Some years ago, I was flying home to Boise from Washington, D.C. I was on the Chicago to Boise leg of the trip; the night sky was clear, and I was looking forward to seeing my family and getting to sleep in my own bed.
As we drew closer to Boise, I became aware of a higher level of activity than usual by our flight attendants. Then the captain’s voice came over the intercom. He told us he could not confirm that the third landing gear had come down. We would have to make an emergency landing at the airport.
The plane grew very, very quiet very, very quickly. Everyone gave the captain their rapt and total attention.
He told us that the flight attendants would be instructing us on emergency landing procedures and urged us to listen carefully. He didn’t need to ask.
People had begun praying quietly, reaching for the hand of their seatmate — whether a traveling companion or a stranger — and totally focusing on the situation at hand.
There was a baby on the flight and people began passing pillows to her mother to help cushion her, if needed. The flight attendant started to talk, to instruct us in the ways in which we could brace ourselves for landing. The urgency and anxiety in her voice, more than anything she said, conveyed the potential seriousness of our situation.
Then we circled and circled and circled. In retrospect, I understand that the pilot was draining the plane of fuel. The circling seemed endless. Looking out the window, I could see a fleet of emergency vehicles, lights flashing, waiting for the plane’s descent – smooth or otherwise.
My mind was focused on one thing: my family. I wanted them to know that I loved them, that I had been thinking of them, that they meant everything to me. Then, after what seemed like an endless descent, the flight attendant screamed: “Get down!”
All the passengers reacted at once, in unison. It seemed as if we collectively held our breaths. Amazingly, our landing was feather light. The third landing gear had worked. When the captain said, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Boise,” the plane erupted in cheers.
Today – all of us – every man, woman and child in this country – are passengers on a plane. The name of the plane is the U.S. Republic. It is a big, sturdy somewhat cumbersome plane, but it has flown through often turbulent skies for more than 200 years.
Some who have piloted this plane were less than proficient in the cockpit; however, the second officer, flight traffic control and the ground crew seemed to compensate for any deficiencies. But now we have a captain who hasn’t read a flight manual; he isn’t looking at the instrument panel; and he doesn’t know how to use the intercom. Totally self-absorbed, he’s looking in the mirror. And he’s tweeting.
As the plane careens through the skies, we passengers are left to hang on for an increasingly bumpy ride. The GOP Senate in the traffic control tower and the GOP House on the ground seem unconcerned that the plane is in trouble. The second in command is enthralled by the captain who invited him along for the ride. He gazes fondly at the captain and does nothing to steady our flight.
As we are jostled about, the plane bobbing and weaving, few of us are confident that our pilot will land the plane safely. In fact, many of us know he cannot.
It is up to us, the passengers, to find a way. And to do this, we must work together. We must pay attention like never before. We must listen carefully to one another, take care of the most vulnerable, and replace the flight attendants and ground crew the first chance we get. We must act in unison as if our lives depend on it.
The 2018 midterms provide that opportunity and we must seize it. We can’t risk bouncing aimlessly in the skies for three more years, or worse, learning too late that the landing gear never came down.