The stranger’s voice behind me was weary, but even more cynical. We were at Detroit’s Metro Airport where we had landed after a non-eventful flight from Paris. We were positioned toward the front of a long line, only to be greeted by the sight of mostly empty stations at passport control where only a single person was preparing to process the long queue.
It was 2013. The federal government was in the midst of one of the shutdowns that has come to personify its dysfunction.
Clearly, my fellow passenger was blaming our anticipated delay on the shutdown, which he put at the feet of our 44th president.
He was wrong, on three indisputable fronts.
First, it wasn’t Obama’s shutdown. This is not a political position. It’s a fact. Congressional Republicans, particularly those catering to the Tea Party, gleefully owned the shutdown. It was a gesture, mostly symbolic, that they were true to the task of fighting Obamacare, demanding that the president’s signature legislation be dismantled before the government would pay its bills.
Second, the unmanned stations had nothing to do with the shutdown. Passport control personnel were not affected.
Third, it turns out that there wasn’t a shortage of staff after all. Momentarily, several men and women filed out to take positions and wave us on. Why the short delay? Perhaps it was because the plane landed at least a half hour earlier than scheduled.
Whatever, in no time we were moving through the checkpoint, picking up our luggage and heading toward customs.
I lost sight of the man who blamed Obama, but I doubt he considered the irony — and error — of his comment. It’s trite to say it, but the great divisions in the country don’t allow any room for nuance or self-reflection when it comes to political positions. You are either 100 percent on the right side, or the wrong side. Recently, in a span of less than 24 hours, I was alternately called a liberal socialist and a Trump-supporter, merely because I posted opinions that either criticized a Republican position, or noted a flaw in Democratic reasoning. I’m planning to withdraw from Facebook, at least for political comments. It’s not worth the grief.
You don’t have to be a socialist, a progressive, a liberal or even a Democrat to point out problems with Donald Trump, his policies and his tweets. Mitt Romney said Trump was a fraud; Ted Cruz has said far worse. They are hardly reading from the Karl Marx playbook.
Similarly, there are sound reasons why people would oppose Obama individually or the Democratic platform in general. But that doesn’t — or shouldn’t — be an excuse to quit thinking. Nor should it blind us to the good accomplished by someone, even if we didn’t vote for him.
That should have been particularly clear to those getting off our plane, most of whom likely lived and worked in southeast Michigan and who, therefore, would have been directly tied to the automotive industry, which was on life support during the Great Recession.
The devastating collapse of the Detroit, and, perhaps, national economy was avoided thanks to a federal bailout, started by President George W. Bush and continued with steroids by President Barack H. Obama. The recovery we enjoy today was made possible by that bailout. My cynical fellow traveler — whose job may have been saved by Obama — should have realized that.
Not that any of that was on my family’s mind as we grabbed our luggage, breezed through customs and headed out to our car in what we agreed had been record time. Faster, in fact, than it took to say, “Thanks, Obama.”