Wednesday, April 26, 2017

On Wishing the Pilot (or President) Will Fail

Back in January, on the day of Trump's inauguration, I posted on Facebook a reflection on memes like this one: 

Image result for wishing for trump to fail meme

The post was quite popular, being shared and reshared many times through Facebook, but I never got around to posting it here. A friend just reminded me of that post, and it seems appropriate, after Trump's first hundred days in office, to revisit that reflection. So I'm posting it here now. Enjoy.

I have heard it said that wishing for President Trump to fail is like wishing for the pilot of the airplane you are flying in to fail. This is a fair point, but some things are worth noting about this analogy.

First, if the pilot is incompetent to fly the plane, what I'd hope is that this incompetence is made apparent by some early but reparable failures, so that the pilot can be ousted from the cockpit before crashing the plane.

Second, a lot hinges on what the pilot is trying to do. If the pilot of a plane bound for Denver is indifferent to the passengers' wishes and needs and aims to redirect the plane to Miami because it will earn him a boatload of cash, I hope someone catches on and stops him before he succeeds... although I'd rather he land it successfully in Miami than crash.

If a pilot has been paid off by villains to deliver a plane full of people to some remote island to be made into slaves, then I hope that the pilot will fail to realize that aim--and either be forced to land the plane anywhere safe or have control of the plane taken away and handed over to someone with more benign aims. But if the choice is between crashing and being sold into slavery, it would be a hard call.

But what if the pilot is planning to fly the plane into a crowded building in an act of terrorism? If I can't get control of the plane away from the pilot, I might in that case hope he's so incompetent that he crashes into a bog or lake, someplace where there is a chance of survivors.

And if it looks to me like the pilot is drunk when he staggers into the cockpit, I'm not going to "give him a chance." I'm going to do what I can to call his state to the attention of anyone who can stop him from taking off in that state. And if I fail at that, I'm going to prepare for the worst, maybe by trying to find out if any passengers know how to fly the plane and sharing my fears with them.

In short, a whole lot hinges on whether you think the pilot is sober, competent, and motivated to serve the passengers by bringing them safely and efficiently to the destination they've chosen. Likewise, what we think of Trump's competence and aims and temperament will influence what we hope for, as well as how trusting or vigilant we need to be.

But of course, this analogy is imperfect, since a president has a far more complex set of objectives than a pilot has. It's more about preserving and directing a complex set of social institutions in such a way that each of us can succeed in achieving our aims. If the president wants to dismantle an institution that I am convinced works well to help us achieve our aims, and has no clear plan for implementing something that works as well, I will hope he fails at that, and I may try to do what I can nonviolently do to secure that hope. At the same time, I might hope he succeeds at doing something else.

Of course, there are even more disanalogies between a pilot flying a plane and a president serving a country--disanalogies that came up in discussion on my original post. What disanalogies do you see, and what are their implications?

1 comment:

  1. Good food for thought Eric. I think many Democrats like myself, are torn with a gut-level disdain of Trump and yet wanting the country to come together in even small ways. Remember the reverse side not long ago, Republicans disdaining Obama and refusing to work with him. I am not sure what it will take to bring about civility in the debate and discourse of passionate issues but it seems we all will need to lighten up on our entrenched positions to bridge the gap as far as possible.