Talking politics right now is like talking at the end of a marathon, painful, difficult, hardly worth the words. Yet this marathon matters. This election will be talked about for 100 years – the race that decided everything. If Trump wins, America stays America; Trump loses, socialism wins.
So, to make life easier – and avoid talking politics – let me offer a story, call it a metaphor. The year was 2004. I was serving as Colin Powell’s Assistant Secretary of State – charged with managing rough programs in tough places. One was Communist Laos, where no one had gone in years. So, I went.
Having first hit Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, I imagined Laos – mid-rainy season – would be a joyride. I was wrong, on several counts. We supported anti-drug programs there, but State could not find an insured carrier – so I went uninsured, wheels up from Thailand. No big deal.
The late-day hop was supposed to be short – but got complicated. The old 737 – dating to the 1960s – got intercepted by a monsoon. On one hand, this was interesting – as I had never flown through a monsoon. On the other, this was a trial – as flying into a monsoon only counts if you can fly out.
Sunset turned the boxing match under pewter clouds into a night fight. The plane was tossed like a James Bond martini, “shaken not stirred” – up and down, side to side, nearly inverted. People got sick, sicker, then so scared they stopped getting sick. Beside me, an Ambassador went silent, then white.
The ride got rougher as we approached Vientiane’s airfield. Monsoon winds and rain thrashed the fuselage, wings shed lift in big chunks, ten-foot drops, catching an updraft, losing it again to windshear, then more bouncing, drift, drop, hiccup, cradle rock, and nothing to be seen.
Our first approach ended with a breathless pilot, none of that Chuck Yeager stuff, saying he could not find the runway, would circle for a second attempt. Lights were obscured, rain torrential. He was plainly unnerved, two engines sucking air, groaning, grinding back into the churning sky.
Second pass was worse, as he tried to force down then overshot, leading to another panicky cockpit message, noting the obvious – he was having trouble getting down. One felt oddly sorry for the pilot and understood – all at once – why insurance was hard to secure for hops into Laos.
Third attempt proved another botch, making me wonder how much fuel they packed for monsoons, or what was up. Again, the little engines that could – dutifully did. They pulled the wobbly, wildly banking airframe back into the liquid void, for one more shot at the solid void.
As we made this descent, something peculiar happened – to me. Chaos abounded outside, perhaps in the cockpit. People were sick, and sick of being sick. Prayers were said – and by me, too. Then the thought washed over me that I had no control over my destiny at this moment. Accordingly, for reasons that make little sense, I suddenly leaned back. The outcome would be what it would be.
Then, with a thud, thump, bump, bump, bump – we were down. Soaked descending rollup stairs, finally inside, embassy team faces looked drawn, some teary, suggesting things had not looked so good from the ground. No matter, we were down now – and soon settled.
Next day was different – in big ways. Weather was clear, never better, and now things were on me. We were to meet with the top Lao leadership. They expected more US funding for a drug treatment program – which had shown promise.
While we were willing to support, I wanted answers about Laos detaining Christians – persecuting them. The US Ambassador noted this was not on the agenda. Yes, and so? Well, raising it might ruffle feathers. Yes, and so? Just wanted me aware.
I raised it, he supported me, we got a reaction. They did not expect that topic. We made clear our interest in drug treatment – and religious rights. Did it make any difference? Maybe. The Ambassador said, “they will not forget that.” In time, of course, they did – but we had done what we could.
Now, all this vectors to 2020 politics. There are big things over which we have no control, and little things over which we have great control. Getting spun up about what we cannot control serves no end, except worry. Acting where we can – such as casting our vote to save the country – well, that is different. Speaking up there is worthwhile and can make all the difference.
Talking politics right now is painful, hardly worth the words. Voting, on the other hand, is vital –worth every effort. If Trump wins, America stays America. If Trump loses, American looks more like Laos.