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Designated Survivor

Like many of you, my wife, mother, and I seek different television series to help pass this time of isolation. Netflix, along with many other platforms, gives us almost unlimited ways to pass the days since we cannot pass the time in our normal ways.

My mother, sequestered with us at Compass Lake, suggested “Designated Survivor”, which aired for three seasons beginning in 2016. Keifer Sutherland is the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development when the State of the Union address occurs.  Each year one of the cabinet members, usually the lowest ranking, is not present during the president’s annual address to Congress.

The theory is that there will be a surviving member of the President’s Cabinet should some catastrophic event occur that killed most of the line of succession to the presidency.  In the pilot of the series, that is exactly what happens. 

Sutherland’s character is Thomas Kirkman, the HUD Secretary, who is thrust into a position he could have never imagined.  He had never been elected to an office yet finds himself as the president of a country after the entire leadership infrastructure is wiped out due to a massive bomb at the US Capitol during the State of the Union speech.

While I have only watched two episodes, I could not help but feel the comparisons to our country today.  Our country is being torn apart by the lack of leadership. Do not take this as an attack on the president.  Everyone can share in the blame.  Literally everything is partisan these days, from the presidency to the county courthouse.   

We cannot imagine such a tragic event like this series’ depiction of the bombing of this country’s capitol building.  But we also could never have imagined a pandemic like we are now experiencing.  An economy in a free fall.  Millions out of work.  Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

The challenge for the fictional President Kirkman is the same challenge for our nation in these unusual and tragic times.  How do we pull together?  How do we unite in a way that brings our nation together rather than rips it apart? 

While I have only watched two episodes of this fictional series, I feel like I am much further along in the real-life series that all Americans are living during this current crisis.   The coronavirus is not the worst crisis in this nation’s history, but it is the crisis that has divided us most as to its validity, its potential impact on the nation, and the proper paths to recovery.

The danger of this pandemic, our convoluted response, and our plan for the future is that we have no response and we have no plan.  We hear increasingly devastating numbers of infections and deaths even as we prematurely open our economy up, only to quickly shut it back down. 

Somehow, we have designated a national problem to the individual states, who often push it down to the local mayors and county officials.  I have been a mayor and a county commission chairman.  In both jobs, I would have been woefully unprepared to give direction on how to deal with the deadliest virus in a hundred years.

The dissension in the nation’s leadership sends signals to the left and right, the blue and the red, the Democrats and the Republicans.  It is tearing us apart.   What we need are signals to the middle, to the neighbors and friends who do not care about party affiliation.   

We need honest reporting, not opinions, from our news organizations.  The mixed messages from the different news outlets are confusing at best, and divisive at worst.  There should be no alternative facts, just plain facts.   Americans are strong enough to accept the truth and should demand the truth.

Americans are in a similar position like the show of “Designated Survivor”.  We have not lost our leadership due to a bombing of the Capitol.  We have lost our leadership due to partisan divisiveness and abdication of personal responsibility for the direction of our country.  Power corrupts and causes people to alter their lifelong beliefs just to maintain the status quo, especially if it benefits them personally. 

The life we are living is not a show where you can switch the channel because you do not like the plot.  Real life is not an entertaining series you can binge watch during a pandemic.  

This country that we all love, despite our wildly different choices for its future direction, is looking for a designated survivor.  We need that person to lead us to a place of common purpose, direction, and goals.  If we cannot find a way to unite, then we shall surely fail.   It will not be the virus that did us in.  It will be ourselves.