This year, a fair number of people are so dissatisfied with the two major-party presidential candidates that come the fall they swear they’ll vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party or Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson or not vote at all. As a thought experiment, I invite these folks to join me in imagining a new reality TV game called Pick Your Pilot.
Here’s how you play.
You, your entire family, and all your friends are invited to enjoy an all-expenses-paid vacation at an unspecified exotic location. You all board a Boeing 747 operated by Air America. You stow your carry-ons, settle into your seats, and buckle up. The cabin door is closed and locked. There is no getting off this plane. The cockpit door opens, and three people step out—a man and a woman in airline pilot uniforms and a guy in a suit. The suit speaks:
Ladies and gentleman, welcome to Pick Your Pilot. In a moment, we’ll be taxiing for takeoff, but first, you have to decide who will be at the controls of this massive airplane. You have two choices: Capt. Hillary or Capt. Donald. Each of you gets one vote. The winner flies the plane. The loser will be bound, gagged, and stuffed into the cargo hold. The flight attendants are handing around biographies of each of them, and both will give short speeches.
Capt. Hillary’s voice over the cabin intercom is a little grating. She has a weird laugh and a habit of pointing at passengers she’s never met and smiling manically as if they were old friends. You learn that she qualified as a finalist on this show in part because she’s married to a crackerjack pilot and former president of Air America. You conclude that she’s secretive, sometimes even a little paranoid, after decades in the rough and tumble airline industry. Moreover, she’s prone to exaggerate her exploits and to stretch the truth to cover up her faults.
But there’s no doubt she can fly an airplane. She’s been in aviation for 40 years. She started flying Cessnas in her teens. She flew crop-dusters while her husband flew regional jets for Arkansas Air. She sat in the co-pilot’s seat for eight years while her husband flew 747s across America and around the world. She soloed in regional jets for Senate Airways and spent another four years as navigator aboard Air America’s international flights. It’s also true that some of her aviation history has been turbulent. People still talk about her recommendation that Air America open its famously ill-fated route to Iraq.
Still, Capt. H tells you (in tedious detail) exactly where she wants to take you on this flight and what route she’ll fly, and she adds a disquisition on the avionics of the Boeing 747.
Capt. Donald then steps up, hip-checks Hillary into the galley, and begins talking about himself. He is loud, orange, and strangely mesmerizing. He proclaims that he is going to take you on the most amazing vacation to the most amazing place you’ve ever been, a place that he, and only he, can find.
A young woman raises her hand and asks where this place is and how he’ll get there. Capt. D scowls, calls her a loser, and mutters something about blood coming out of her whatever. He begins screaming that all the other pilots who fly for Air America are losers, that anyone who won’t vote for him is a loser, and that all the passengers on this plane without full-fare tickets will be thrown out once the plane reaches cruising altitude.
You tune him out and read his bio. You find he’s never flown an airplane in his life. He says he’s qualified because he builds golf courses and flying a 747 is pretty much the same thing. When he became a contestant on Pick Your Pilot, the airline tried to get him into a flight simulator and offered experienced pilots to train him. He refused. He said he had a good brain and learned everything he needs to know about airplanes by watching TV. He says he’ll figure out how to fly after he wins the contest and takes over the pilot’s chair.
You raise your hand and say to the man in the suit: “What if I don’t like either of these two? She’s annoying, and I’m not sure I want to go where she’d take us. And he, sweet Jesus, he’s insane. Can’t I vote for Capt. Stein or Capt. Johnson? Or what about that Capt. Sully guy who landed the plane in the Hudson River?”
The suit replies, “You can vote for whomever you like. But only Capt. Hillary and Capt. Donald are on this plane. One of them will fly it, and it will be whoever gets the most votes.”
So here’s the question, all you would-be third-party voters: Your life, my life, and the lives of everyone we love will be, for the next four years, in the hands of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. No one else is coming. The cabin door is shut. Will you conceal self-indulgence in a cloak of ideological purity or personal disdain and increase the chance that Donald Trump will become president? Or will you help your country choose?