Our New Normal
So this happened. By now, you have probably seen the harrowing video of a United passenger being violently “re-accommodated” off an overbooked flight for refusing to voluntarily relinquish his paid-for seat to an airline employee.
If you haven’t, brace yourself:
The second most appalling thing here is that no one’s broken any laws. So to all the outraged people out there predicting that United will pay “millions” to the passenger — I hate to rain on your sad parade, but that’s not gonna happen. It’s legal for airlines to overbook flights, and it’s legal for them to forcibly remove passengers for any reason that doesn’t violate non-discrimination laws. It may owe the passenger some small compensation ($1,350 max), but the passenger doesn’t have the option to refuse to leave the aircraft. The Montreal Convention imposes a $100,000 cap on strict liability for personal injury, and it explicitly bars recovery for psychological and social injuries. Stripped of its psychological and social context, a busted lip is worth almost nothing. To get around the Montreal Convention, you have to prove fault, and on that point, United will plausibly argue that it doesn’t control how the cops do their jobs, and therefore can’t be held liable for anything they did wrong. And the cops — oh well, you know the drill by now: the passenger backtalked, the cops felt threatened, and between Black Lives Matter and Islamic terrorists, cops can never be too careful; the passenger should be thankful he survived the incident. Sure, the officer who dragged the passenger down the aisle and “re-accommodated” the poor fellow’s face into an armrest has been put on leave pending an investigation; but, as much as I hate predicting the future, I’ll go out on a limb here and propose that he will ultimately be cleared of all wrongdoing, and his modus operandi will not change.
The very worst thing here occurred to me immediately when I first saw the video: this is the America we live in now. An America in which Big Business does whatever the hell it wants, consumers have no recourse against abuse, and the law enforcement only feels morally obligated to serve and protect an increasingly tiny segment of society — right-wing patrons, celebrities, billionaires, big corporations — while treating everyone else as an invading military force would treat the enemy population. An America in which instead of de-escalating a tense situation, police officers simply beat people up; ordinary people who have committed no crime; doctors trying to get home and see patients the next day. This is what our country has become:
There will be no shortage of commentators in the days to come pointing out that neither United nor the police breached any legal boundaries here. But look at these images: no one did anything wrong, and an innocent person was brutalized and treated like a criminal and a piece of trash, because he had the temerity to expect the airline to hold to the most basic promise underlying every economic transaction: to give him what he had already paid for. Think of the years-long aftermath that this incident — in which no one did anything illegal — will have for the person who got roughed up. NOTHING about this is okay.
And no, Trump did not single-handedly generate this culture of cops casually beating people up. This happened plenty during Obama’s administration and goes back to at least 9/11. But given the enthusiastic embrace of violent assholery that characterizes the Trump Movement, the administration’s validation of police brutality and its hostility to whatever feeble protections citizens still have against abuses perpetrated by big business and the law enforcement, this will only escalate. This is beyond outrageous: this is America in 2017.
But hey, I don’t want to base my judgment on an isolated incident. In a curious coincidence, two days before it occurred,
Hezbollah Isis a Mexican drug cartel Lake County, Florida Sheriff’s Office released a truly splendid “community engagement” PSA, We Will Fuck You Up. It says it all: this is our life, our country, our society. This culture of brutality is now the norm.
We can all sleep soundly tonight knowing that the cops in Chicago will zealously protect the profits of a Great American Business from middle-aged doctors who dare expect to be treated like paying customers, and will bust some skulls if necessary to accomplish it. What’s next? We are not even 100 days into our national nightmare. Who knows, by this time next year maybe they’ll be summarily executing passengers on the tarmac for not gifting their luggage to the airline.
Nothing would surprise me at this point.