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Dear U.S. Electors: What if a Trump Presidency Is an Extinction-level Event?

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President-elect Donald Trump arrives to speak in Orlando, Florida, on Dec. 16, 2016.
President-elect Donald Trump arrives to speak in Orlando, Florida, on Dec. 16, 2016.Credit: Evan Vucci/AP

There are over 15,000 nuclear bombs with varying payloads in the world today. They have the capacity to destroy mankind several times over. Ninety-three percent of the world’s nuclear stockpile is held by the United States and Russia. China, on the other hand, has only 260 nuclear bombs, according to the Federation of American Scientists. That’s more than enough to destroy the United States, however, and actually more than enough to render the entire planet largely uninhabitable, at least for a decade or two.

So the question that 538 Electoral College delegates have to ask themselves as they gather on Monday to cast their votes for president is: Can Donald Trump control America’s 1,930 deployed nuclear bombs and the additional 4,500 that are in stockpile? Do you trust him to prevent a nuclear war with China? Does Trump have the temperament and the wherewithal to defuse any potential nuclear confrontation, anywhere on earth? 

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If the answer to these question is an unqualified yes, if the electors are confident that Trump is just as cool and calculated as any of his predecessors, if they believe that he will surround himself with rational, level-headed advisers and that he will actually listen to what they have to say, if they think he will make the right decision in the split seconds that he might have to – then they have no choice but to confirm Trump’s election as 45th president. 

It might be a different situation if the Electoral College delegates had received firm, incontrovertible proof that Russia’s intervention in the elections helped tip the scales in Trump’s favor or if they had been presented with clear-cut evidence that Trump was somehow beholden to Vladimir Putin, but barring that, it’s hard to find any justification for subverting Trump’s Electoral College victory. He might turn out to be an unmitigated disaster for the American people, but that’s the price they will have to pay for the choice they made on November 8. Anything else would be undemocratic and unconstitutional and incredibly, unbelievably divisive.

U.S. president-elect Donald Trump speaks at the Wisconsin State Fair Exposition Center in West Allis, Wisconsin, U.S., December 13, 2016.Credit: Shannon Stapleton, Reuters

If, however, the delegates are not convinced that Trump can be trusted to avoid a nuclear catastrophe; if they believe that when push comes to shove, he’s too impulsive, too vindictive, too self-absorbed; if he shoots from the hip, doesn’t listen to anyone, takes everything personally and doesn’t seem to have the proper experience, perspective or knowledge to tackle complex geostrategic issues; and if they worry that these traits will influence Trump’s statements and decision-making in times of nuclear crises – that’s a different matter altogether. Adherence to the U.S. Constitution, loyalty to the democratic process and respect for the will of the voter won’t do us much good if it turns out that Trump will have rashly precipitated an extinction-level event.  

Trump’s behavior since his elections has done nothing to quell concerns about his ability to control America’s vast nuclear arsenal. Even if one excuses all of Trump’s irresponsible campaign statements – dropping nuclear bombs on ISIS, allowing Japan, Saudi Arabia and others to acquire atomic bombs, withdrawing from NATO, abandoning Estonia etc. – as meaningless rhetoric meant to attract voters, it’s harder to explain Trump’s superfluous entanglement with China after he was already crowned president-elect.

Sure, if you think provoking China on Taiwan, threatening the “One China” policy and then engaging in a Twitter feud with Beijing is part of some sophisticated and thought-out strategy, if you assume that Trump is engaging in brinkmanship and will be able to pull back in time, you can sleep easily at night and strenuously defend Electoral College delegates doing exactly what they are supposed to do without veering left or right. If you believe however that this is the way Trump will be conducting foreign policy in the next four years, you should be worried stiff that things could get out of hand, up to and including a nuclear conflagration. And that should change your perspective.

This weekend’s appointment of a radical right-wing ambassador to Israel such as bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman is another sign that Trump’s foreign policy is bound to go off the rails, but it’s not in the same league. In a worst-case scenario, a Trump administration that veers sharply to the right, abandons support for a two-state solution and moves the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem could precipitate a crisis that could lead to violence and bloodshed, but it would be Israelis and Palestinians who would pay the price, not Americans. It might be a crazy policy, but it’s not one that would seem to threaten the very existence of America or the world.

One of the responses to the call for electors not to confirm Trump is that this would serve as a dangerous precedent for the future. Republicans hated and distrusted President Barack Obama, the argument goes, but they wouldn’t think of calling on the Electoral College to buck the election results. Of course, Obama didn’t lose the popular vote like Trump did, but that’s not the issue. Obama’s and Trump’s policies and plans aren’t the issue either. And if you believe that Obama is just as unstable and erratic as Trump, then I think you’re delusional, but would acknowledge that there is no basis for discussion between us and also no reason for you to object to Trump’s election.

I do not know what the real answer is. It’s hard to tell whether Trump is “temperamentally unfit” to serve as Commander in Chief, as Obama claimed during the elections campaign, or whether behind the bluff and the bluster and the bullying that Trump exhibits on a daily basis there is a calm and rational leader who will suddenly emerge from underneath the costume.  I don’t think anyone really knows, certainly not the electors who are now being called to make what will probably be the most momentous decision of their lives.

But there is a bright side: the electors won’t need to worry about future regrets or recriminations. If it turns out that Trump is a capable president, then all’s well that ends well. If it turns out that he wasn’t, and that he did needlessly antagonize nuclear powers and provoke nuclear war, then humanity will come to an end, and no one will be around to excoriate the “faithful” electors who were too timid to rise above the hour. They won’t be around either. From their point of view, it’s a win-win situation.   

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