One Thursday in the fall of 1999, I walked into a crowded lecture hall at Kent State University, intrigued and excited for my first Political Science class, and unsure what to expect. The professor was in the front of the room, pacing back and forth in faded jeans, sneakers, and a Calvin & Hobbes T-shirt. He had curly blonde hair, and glasses, and looked younger than we were. He finally spoke, and he said, “I know a lot of you are here because this class is required, and you think you are not interested in politics. But here’s the truth, and the reason we must all be interested in politics:
Politics determine who gets what, when, and how much.
Never have I felt that to be more true than when I fly on airplanes.
This week gave me five opportunities to get lost in thought about this very notion, as I bounced from Ohio to Kansas to D.C. and home again for business meetings.
A flight, to me, is the perfect microcosm of our planet. There we are, all 150 of us (let’s just say) and between all of us we have a limited amount of resources to go around. So let’s just say that the plane is stalled on the tarmac, indefinitely, and the pilot and crew are leaving us … as they disembark they say, “You’ve got everything here you could possibly need. Be good to each other!” And they seal the doors. We’ve all suspended our travel plans, so we aren’t under any duress or deadline, but no one is getting off either.
So there we are.
How do we decide who gets the snacks?
How do we prioritize the use of the bathrooms?
What do we do when one or two passengers turn up their music too loud?
What do we do if there are only 85 iPhone chargers on board? Do we share?
What do we do if someone gets sick?
How do we treat the parents of the littlest ones? Do we help them? Do we judge them?
In my thought experiment, we all take a little time and get to know each other. We ask questions, listen to stories, and learn everyone’s name. We create a community. We empower a leader to oversee our decisions about who gets what, when, and how much (because we know we cannot be trusted to always choose the right way on our own; after all, we don’t even have enough leg room! Those window shades only go up so far! Life is hard.)
In reality, we are all living together in a closed system, and we’re not here under duress or deadline–in fact we are here under love and wonder–but no one is getting out of here alive. We have a limited amount of resources we need to share. We have to take turns. We sometimes have to stop our selves from doing or saying or having what we want, so that others may do or say or have something they need.
And yet, with the doors of death firmly sealed around all of us at some future point, and no emergency exits available, we are painfully aware that human nature is not so generous. Much of human nature is primal, focused on providing survival for our self and our family first. As God was leaving us here, He knew this about us, and yet He still told us, just as the departing pilot and flight crew said, “You’ve got everything here you could possibly need. Be good to each other!”
We don’t naturally form community. We sit alone, side by side in the plane(t), and we form judgement about those around us. Without asking for names or stories, we make decisions about other people based on their skin color or sexual orientation or fashion choices. We act out those decisions when we fight for “our share” of the snacks, or when we argue that we should go to the bathroom first (for no overt reason, simply that we want what we want for ourselves and we want it now!) We are all guilty of this at times, even when we think we are not. There are entire systems at work that support our judgments and our privileges, even when we insist we don’t benefit from them.
These decisions are made by each of us in small ways every day. And the small ways add up.
And now we face a crisis of political leadership in which we have one candidate offering just his plain, small, fearful human nature as his entire credential. All he brings is his own tiny version of what the world should be like for himself and those around him. He is flagrantly offering on the outside what many of us are at times on the inside–judgmental, weak, tyrannical, fearful, unwilling to trust or sacrifice. In fact, he boasts about it, about the fact that with him, “What you see is what you get.” People are flocking to his banner, relieved to finally have someone who gives voice to this most base of our inner workings, someone who celebrates the imperfections of human nature.
And we have Hillary Clinton, who has proudly worked her whole life to learn and understand and shape the way the world treats everyone. She doesn’t make decisions with her primal human nature as her only guiding principle, she decides by aligning to the best of what human nature can be, but more importantly she works to make everyone–from major institutions to entire political parties–do the same. She would organize us, she would personally assure us that the littlest ones, the oldest ones, the sickest ones would come first, and she would rightfully admonish the strongest, richest, healthiest among us to step up and make sure it happens.
With whom would you rather be trapped on an airplane with no pending hope of the doors opening–Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? Who would you trust to lead a group of people–yourself included–through whatever days we may all have ahead of us? Who can we turn to, to help us remember and live up to the advice of the departing pilot, “Be good to each other”?
We’re on the plane. The doors are closing. We can let one more person on board, one more person we’ve empowered to decide who gets what, when and how much.