The election of 2016 was sometimes referred to as the “Flight
93 election.” The metaphor of doomed passengers fighting back to save both themselves and other innocent people
was not totally without merit, but it won’t apply to the upcoming 2020
elections. Instead, there is another aviation metaphor that much better suits
next year’s presidential election: the graveyard spiral.
I hesitate to use this term because, as a technical aviation
term, the phrase is somewhat obscure. Some aviation metaphors, such as “crash
and burn” or “auger in,” are more well-known and easily understood, but I
cannot escape the thought that the graveyard spiral provides an apt description
of where we are as a country.
While the phrase “Flight 93” evokes a sense of impending
doom, the graveyard
spiral is also deadly but much more insidious. Essentially, a graveyard
spiral is circular dive caused by the pilot’s loss of equilibrium. In a
graveyard spiral, the pilot thinks that he’s flying the airplane straight and level,
but, in reality, he is in a turn. When an airplane is in an established turn,
the fluid in the pilot’s inner ear which generates the sensation of turning stabilizes
and the feeling that the airplane is in a bank is lost. In a frequent scenario,
after rolling out of an established turn in one direction, it can feel as
though you enter a turn in the opposite direction. The effect is similar to spinning around in a chair and then
trying to walk straight.
Often, the pilot’s response is to turn back in the original
direction, which feels to the pilot’s inner ear like straight and level flight.
Because some of the airplane’s lift is used in the turn, this can be accompanied by altitude loss. At that point,
the pilot pulls back on the controls to raise the nose and maintain altitude.
This causes the airplane’s turn to become steeper and steeper as it loses altitude.
If the pilot doesn’t realize his mistake and recover, the airplane ultimately
crashes into the ground.
Right now, it feels as though America is in a graveyard spiral. What we have seen over the past two years is a Republican attempt to recover from the abuses of power, divisive politics, and out of control spending of the Obama era with abuses of power, divisive politics and out of control spending of their own. Yet, ironically, many Republicans now argue that President Trump’s actions, which are very similar to President Obama’s on many levels, are needed to put the country back into straight and level flight. Executive abuses and flagrant disregard for law and the Constitution have become the new normal for both parties.
What is actually happening is called spatial disorientation.
Republicans are so used to the executive abuses and bad leadership of the Obama
Administration that they don’t realize that the country is dangerously close to
spinning out of control (to use another aviation metaphor). Our national
leaders literally don’t seem to understand which way is up.
So, what is the proper way to recover from our self-induced
crisis, preferably before the country crashes and burns? The only way to stop a
graveyard spiral is to stop flying by the seat of your pants and trust the
instruments and standard procedures.
In our case, the recovery technique is found in the Aircraft
Operator’s Manual for the country, the Constitution. We should be following the
established procedure, i.e. the rule of law, to get the country headed in the
right direction. America cannot be returned to safe
and stable flight by ignoring and subverting the very guidelines that made us a
great nation in the first place. Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump are guilty
of abusing their position as president because Congress wouldn’t give them what
they wanted. Far from being saviors, both men are contributors to our national
crisis of stalemate, division, anger, and mistrust.
Congress is also complicit. A fundamental concept of
aviation is that of cockpit resource management (CRM). Gone are the days of
aviation when an aircraft captain was the onboard equivalent of God who suppressed
any attempt by his crew to question his decisions. Nowadays, crewmembers are
expected to speak up and tell the captain when he’s acting foolish. Too many
airplanes have crashed and too many people have died because copilots sat
quietly by and let their captain make deadly mistakes.
Today, Congress has abdicated its responsibility to speak up
when the president is wrong. Partisanship has triumphed over the rule of law in
both parties. Democrats protected Obama as he ran roughshod over the Constitution
and Republicans are doing the same thing for Donald Trump. As Congress fails to
take the controls, the graveyard spiral steepens.
Finally, an airplane needs fuel to recover and our national
engines are almost to the point of burning fumes. Aside from the national
graveyard spiral toward an autocratic presidency, our most pressing national
emergency is the fact that our deficit
is at a record high. At more than $22 trillion, our national debt is 20
percent larger than our GDP. The United States is rapidly spiraling toward Greek
and Italian levels of debt. As the world superpower and guarantor of the world
reserve currency, our extreme levels of debt not only threaten our economy but
that of the rest of the world as well.
Both parties are filled with deficit hawks but only when
they are out of power. However, when in control of the levers of government,
all either party seems to be able to think of is borrowing and spending on the
priorities of its base. While compromise is rare in American government these
days, the parties can usually find a shared interest in spending increases.
As we gear up to pick a new captain next year, remember the
graveyard spiral, a situation in which the people at the controls are literally
flying into the ground. Don’t subjectively rate candidates by the seat-of-your-pants
feeling that they are steady pilots. Instead, rate them objectively by whether they follow the principles and guidelines laid
out in the Constitution, our national operating manual, and whether their policies will leave us out of control and out of fuel.
Picking a good pilot who follows the guidelines and who can bring the entire
crew of the country together to work toward a common purpose is essential if we
are to avoid a catastrophic crash.