Designated Survivor: A Trumpian Nightmare
When it premiered on November, 6, 2001, the FOX series 24 came close to never making it to TV. September 11—dubbed 911—had occurred only two months previously, the devastating attacks in a matter of hours by a handful of terrorists which led to sweeping changes in America’s national security, law enforcement and military institutions. The country changed that day in profound ways.
So when 24 commenced, it was with a huge amount of trepidation by FOX. How would the American public react to a fictional TV show about terrorism so soon after 911? Yet the series lasted eight seasons for 192 episodes. Jack Bauer, played by Canadian actor Keifer Sutherland, knew how to catch and interrogate terrorists in Dick Cheney fashion. In typical American media culture, Jack Bauer was held up as a national hero, with the underlying tone that wasn’t it too bad that this bad-ass terrorist fighter wasn’t indeed real.
Fast forward 15 years exactly to another Keifer Sutherland TV thriller: Designated Survivor, which debuted on September 21st. Although just at the start of this new made-for-TV series on ABC, it has delivered a powerful visual impact on the chaos that would reign in the event of a massive attack on Capitol Hill.
In the series, most of the Cabinet, the President, Vice-President, Speaker of the House, Supreme Court judges and others are wiped out in a brutal terrorist attack during the State of the Union address. President Tom Kirkman, played by Sutherland, is in another building watching the address on TV when the attack occurs. His position in the Cabinet to that point was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; hours before the attack he was informed he was to be demoted and sent to Montreal in an ambassador role.
The bombing of the Capitol building changes that in seconds. Kirkman’s whisked to the White House by the Secret Service where he faces absolute chaos in the Oval Office (below photo: Kirkman visiting the remains of the Capitol).
Granted it’s a TV show, but in episode two the chaos and anxiety present in the Oval Office is palpable when President Kirkman attempts to speak to a large number of advisors and officials. No one listens to him, despite having been just sworn in as President. Those in positions of influence and direct contact to the Office of the President are becoming unglued as they react without thinking, throwing advice and demands for decisions at Kirkman. His chief of defence staff wants to bomb Iran for a provocation in the Straits of Hormus. Within minutes, the President exits the Oval Office to s