Denial Is Doom

Thirty years ago, I sat inside a classroom in a hangar at a small airport, taking the ground school course required for my Private Pilot license. The air smelled of strong black coffee and jet exhaust; from beyond the walls of the classroom were the high whining sounds of the mechanics’ pneumatic wrenches and the rumble of the engines of Learjets and Gulfstreams. Our instructor was an old-timer, retired from flying the line, but with a thousand old hangar stories to tell, and much to the relief of all, he frequently interrupted the dry, FAA-approved curriculum with them. One of them in particular has stuck with me these many years, and seems worth retelling just now. In this age of the internet, I could look up the exact details of the story, but I’d prefer not to, and to repeat it to you exactly as I remember him telling it to us all those many years ago.

* * *

On a bitter cold night in a winter of the late 1950s, a DC-6 – one of the last generation of big four-engined, piston-powered airliners produced before the jet age began – lifted off from LaGuardia airport in New York City, bound for Miami. Seconds after takeoff, and at only a couple of hundred feet in the air, the plane began to fall back to earth, headed down toward the darkness of Flushing Bay. If it had crashed into the cold waters, all on board would almost certainly have drowned or died of hypothermia, but the quick instincts of the pilots guided it to a crash landing on Rikers Island, a small spot of land in the middle of the bay that for many years has been the location of the city’s main prison. As the plane impacted, the nose broke off and the wings ruptured, splashing aviation gasoline across the frozen ground. And yet, miraculously, few of the passengers had been killed in the crash. As soon as the stewardesses (whose primary job is to get passengers out of a wreck alive, not to serve drinks) came to their senses and realized what had happened, they began an emergency evacuation. Within a few short moments, the situation became even more urgent – flames appeared at the rear of the passenger cabin, and quickly spread forward. Yet the brave young women stood fast, guiding all of the surviving passengers out of the emergency exits and to safety.

Finally, only two living souls remained in the shattered hull of the airplane. One was the last of the stewardesses, and the other was a middle-aged gentleman, in a neat suit and tie, holding the newspaper he’d been reading when the plane took off, sitting quietly and not moving from where he was. Though she was right next to an emergency exit herself, and the flames were only seconds away, her courage and compassion got the best of her, and she went back to try to get him out in the precious little time remaining. She ran up to his seat, stood over him, and with all the firmness she could muster, said: “Sir, we’ve got to go! You have to get up and come with me through the exit.”

The man seemed eerily calm, yet his face wore a disquieting, blank expression. He looked at her and replied: “No, it’s fine. Everything is fine.”

By this point, the stewardess was practically screaming: “No, sir, it isn’t! The plane has crashed! You have to follow me out of here! Right now!”

“No”, he answered, “everything is fine. We’ll be in Miami soon. You’ll see. Everything will be fine.”, and then went back to reading his newspaper.

There was no more time left. She had done everything she could for him, and now she could only save herself. Climbing through the emergency exit, she took one last look back, just in time to see a ball of flame rushing toward her. She leapt out into the snow, running as fast as she could. Almost immediately, the whole wreck was engulfed. As she huddled with the other passengers and waited for the guards of the nearby prison to reach them with aid, all she could do was look back at it in horror.

* * *

Whoever the man in the suit was, he burned alive – needlessly, tragically – because his brain paralyzed itself with denial, and wouldn’t allow him to process the truth of what had happened to him. Denial is a natural part of our brain’s coping mechanisms, but of all the forms of self-deception, it is the most dangerous one, because it keeps us from clearly seeing dangers, rendering us unable to deal with them. And intelligence is a meager defense against it – in the 1950s, travel was an expensive luxury that few people could afford; the man in the suit was likely some sort of important executive off to a high-level business meeting. He was almost certainly a smart person, and spent a lifetime being nobody’s fool. Even the most rational of us most sometimes struggle to overcome the irrational impulses hardwired deep into the programming of our imperfect brains. Perhaps with a few more minutes, he could have done it – snapped the spell cast over his rational mind, processed the danger clearly, and done what needed to be done to save himself. But he didn’t have a few more minutes, and the reality of our world is that often life doesn’t give us that kind of time. Most dangers require some sort of immediate action. Time is of the essence, and self-deception means doom.

There is a reason why I am telling you this now. Something very bad has occurred, and many people are responding to it with denial and self-deception. These people are mostly neither stupid nor cowardly, and getting angry with them will accomplish nothing. But likewise it is doing them no favors to stand by silently and to not do everything one can to snap them back into reality so that they can rationally process the dangers we’re facing and develop an appropriate response to them. Like the brave stewardess trying to save her passenger from a horrible fate, there are some harsh truths that I must now tell, with all the compassionate firmness that I can muster.

* * *

This is all real. As hard as it is to believe that what we’ve seen in the past couple of months is actually happening to us, it is. The left has just stolen both the presidential election, and the election that decided control of the Senate. Having done so, they have flooded the nation’s capital with tens of thousands of occupying soldiers, who they have screened for political loyalty. On the 20th, Biden will assume power, and nobody is going to stop it. Trump is finished; he has effectively been out of power since January 6th, and on the 20th, he will be flown back to Mar-a-lago for a quiet retirement. Qanon was fake; there is not and never has been any plan to trust, and “The Storm” isn’t coming. The military isn’t going to overthrow Biden and reinstall Trump; their leadership are completely on-board with everything that has happened. The American Republic is dead; having gotten away with fixing two national elections, the Deep State will assume the permanent role of kingmaker. There will be no more free, fair elections at the federal level. For appearances’ sake, a nonthreatening Republican of the RINO variety – a Nikki Haley or Marco Rubio – may be allowed to hold the presidency again at some point, but they will never permit another real reformer like Trump anywhere near power. All the holes in the system that allowed his rise have been patched. He’s not getting elected again in 2024, and nobody like him is getting elected then, or ever again.

Speaking of January 6th, conservative pundits who say it was a disaster for the right are fooling themselves (and trying to fool you). It can’t do any harm to our political cause because there is no more harm to do. It’s obvious now that we’re not going to vote our way out of this. We’re not going to fundraise our way out of this. We’re not going to get out of this by dropping “truth bombs” on talk radio or going on National Review cruises with Victor Davis Hanson. “Vote harder” (at least in federal elections – there may yet be some value in at at a state and local level) is now a strategy that’s just as rational as sitting in a burning airplane waiting for it to reach Miami. Who cares if what happened on the 6th destroys the national Republican party, drives away big-money donors, gets all of Sean Hannity’s sponsors drop him, and makes the corporate media that already hated us hate us more? Any hope of victory that was ever invested in any of that has crashed and is on fire. It’s not going to get you to your destination. The only thing you can do is to get yourself to a safe place and plan your next move while you watch it burn.

As for what to do now, I have already covered first steps in previous columns, which I invite you to read. But to all of you who have spoken proudly of 1776 and what our ancestors did, and assured yourself that in their place, you would do the same, let me ask you: If not now, when? If not because of this, then because of what? I do not advocate acting rashly or even necessarily quickly – the hour must be right, and the proper occasion must present itself. Certainly, I do not advise any ill-advised or premature moves. We must act wisely and deliberately. What I am telling you is that the time is near and you must make yourselves ready for it.

But to do that, the first thing you must do is to engage with reality. There can be no more hopeful-but-implausible dreams, no more comforting self-deception, and no more denial about the truth of what is happening. Survival is at stake, time is running short, and we cannot afford it.