Since the election, Trump apologists have invoked versions of this analogy to discourage resistance to the new administration:
“Wanting Trump to fail is like wanting the pilot of the plane we are all on to crash.”
Though deployed almost invariably as a conversation-ending mic drop, this simplistic analogy rings resoundingly false on multiple levels.
I. Trump is not alone in the cockpit
If the federal government were a plane, then it would be a jumbo jet with a three-member flight crew: Congress, the judiciary and the Executive Branch. The flight manual specifies a careful division of labor, plus constitutional checks and balances. If one of the crewmen proves incapable, then the other two must take responsibility, sideline him, and safely operate the plane pending his replacement.
Fortunately, the Framers installed sensible system failsafes to prevent any single member of the crew from crashing the aircraft. By design, no individual is indispensable.
II. Trump is flying blind
Our new captain inhabits an alternate reality. Where the rest of us perceive the world as it is, he and his supporters hallucinate, seeing nothing but flat plains where mountains loom, and imagining typhoons in clear blue skies.
Sure that he knows the terrain ahead, Trump accepts only assent and flattery, flatly rejecting all contrary evidence. He ignores the air traffic controllers (“most dishonest human beings on earth”), refuses to read the instruments before him (“fake news”), does not even deign to glance out the cockpit windows, and thus will never know that he has charted a collision course with reality — until it is too late.
Trump made his penchant for magical thinking clear throughout the campaign, and reiterated many of those delusions in his absurd inaugural address:
- He describes our country as impoverished, overtaxed and overregulated, when the truth is low unemployment, low taxes, light regulation, and a longstanding (if modest and uneven) economic recovery.
- He views international commerce as a zero-sum game that we consistently lose, an unfair system that “ripped” away “the wealth of our middle class and redistributed it all across the world.” In fact, free trade powerfully enriches the US while driving down the cost of living, mechanization has eliminated nine times more jobs than outsourcing, and income inequality is primarily of domestic origin, as four decades of Reaganomics enabled fatcats like Trump to claim an ever larger share of that wealth at the expense of the American workers who create the value for them in the first place.
- He laments the “carnage” of crime, drugs and gangs, but violent crime has fallen dramatically since the early ‘90s.
- He sees “an education system flush with cash” that leaves “students deprived of all knowledge,” when the reality is remarkably successful public schools, despite inadequate educator pay in many states.
- He asserts the need to “get our people off welfare and back to work,” but rates of AFDC/TANF dependency have plummeted precipitously since the mid-’90s.
- He complains that we have refused to defend “our own borders,” but since 9/11, the Border Patrol’s budget and staffing have doubled, while illegal immigration has declined.
- Most bizarrely, he claims “we have subsidized the armies of other countries, while allowing the very sad depletion of our military.” Last year, we gave $8 billion of military aid to our allies (most of it to Israel and Egypt), but spent $711 billion on our own armed forces — nearly as much as all of the other countries in the world put together. We remain the globe’s sole military superpower.
III. We own this airline
As citizens of a constitutional republic, we are more than mere passengers. We own this plane. We hire members of the flight crew at intervals specified by the Constitution, and if they disgrace themselves in the meantime, we can summarily impeach and remove them.
Trump disqualified himself from the cockpit throughout the campaign by lying, denying objective reality, inciting hatred, and coddling foreign dictators.
His sycophants shoved him into the cockpit, anyway.
Consequently, he has continued all of that bad behavior, and then compounded it with audacious corruption: Trump keeps his finances secret and refuses to divest from his businesses, thus ensuring unprecedented conflicts of interest and potentially unlimited exploitation of public power for private gain.
IV. Sometimes the pilot needs to fail
If a pilot charts a course that will crash the plane, then it is our duty to ensure that he fails.
Trump is not consciously trying to crash this plane. Like all the best snake oil salesmen, he believes his own con. Sincere in his delusions, he genuinely thinks his plans will make America great again while affirming his bloated Messiah complex.
We cannot share in those hallucinations.
If we allow Trump to do even half of what he promises, then he will wreck the economy, violate human rights here and abroad, and replace our democracy with a Fascist state.
He will crash this plane, as surely as that suicidal Germanwings pilot or a 9/11 hijacker.
We need to break into the cockpit and stop him before he even takes off.
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