American Downfall, a discussion group led by Luke Ritter, an assistant professor of history, organized a discussion on the limitations of the powers of the president of the United States (POTUS), including the question of whether the president could order a nuclear strike.
The discussion followed a presentation by James Todhunter, an assistant professor of political science, on the powers of the president.
“Naturally, one of the hottest topics on this issue is nuclear weapons and what limitations there are when it comes to a president ordering a nuclear strike,” said James Sasser, a senior computer science major from Luverne who has been attending American Downfall discussions since its inception.
According to Todhunter, the president has the ultimate authority to launch a nuclear strike, but there are checks and balances to ensure that he cannot arbitrarily order a nuclear strike.
Ritter said the people of the United States need to be aware of the powers of the president while deciding whom they choose to put in the Oval Office.
“I think we all need to be aware of the fact that presidents can order nuclear strikes, and that should inform how we choose who we want to be president,” he said. “ I think lots of Americans don’t understand what a president can do and has done and will do.”
According to Ritter, the purpose of the discussion group is to teach students to interact with each other and discuss polarizing issues while learning to disagree in a civil way.
He said this would help students become constructive members of a democratic society.
According to Ritter, democracy is not about one side winning but rather about the fundamental belief that everyone must submit to specific rules and that society can work on everything else from there on.
“Democracy only works if people play by certain ground rules, but the moment you break these rules, democracy starts breaking down,” Ritter said.
Ritter said the discussion group provides an open forum for students to apply what they have learned in classrooms to current controversial issues.
“We have addressed some really controversial stuff like hate speech, and we also had a discussion on abortion,” Ritter said. “What I am trying to introduce students to is the possibility that we can have meaningful conversations on these issues without breaking into mob violence or yelling.”
American Downfall discussions are held periodically on Wednesdays and organized by the history department and the office of civic engagement.