It was a cold January afternoon in 2009 when USAir flight 1549 departed LaGuardia airport with 150 passengers, three flight attendants and pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and first officer Jeff Skiles at the controls of the Airbus 320. Beginning their climb to 15,000 feet, everything was ordinary and routine, just another milk run to Charlotte, North Carolina, right up to the point where Captain Sullenberger noted: “Birds.” Hardly half a breath later, several dozen Canada geese intersected the flightpath of USAir 1549, impacting the nose, wings and most especially the two CFM turbofan engines, decimating them within seconds. The thrust which was the lifeblood of the aircraft was almost immediately lost, and with a mere 2,800 feet between himself and the ground, Captain Sullenberger was faced with an unprecedented situation, one wherein he would tap into his training and experience in piloting both powered aircraft and gliders to gain a successful resolution. Because of his expertise and that of his copilot and crew, the “Miracle on the Hudson” was far less miracle than the product of their background and history and utter determination not to let the circumstances they faced overpower them.
Flight 1549 was a case of what one might call, “confrontational reality:” an emergent and inescapable situation which requires calm, considered action in a limited timeframe if a successful or at least optimal outcome can be expected. In such a scenario, there is no amount of negotiation or spin which will alter the situation or soften the consequences of ill-considered action. Attempting to do so can and frequently will result in fallout which isn’t just untoward but positively deadly. A pet phrase of mine plays to this: “You can’t argue with reality.”
Or at least you can’t when you’re directly confronted with it, and thus we come to the case of Donald John Trump. Throughout the presidential campaign and now as president-elect, Trump has played Monday-morning quarterback with American politics while being removed and uninvolved with them, at least for the moment. Behind a podium and on his Twitter account, Trump continues to kibitz on matters of national and international import, throwing out all manner of vacuous bon mots to those with their hands still on the controls of our government. As of 21 January, 2017, however, Trump’s role as disconnected observer comes to an end. He ceases to be a bench-warmer and goes from there to arguably a man in the single most responsible position in the world.
Kindly note that I did NOT say that he became a responsible man, but the man in a responsible position. Having listened to Trump’s frequently problematic blathering during the campaign, I still can’t help but wonder if he genuinely has a grasp of task he’s set himself or all the issues and 330-plus million citizens he will then be answerable to. Even now as president-elect, “thoughtful” or “considered” do not seem to be characteristics of his verbal output, and his few attempts at coming across as more presidential have been colossal failures, from where I sit. Calling his policy-making “shoot from the hip” likely insults any gunslinger inclined to use that technique. Frankly, if Donald Trump’s presidency is anything like his candidacy, one might well expect 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to be re-designated as Bedlam West.
Yet at some point during his presidency, it is virtually certain that Trump will be faced with the kind of emergent situation which challenged the crew of USAir 1549. The difference will be that the impact of whatever action he takes will likely go far beyond the 155 passengers and crew which Sully was entrusted with, conceivably beyond the population of our country and several others. To date, we’ve seen nothing in him which reflects the cool, professional attitude Captain Sullenberger evinced during the 208 seconds which challenged him or the determination and resolve which characterized 13 days of the Kennedy presidency during October of 1962 and events occurring 90 miles due south of Key West, Florida. It would be nice to think that when the occasion became piled high with difficulty that Trump would rise with the occasion. After all, at that time, he will be the leader of the free world.
And the buck will stop with Trump.