I find myself unable to shake off the incident in which a passenger was hauled bodily out of his seat on a United Airlines plane and dragged bleeding and broken to provide a seat for an airline employee. Nor can I forget the immediate reaction of the airline: that the passenger had gotten what he deserved. No amount of back-tracking and apologizing by United Airlines now can erase those first responses to the assault on Dr. David Dao.
Press reports explained that the airline’s policy, when deciding whom to haul out of their seats, is to pick on their “less-valued” customers. If someone has to give up a seat it is not going to be someone in the first or business class, just someone with less money and more vulnerability from the cattle-cars of economy class.
Is this what it has come to? Is it to be that the rich and the business classes of America are going to be treated with respect, while the less valued in our society can be subjected to police brutality and bodily injury at the whim of authority? Isn’t this what “Black Lives Matter’’ is all about? Are those in the economy classes of our country to be less valued, and therefore due less respect and equality under the rules of our society?
Our society grows more brutal and arbitrary by the day. Congress is at work cooking up schemes to deprive the poor and the vulnerable of health insurance, to drag the less valued broken and bleeding from their seats in the health care system.
A new tax code is presented which will increasingly benefit the first and business classes of our country, adding to the burdens of America’s economy class just as the airlines dream up more schemes to make the first and business classes ever more plush, while making seats in economy class ever more cramped with ever fewer amenities, rendering the “less valued” vulnerable to being dragged out broken and bleeding.
The White House was won last year by appeals to nativist bigotry, encouraging disrespect for immigrants and assigning less value to the lives of the vulnerable. Our allies abroad are insulted and made to seem less valued. Our foreign policy becomes more militarized. The night of the generals has descended over Washington, as barely retired and serving officers take the reins of power, and the irony is that the generals make more sense than the neophytes, family members, alt-right bad boys, and the guys in first class with golden sacks who surround the president.
And it does not stop at our shores. Once democratic allies such as Turkey, Thailand, the Philippines, as well as semi-democratic allies such as Egypt, now opt for military rule and ever -more brutalizing dictatorships. China and Russia grow more aggressive. The European Union is under assault. A party with fascist leanings now knocks at the door of the Elysee Palace in France. Britain was once the hope of Europe, giving inspiration and courage to an occupied continent during World War II. Now Britain is turning its back on Europe. Hungary hurries down the path of “illiberal democracy,” as Dracula-like authoritarianism comes to life again.
The fasten seat belts signs are going on all over he world. Will we see them turned off again in our lifetime?
H.D.S. Greenway is a former editorial page editor of the Globe and author of “Foreign Correspondent: A Memoir.”