Pilot

Ever since jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11, setting off an era of fear, the notion of piloting and who’s at the controls has become a subconscious motif in the American psyche.

George W. Bush was at the helm on that fateful day, and it defined his presidency. His record as an actual pilot in the Texas Air National Guard presaged his performance as commander-in-chief: put into the position through dubious means, a spotty service record, and, most catastrophically, neglecting his duties, this time by failing to take pre-9/11 intelligence warnings seriously. President Bush then dragged us into the disastrous Iraq war and presided over the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression.

Another plane crash closed out the Bush Administration. Just days before President Obama’s first inauguration, US Airways Flight 1549 lost engine power shortly after take-off from LaGuardia Airport. Captain Chesley Sullenberger brought the stricken vessel to a safe landing in the Hudson River, then he and his crew calmly and professionally guided everyone to the wings of the aircraft to await rescue.

Captain Sully’s maneuvers heralded a new era. His cool, calm demeanor found its twin in President Obama, who rescued the country from economic collapse. A man who also took his job seriously, he guided us for the most part skillfully and without fanfare through perilous times.

As the Obama presidency drew to a close, two of the most unpopular candidates in our history vied to replace him, and again flight metaphors emerged.

“Let me put it this way,” a pilot I know remarked right before the election. “I think they’re both idiots. But at least Hillary knows how to fly a plane.”

Instead, we have someone totally unqualified about to step into the cockpit. In just a few days, cool-as-a-cucumber President Obama must hand over the controls to his opposite—an erratic, uncouth ignoramus governed solely by ego and self-aggrandizement. The contrast was starkly illuminated by President Obama’s graceful farewell address followed the next morning by Donald Trump’s snarling and incoherent press conference.

After the election, it was common to hear people—including President Obama—say that we should wish for Donald Trump’s success.

“Do you want him to fail?” asked a man I met who was pro-Trump because he was anti-choice. “After all, if you got on a plane, would you hope that the pilot would crash?”

Actually, I would hope that the pilot knew how to fly a plane.

But the question is a trap. Of course I do not want Donald Trump to drive the country into the ground. But his “success” means not only rewarding a bully with the bully pulpit, but destroying the progress of the Obama years. Trump and his enablers are taking direct aim at healthcare, reproductive rights, education, environmental protection, economic and racial justice, immigration, women’s, and minority rights, and so much more. So no, I do not want him to succeed. Besides, I do not see a man in charge who will guide the country safely—Trump is busily appointing people who are intent on hijacking the missions of the departments they are supposed to lead. His is shaping up to be a crash-and-burn administration.

Like it or not, we are all on this airplane now. Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

 

Election Day

It was disconcerting Tuesday morning to walk downtown through the Hub, a big intersection that is crammed with people waving placards for every cause and candidate every election day. The Hub was deserted. Certainly our small town in its deep blue bubble was not a place to expend national resources, but no one? Not even people vying for highly competitive local races? It was as if the election weren’t even happening, except for a Trump/Pence bumper sticker on a parked truck a block away, and a handmade poster complete with horns and a pitchfork that read “Hellary 2016.”

Despite these ominous signs, I was sure I’d be celebrating the election of our first female president that night. The polls were looking pretty good, despite the FBI’s damaging salvo. During my final phone banking shift, when we were making calls to Florida, one supporter I spoke to told me her seven-year-old daughter’s class held a mock election, and Hillary had won in a landslide.

Then came another inkling of trouble that I also dismissed. A man told me that his first-grader was one of only ten Hillary voters in her classroom’s poll. “This is a blue county,” he said, “And Trump blew her out of the water. I am so frightened.” I told him about the woman I’d just talked with, reassuring myself if not him. A few hours later, as I headed off to our friend’s house with a plate of scrumptious chocolate layer bars and a bottle of bubbly, the closeness of the Virginia returns was worrisome. But I told myself that the northern suburbs had not yet come in, and remained confident.

As we tuned in to MSNBC, CNN, even Fox, looking for a different reality than the one that seemed to be unfolding, I started fielding texts from our daughter:

“I’M SO NERVOUS HOLY CRAP! HOW IS THIS HAPPENING?

“Keep the faith,” I texted back. “It will just be closer and a longer night than we’d hoped.”

Two hours later, as Stephen Colbert’s national wake ended on Showtime, I had dropped all optimism, all pretense of maternal comfort, unless “Fucking unbelievable” counts as reassurance.

Our host took the dog out to pee, and upon his return reported that the party at the neighbor’s house seemed oddly raucous, unlike our gloomy gathering. My husband and I left a bit before 10:00, still with no verdict, but with our champagne unpopped and our hearts broken. Some people were leaving the party across the street, and we heard a voice call out, “White men rule!” We tried to convince ourselves that we might have said the same thing in an ironic attempt at gallows humor. But we could not deny that they were celebrating, while we were in shock and mourning.

I know that I must engage in soul-searching to understand what I missed, and why. I must acknowledge my own failures of empathy, my candidate’s poor choices, the legitimate concerns of those who voted for her opponent. There are a million different converging factors that have resulted in this outcome, and I know that blaming it on racism and misogyny is overly simplistic and insulting. Still, it is naive to deny the powerful influence of these virulent strains. They are here in my own backyard.

This is our deep blue bubble. This is my deep denial. This is where we live.

*

What was your election day and night like?

The Girl on the Train

train-entering-tunnel

I was 17 years old and vacationing in Germany with my parents, who sat facing me on the train. I stared out the window, the seat beside me empty. As the train traveled through the Rhine Valley, we picked up more passengers. Eventually a middle-aged man boarded the crowded train, sat down next to me, and unfolded his newspaper. I continued to stare out the window. After a while, the train entered a tunnel and everything went dark.

Suddenly, the man was all over me, pressing his face into mine, groping my breasts, my thighs. I froze, too shocked and embarrassed to move or utter a sound. The instant the train emerged from the tunnel, he returned to reading his newspaper.

My parents looked at my ashen face and asked what was wrong.

“Nothing,” I mumbled.

I hadn’t thought much about this incident over the years.

Until Donald Trump was caught on tape bragging about forcing himself on women.  Then I was back in that dark tunnel again, along with millions of women remembering the unwanted advances we’ve silently endured.

Meanwhile, Trump’s doubled down on the disrespect that’s been evident throughout his campaign by demeaning and threatening those who have come forward with allegations against him.

“I don’t know these women,” he says dismissively.

He’s right about that–though not in the way he intended.

Trump did not know the woman who says he groped her on the plane, just as the man on the train didn’t know me. No one who views others as simply there for the taking bothers to know—or care—anything about them.

Trump may not know us, but we know him. And we’re tired of putting up with him and his kind.

I am no longer that scared-silent girl on the train. I have found my voice, and I intend to speak up.

*

Please feel free to share your experiences and your thoughts.