Women Legislators' Lobby

Mississippi Representative Kathy Sykes: “President Trump should not have the power to kill us all”

One thing that we all can agree on, is that we all want a better life. Everyone deserves good schools, reliable public transportation, accessible and affordable housing, and affordable health care — it’s why I got into government in the first place, to fight for that kind of change.

But, while most of us are worried about our daily lives, taking care of our kids and putting food on the table, President Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric and irrational behavior (on nearly every topic under the sun) has me worried about all of our survival.

Why? Well, right now, there is nothing to stop Trump from launching a nuclear weapon if he gets it in his head to do so. He has the sole and unchecked authority to kill millions of people within minutes.

That’s not just dangerous, it’s undemocratic and unconstitutional.

The framers of the Constitution put the power to launch a war explicitly in the hands of the Legislature because they understood, as James Madison put it, “the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it.” They further understood that because it is the everyday citizens who pay the greatest cost of any war, these same citizens should have input into the decision to go to war, with open debate.

That’s why I’m happy to hear that Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who says that Trump is putting us “on the path to World War III,” is holding a “long overdue” hearing to investigate the president’s authority to use nuclear weapons.

Research has shown that, back in the mid-1970s, while meeting privately with members of Congress at the height of the Watergate hearings, President Nixon bragged that “I could leave this room and in 25 minutes 70 million people would be dead.” At the time, Nixon was drinking heavily, and aides saw what they feared was a growing emotional instability. Therefore, the then-new secretary of defense, James R. Schlesinger, instructed the military to divert any emergency orders — especially one involving nuclear weapons — to him or the secretary of state, Henry A. Kissinger. However, they did not actually have a clear legal authority to make this order, and, in reality, this move on his part was outside the normal legal order and could be considered mutinous.

It’s not hard to imagine Trump losing his temper and launching a war on a whim, considering how quickly and "trigger happy" he reacts on Twitter to any perceived slight.

We need a system with checks and balances to put a stop-gap to reckless decision making on nuclear weapons by any president, and this hearing opens the door to establishing such a system.

What so many fail to remember is that any nuclear strike initiated by the United States would result in a massive number of American casualties. It might seem far away, but an all-out nuclear exchange would kill hundreds of millions and produce catastrophic consequences for everyone — destroying our environment, hurting our agriculture, economy and health.

We’ve felt and suffered from the effects of nuclear weapons here in Mississippi before. In an often forgotten incident from 1964, a nuclear bomb was detonated in the underground Salt Domes of southern Mississippi, polluting millions of gallons of water and contaminating the soil. The workers who participated in the clean up were exposed to high levels of radiation on the job and had high rates of cancer and other health problems as a result. Just imagine what that would look like on a global scale.

This is why our senators, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, need to work with their colleagues to take action on this issue.

Like B.B. King said, “I'm trying to get people to see that we are our brother's keeper. Red, white, black, brown or yellow, rich or poor, we all have the blues.” It’s time that we drive our Blues and Worries away.

Originally published in the Clarion Ledger on November 17, 2017. 

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