“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”
― Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
Shocking, even for travelers accustomed to the routine discomforts and indignities of flying these days – a man being beaten and dragged from a plane for refusing to give up his seat on an overbooked flight.
Around him, passengers filmed and cried but did not move. After all, they had to get home to Louisville. Raise your voice or get out of your seat and you could be the one on the floor, bloodied and humiliated.
After the video surfaced, the United CEO responded with the kind of corporate-speak that is sadly typical, a masterwork of weasel words designed to avoid responsibility:
Statement from @United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz: “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”
That’s one way of putting it. pic.twitter.com/Jq7VGoYv8Q
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) April 10, 2017
As Esquire pointed out, the statements are just as bad as the injury, faulting the passengers for their failure to pre-volunteer for tribute, like the Hunger Games on a plane.
Since they refused to leave their seats, a “volunteer” had to be selected. If that sounds Orwellian, it is because it is:
“This work was strictly voluntary, but any animal who absented himself from it would have his rations reduced by half.”
― George Orwell, Animal Farm
American life has become so degraded that this type of hard-edged mistreatment of customers has become something to be celebrated. Just a couple weeks ago, the United CEO was honored for his work as a communicator:
Tonight we will honor United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz as PRWeek U.S. Communicator of the Year #PRWeekAwardsUS https://t.co/MYb0xSH385 pic.twitter.com/N4unyKTdfD
— PRWeek US (@PRWeekUS) March 16, 2017
But let’s go back to the passengers in the plane. Delayed, anxious to get home after a long day, watching this violent drama play out in front of them and their iPhones.
They sat there. No one moved. Some yelled, some filmed, but no one got up from their seats as the police beat and bloodied a man at the behest of United Airlines.
I’m sure I would’ve just sat there, too. The airport experience systematically strips you of your rights and dignity. After enduring long lines and groping from poorly-trained government agents, you’re willing to put up with anything just to feel your plane lift off from the runway and into the blue sky. That includes doing nothing as one of your fellow citizens is violently re-accommodated.
We all want to get home to Louisville. We stay in our seats, lest we receive the same treatment meted out to the unfortunate “volunteer.”
What price Louisville?
Americans must ask themselves this question in the coming days, forced to make a choice between submitting to the kind of routine mistreatment that has become common in American life or deciding to resist.