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“Oh, Captain! My Captain!”


“Oh, Captain! My Captain!”

There is a meme circulating on FaceBook lately which casts the President-Elect as metaphorical pilot of the Airplane-of-State and asks those of us who chose other candidates to “give him a chance.” There is one fundamental flaw in this analogy, and an inferred response.

Those of us who board airplanes for business, pleasure or other necessity do so with the assurance that the captain and crew have undergone rigorous training. The requirement for a pilot to obtain an FAA Airline Transport Pilot certificate is, at a minimum, 1500 hours, and that is often exceeded. Others in the cockpit have satisfied comparable requirements. But at the risk of challenging another meme, Government is not Business and time spent in one does not translate to the other. Piloting a family enterprise, with responsibility to oneself and one’s own, isn’t even the equivalent of being the CEO of a publicly-held corporation, with responsibility to shareholders and the general welfare. We’re being asked for implicit trust in someone who not only has no experience in public service, but who has expressed outright disdain for those who have earned those credentials.

And what of the other flight crew? The Vice President-Elect may have some years of public service on record, but 1) he was not elected to public office with or without my vote, 2) his re-election to that office was dubious at best, and 3) he is an ideologue with extreme views possibly antithetical to those of passengers whose trust he hasn’t earned. In other words, his experience meets no objective or even mutually-agreeable standard. Can you imagine similar issues with the as-yet-unidentified Navigator and others on the flight deck?

The airplane analogy is egregious for one other obvious reason. I and the other passengers have booked passage on this flight with a specific destination in mind. There is a reasonable presumption that Chicago was and will be the announced destination; that those of us not intent on arriving in Chicago should deplane immediately; and that our Chicago arrival will allow sufficient time to make strategic connections to Newark or Tampa or São Paolo. I have every reason to believe this Plane-of-State is bound for uncharted destinations, though some on board have taken on faith that they know and approve where it’s going. I am sad to the point of anger that more than 90 million metaphorical passengers have expressed no opinion on our destination and, of those who did, the majority prefer by an appreciable margin another Captain. There, if you seek one, is the failure of the American electoral system.

It should go without saying that an airplane is a complex electro-mechanical device — not unlike the complexities of a representative government with checks and balances among its three branches that inhibit unilateral decisions — that our lives depend on its performance, and that at least some of the flight crew are acquainted with those technical systems and their multiple backups. A large percentage of the President-Elect’s supporters, however, appear to have chosen him precisely because he has neither knowledge of nor respect for the intricacies of our governmental system. However flawed we believe it to be, it is difficult to fix something we neither understand nor hold dear. [For a more lighthearted take on this, read C. Northcote Parkinson.]

I’ve never been asked to inspect the plane that I’m about to board; I accept that required FAA inspections will assure a safe journey and timely arrival. But our flight crew are intent on eliminating the safeguards of government — the EPA, the FCC, the SEC and other agencies in the alphabet soup that add necessary inconvenience to our lives — and outsourcing several of the components essential to the performance of our plane. Will I mind that emergency lighting and oxygen masks fail because FAA inspectors were an unnecessary expense that cut into corporate profits? Or that our near-mid-air collision was attributable to the summary dismissal of striking Air Traffic Controllers? Those Chinese-manufactured seat cushions you’d been assured would serve as flotation devices in the event of a water landing may indeed become a sodden mass that drag you to the bottom.

Dare I mention cargo? My suitcase is down there with yours. But so, I gather, are some bombs. And at least a few of those are nuclear.

Is there a better analogy than the Airplane-of-State?

However antiquated it (or I) may be, let me suggest another vehicle for our Captain-Elect: an ancient roman sailing ship.


Neither as powerful nor responsive as the 737, I offer the lumbering Roman trireme. Its purpose was well defined: a warship. Its service: in the defense and expansion of empire. Its operation: dependent on all aboard. Its mission: clear (say, the suppression of Illyrian pirates). Its captain: responsible to his superiors, as well as to the health and welfare of the crew. All on board know their job; carry their weight; understand the consequences (say, of abandoning ship at the first sign of rough weather). As long as everyone’s oar is in the water, our goals may be achieved.

So long as we agree on those goals, that is. At this point I do not and neither, possibly, do the majority of Americans.

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