loved that word more? -- including discussions with key military and civilian advisers, who may talk him out of the attack.

In the end, the president has sole authority and the Pentagon has to follow orders. But, “there are checks and balances everywhere and they’re extremely classified,” says Jack. “The most important thing is for you to make people feel safe and stop with the frickin’ ... “ He stops himself and just says, “I’m not fretful.”

If Jack’s not worried, I’m not worried. Sort of. Not. Worried.

Kathleen Parker’s email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

(c) 2016, Washington Post Writers Group

WASHINGTON -- Good news: In two years, we’ll have a new president. Bad news: If we make it that long.

My “good” prediction is based on the Law of the Pendulum. Enough Americans, including most independent voters, will be so ready to shed Donald Trump and his little shop of horrors that the 2018 midterm elections are all but certain to be a landslide -- no make that a mudslide -- sweep of the House and Senate. If Republicans took both houses in a groundswell of the people’s rejection of Obamacare, Democrats will take them back in a tsunami of protest.

Once ensconced, it would take a Democratic majority approximately 30 seconds to begin impeachment proceedings selecting from an accumulating pile of lies, overreach and just plain sloppiness. That is, assuming Trump hasn’t already been shown the exit.

Or that he hasn’t declared martial law (all those anarchists, you know) and effectively silenced dissent. We’re already well on our way to the latter via Trump’s incessant attacks on the media -- “the most dishonest people in the world” -- and press secretary Sean Spicer’s rabid-chihuahua, daily press briefings. (Note to Sean: Whatever he’s promised you, it’s not worth becoming Melissa McCarthy’s punching bag. But really, don’t stop.)

With luck, and Cabinet-level courage not much in evidence, there’s a chance we won’t have to wait two long years, during which, let’s face it, anything could happen. In anticipation of circumstances warranting a speedier presidential replacement, wiser minds added Section 4 to the 25th Amendment, which removes the president if a majority of the Cabinet and the vice president think it necessary, i.e. if the president is injured or falls too ill to serve. Or, by extension, by being so incompetent -- or not-quite-right -- that he or she poses a threat to the nation and must be removed immediately and replaced by the vice president.

Aren’t we there, yet?

Thus far, Trump and his henchmen have conducted a full frontal assault on civil liberties, open government and religious freedom, as well as instigating or condoning a cascade of ethics violations ranging from the serious (business conflicts of interest) to the absurd (attacking a department store for dropping his daughter’s fashion line). And, no, it’s not just a father defending his daughter. It’s the president of the United States bullying a particular business and, more generally, making a public case against free enterprise.

To an objective observer, it would seem impossible to defend the perilous absurdities emanating from the White House and from at least one executive agency, the USDA, which recently scrubbed animal abuse reports from its website, leaving puppies, kittens, horses and others to fend for themselves.

In a hopeful note, a few Republicans are speaking out, but the list is short.

GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz recently got a taste of what’s ahead for Republican incumbents. Facing an unruly crowd at a town hall meeting in Utah, the House Oversight Committee chair was booed nearly every time he mentioned Trump. Even if many in the crowd were members of opposition groups, the evening provided a glimpse of the next two years. From 2010’s tea party to 2018’s resistance, the pendulum barely had time to pause before beginning its leftward trek.

While we wait for it to someday find the nation’s center, where so many wait impatiently, it seems clear that the president, who swore an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution, has never read it. Nor, apparently, has he ever even watched a Hollywood rendering of the presidency. A single episode of “The West Wing” would have taught Trump more about his new job than he currently seems to know -- or care.

Far more compelling than keeping his promise to act presidential is keeping campaign promises against reason, signing poorly conceived executive orders, bashing the judicial and legislative branches, and tweeting his spleen to a wondering and worrying world.

Trump’s childish and petulant manner, meanwhile, further reinforces long-held concerns that this man can’t be trusted to lead a dog-and-pony act, much less the nation. Most worrisome is how long Trump can tolerate the protests, criticisms, humiliations, rebuttals and defeats -- and what price he’ll try to exact from those who refused to look away.

Kathleen Parker’s email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

WASHINGTON -- To review the left’s reaction to Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is to infer he’s the spawn of Dracula -- a cruel and bloodless beast who shrinks from the light and plays havoc with history.

Among the many distortions: Gorsuch is against clean water, consumers, women’s health, dying people and workers. The liberal Alliance for Justice declares him worse in some ways than Justice Antonin Scalia, whose seat Gorsuch would assume if confirmed. People for the American Way claims he’s an ideologue “far outside of the judicial mainstream who has a record of warping the law to serve the powerful over the interests and constitutional rights of ordinary Americans.”

Or, one could argue that he is courageous in protecting the people and the Constitution by adhering to text and original intent without concern for his popularity.

As background, Gorsuch has served since 2006 on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where his reputation as a brilliant jurist and writer gained national attention. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he also earned a doctorate from Oxford in legal philosophy. His dissertation was on euthanasia, which has raised flags among those fighting for death-with-dignity laws. If Gorsuch opposes assisted suicide for the terminally ill, goes the thinking, then he must also oppose a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.

Gorsuch has said that human life has intrinsic value and that no other human has a right to destroy another’s, which seems on its face to be manifest. He has never written or ruled specifically on abortion, so this remains a hazy correlative. He is, indeed, an originalist, as was Scalia, and his rulings might not differ much from his conservative predecessor’s.

Fundamental to his approach is the understanding that legislatures, and not courts, should create laws. This position also extends to administrators and bureaucrats. Liberals have sometimes preferred to fashion law through the courts, rather than navigate the legislative process, which is burdensome, stubborn and slow. It’s so much easier to create law in the courts and let people adapt.

This view would seem almost Trumpian but for his selection of Gorsuch, who is of the opposite inclination. After two dizzying weeks of confounding (Mexico), outrageous (travel ban) and absurd (Australia) first acts, Trump’s naming of Gorsuch brought a welcome pause. Yes, it was showmanship -- prime time and all that -- but, seriously, who cares? It was far and away the most presidential performance we’ve thus far witnessed, notwithstanding Trump’s nearly separating Gorsuch’s arm from its socket during a handshake.

Should Gorsuch be approved, the court’s composition obviously doesn’t really change. The balance would remain the same, with Justice Kennedy, for whom Gorsuch clerked, as the swing vote. It’s the next seat for which Democrats should save their fire, lest they be viewed as intractable as the Republicans were the past eight years. No one wins this war.

Democrats are entitled to their indignation over Republicans’ refusal to consider Merrick Garland, President Obama’s choice for Scalia’s seat. But their energies will be spent for naught -- and they could do far worse. Besides, there’s no real knowing how a justice will rule. Philosophical temperament is a factor, but it’s not the only one. Individual cases present facts and circumstances that can lead to unexpected conclusions. One needn’t look far for examples.

Chief Justice John Roberts shocked conservatives when he ruled favorably on the Affordable Care Act, but his decision was double-edged. By deciding that the penalty in Obamacare, intended for people who refused to buy insurance, was really a tax, Roberts also exposed the dishonesty in the Obama administration’s presentation of the health care plan. Throughout the legislative process, the administration insisted that it was (BEG ITAL)not(END ITAL) a tax.

Though cold comfort to conservatives, the ruling bolstered arguments that Obamacare was based on false pretenses and the assumption, as one of the law’s architects later boasted, that people would be too stupid to know the difference.

The upcoming debate should be scintillating theater as it strikes at the heart of a judge’s role. Gorsuch has made himself clear on this. In a 2016 concurrence, he wrote: “Ours is the job of interpreting the Constitution. And that document isn’t some inkblot on which litigants may project their hopes and dreams for a new and perfected tort law, but a carefully drafted text judges are charged with applying according to its original public meaning.”

I wouldn’t wish on anyone the task of proving that wrong.

Kathleen Parker’s email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

About
Kathleen Parker writes a twice-weekly column on politics and culture. In 2010, she received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for “her perceptive, often witty columns on an array of political and moral issues, gracefully sharing the experiences and values that lead her to unpredictable conclusions.” A Florida native, Parker started her column in 1987 when she was a staff writer for the Orlando Sentinel. She joined the Washington Post Writers Group in 2006. She is the author of “Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care” (2008).
Books
- Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care (Random House, 2008)
Awards
2010 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary
1993 H.L. Mencken Writing Award
Reviews
"In a media genre that's all too often predictable, Kathleen Parker almost never fails to surprise – with her passion, her wit and her creativity. She's an independent thinker and her viewpoint is often so fresh and original, you can't help but be moved even when you disagree." – Sharon Grigsby, deputy editorial page editor, The Dallas Morning News

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