On Jan. 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 lost power in both engines while taking off from New York’s La Guardia Airport. Unable to restart either engine and lacking enough altitude to make the turn back to the airport, the pilot, Captain Chesley Sullenberger, chose to attempt an unprecedented water landing in the Hudson River. In what came to be known as “The Miracle on the Hudson,” Sully managed to safely ditch the plane and all 155 passengers and crew were saved.
In 2020, America is facing its own Flight 1549 election. We don’t need a pilot who will take us higher, faster and farther then ever before. We don’t need a pilot who will make America do barrel rolls and loop-the-loops. We need a pilot who can land the damn plane.
Progressives often get annoyed when well-meaning conservatives offer them political advice. So I am not going to do that. Instead, I am speaking to you as one American to another about what our country needs.
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It is tempting for progressive Democrats to view 2020 as their big opportunity to remake America in their own image. All we have to do, the thinking goes, is find a candidate who can win 51% of the vote. Since Trump will be wildly unpopular, that candidate can be very, very progressive indeed. Given the choice between a Democratic Socialist and four more years of Donald Trump, even Mitt Romney might hold his nose and vote Democratic!
As an American, I beg you not to do this. First, you can all too easily miscalculate. Hillary Clinton got 4 percent more votes than Donald Trump and look what happened to her.
But even worse, you might be successful. If we have learned anything over the last 10 years, it’s that big changes need broad buy-in. Even when you have all the power, forcing through your agenda over the objections and down the throats of the other side results in a Pyrrhic victory at best.
America needs calm and retrenchment
When Democrats finally managed to pass Obamacare on a straight party-line vote back in 2010, they thought the hard work was done and the matter settled. How wrong they were. The passage of Obamacare over uniform Republican opposition became a permanent rallying cry for the right and has been a prominent issue in the last five elections as well as a source of more-or-less constant legislative action. Since its passage, Congress has made more than sixty efforts to repeal it.
Now, Republicans have created their own “Obamacare.” Just as Obamacare was for Republicans, Justice Brett Kavanaugh will be for Democrats. There will be investigations, efforts to alter the composition of the Supreme Court and the terms of the Justices, even impeachment proceedings. And the fight will go on and on and on . . .
America does not need any more permanent political canker sores and, as a fellow American, I beg you not to create any. But if Democrats attempt to install an extremely progressive president in the White House with an agenda of turning America into a democratic-socialist City on the Hill, that is exactly what you will be doing. The 49% of the country that did not vote Democratic will be infuriated and threatened. And a Donald Trump 2.0 will arise to channel that fear and anger for 2024. And the fight will go on and on and on . . .
What America needs is a period of calm and retrenchment. A period to bind up our wounds and to begin again to view our fellow Americans as decent people who respect each other’s concerns even when they disagree with them and who want what is best for America rather than their party. What America needs is a steady — and trusted — hand on the tiller. Someone with the wisdom to recognize America’s problems but with the humility to find consensus in solving them. What we need is someone to land the damn plane.
Steady, calm hands, not progressive payback
I can think of several Democrats who could play this role. Personally, I could do with four years of Joe Biden. But there are many Democrats — quite a few of them likely presidential candidates — who do not fit this description at all. Rather than seeking to land the plane, they are the candidates of progressive payback.
Please, for my sake, for America’s sake, please do not nominate such a candidate in 2020, even though someone like this might well win the presidency. I ask you for your restraint and your forbearance.
It is true, I admit, that the most partisan Republicans will not thank you no matter what you do. In the current political climate, I am sure that someone will send out a scathing tweet about the next president’s Thanksgiving proclamation. But most Americans will thank you, conservative and liberal alike. And even the most partisan will recognize that you chose healing over revenge, even if they will not admit it.
The American political system has been spiraling downward for a number of years now. Someone has to be big enough and wise enough to call a halt to this cycle of destruction and start rebuilding our trust in our institutions and our trust in each other. Sadly, I doubt that it will be my party. Will it be yours?
Chris Truax, a Republican, is an appellate lawyer in San Diego.