America isn’t the country it used to be, and deep down, everyone knows it. Every day, bit by bit, America is becoming more unfree, more decrepit, and more miserable. Day to day, the rot may sometimes be hard to notice. Your neighborhood or your town may be holding together or even improving, while the country slowly slides into ruin.
With brains, courage, persistence and leadership we have no doubt that America can right its own ship. But for now, the decline is unmistakeable. Eventually, it smacks you right in the face. But what is the best way to realize that America is sliding into the abyss? Two people here at Revolver have differing views on that question. One believes that traveling through an American airport is the best way to see the country’s decay, while the other proposes a different method: A trip to one of America’s many theme parks.
There is a reason that President Donald Trump singled out “third-world” airports as especially emblematic of American decline. One might even say that flying through O’Hare or LaGuardia is the best way to discover that the U.S. is now a “shithole country.”
Safetyism and Security Theater
When ordinary people fly, they have to remove their shoes at security. By now, the practice is a well-worn ritual. Younger people might even be mistaken that this has always been a standard part of security. Of course, it hasn’t always been that way.
Millions are forced to go through this ridiculous practice because of the so-called “shoe bomber,” Richard Reid, who tried to ignite an explosive hidden in his shoe in December 2001. After taking five years to think it over, in 2006 the TSA mandated that all American travelers remove their shoes before flying.
Is this necessary? Not remotely. Israel has even more reason to fear air terrorism than the United States. But guess what? Israeli air passengers aren’t forced to take their shoes off.
The idea is ridiculous. There’s no reason to believe that taking off shoes, or being forced to throw out every liquid over 100ml, has saved a single life. In fact, they may cost lives: One study found that intensified security practices reduced demand for flights. Less flying means more driving, and more deaths from traffic accidents.
After a year of COVID-19 frenzy, Revolver readers are intimately familiar with mask mandates and lockdown rules that inconvenience everyone, cost lives, and achieve nothing. But this “cult of safety” mentality was forged in the airports first, and it will remain long after COVID-19 is gone.
Everything Else About the TSA
Endless articles have already been written about the sorry state of the TSA. Americans rightfully grumble about the TSA, yet few of us understand just how bad the agency is in practically every way. A 2016 Congressional report captured a lot of the lowlights.
For one, it’s bloated beyond belief. The TSA has more than 65,000 employees, including 4,000 at its headquarters and more than 9,000 administrators scattered around the country. Just like America’s universities or its hospitals, the TSA is drowning in bureaucrats who add minimal value but hoover up billions in taxpayer dollars.
It’s also mindbogglingly inept. The TSA spent $39 million on explosive-detecting machines that didn’t work. It spent $122 million on imaging machines that were trivially easy to evade. Just like America’s military, where James Mattis was bamboozled by Theranos’s blood-testing scam, the TSA squanders vast sums on dubious technology while faltering on matters that require no technology at all.
Thirdly, the TSA doesn’t even work. The agency has suffered tens of thousands of security breaches in its short lifespan. When the DHS put the TSA to the test, they found that they were able to smuggle bombs and guns onto planes 95 percent of the time. The main factor preventing future cases of air terrorism isn’t the TSA, but a general shortage of suicidal terrorists (and the popularity of simpler attack strategies, like mass shootings or truck attacks).
All of the above failures of the TSA are already well-known to the American public. But there’s a more basic, fundamental way the TSA embodies American decline, which is rarely discussed: The TSA gathers the least-valuable, least trustworthy, lowest-functioning Americans on this side of the prison system and places them into positions of authority.
If you want a vision of the future, imagine an obese TSA agent saying you have to throw away your toothpaste for being half an oz too big — forever.
Relentless Official Secrecy, Nonexistent Personal Privacy
Just like Big Tech and the journalists who slavishly protect it, airports disdain and have gone out of their way to eradicate personal privacy — all while shielding real power from popular scrutiny. If you film a customs line or a security checkpoint, you’re apt to be hassled even if you didn’t break any law. Meanwhile, airlines like American, United, and Delta have policies banning passengers from recording airline procedures and personnel, mostly in an effort to avoid viral videos of wrongdoing.
Yet even as the powerful fight to prevent monitoring of themselves, passengers have no such luck. Face recognition tech is ubiquitous in airports. TSA agents can rifle through your belongings, get your biometric information, and grope you. Until 2013, they could use a machine to create a functionally nude image of you.
One of the defining features of modern American misery is anarcho-tyranny. Anarcho-tyranny is the dehumanizing state of affairs whereby the state refuses to stop violent crime, yet still vigorously enforces even the most unjust and petty laws against ordinary people. Anarcho-tyranny is why downtown D.C. was abandoned to a rioting horde last summer, most of whom will never be brought to justice, yet the largest manhunt in history seeks every person who walked into the Capitol on January 6. Anarcho-tyranny is why St. Louis only made an arrest in 29 percent of murders last year, but still brought felony charges against the McCloskeys for simply holding guns in the face of a braying mob.
But not all anarcho-tyranny involves violent crime, and the airport experience shows why. To fly on an American airline is to be subjected to a maddening blizzard of indignities and regulations. The demands to remove your shoes, dump your water bottles, never leave your bag unattended, and so forth. Yet despite all this control, airline passengers are still exposed to unpredictable, severe injustices. Airports knowingly force fliers to submit to crime, by hiring borderline criminals for security and then mandating that any locks on bags be openable by them. Unsurprisingly, hundreds of TSA workers have been fired for stealing from passengers’ bags.
And those are just the minor crimes. Far worse can happen. In 2002, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service detained Canadian traveler Maher Arar as he passed through JFK airport. After being held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer for two weeks, Arar was shipped to Syria where he was tortured for a year before being returned to Canada.
Decades ago, flying was dignified enough that people dressed up just to do it. And throughout most of the world, aviation remains a serious and orderly affair. No such luck in America! Most Americans are aware of the ridiculous violence in our country’s dangerous neighborhoods or our Thunderdome-esque public schools. Now, this violence has actually spread into our airports like a malignant cancer, invading every segment and sector of public life. In modern-day America, a massive brawl breaks out in a major airport every few months that is severe enough to make local or even national news.
An all-out brawl erupted on Sunday at the Miami International Airport and was caught on video by documentary film director Bill Corben.
The fight was reportedly over airline seats involving around seven people, with one person later arrested for disorderly conduct. pic.twitter.com/rAVu2YvpoT
— WARRIOR (@FishingOnFaith2) May 3, 2021
Like countless other types of violent crime and disorder, Americans have been forced to internalize the idea that this type of mayhem is simply “part and parcel” of modern life, and most hope they simply don’t fall victim to it.
“If I blindfolded you and took you to LaGuardia Airport in New York you’d think I must be in some third-world country.” -Joe Biden, 2015
President Biden was almost right. Passing through America’s airports doesn’t make you think you’re in a third-world country. It reveals that you do live in one. Anyone who travels globally will quickly discover that airports in high-income foreign countries are incalculably cleaner, more efficient, prettier, and all-around better than the dumps Americans routinely have to put up with.
SkyTrax uses customer surveys to measure world airport quality. In their 2020 airport rankings, the highest-ranked American airport is Houston. And it’s not because one or two countries are dominating the top of the list. All kinds of countries are thrashing America. Not just East Asia and Europe, but also Doha and Dubai in the Middle East, and even Cape Town in South Africa. Flagship American airports like LAX and O’Hare lose out to cities like Hyderabad in India, Quito in Ecuador, and Baku in Azerbaijan.
Even middle-income foreign nations see their airports as an opportunity to make the best possible impression to the rest of the world. They compete to make them beautiful and friendly. In America, the closest airport to Manhattan made visitors wade through a 600 square foot puddle to reach the baggage claim.
As part of the stupefying security theater mentioned above, Americans are routinely forced to throw out their hairspray, toothpaste, and bottled water just to get through security. When they come out the other end, they have the chance to rebuy their missing goods at grossly inflated prices at airport kiosks, eager to gouge irritated and trapped customers.
But the most galling thing of all about airports, the biggest reason that they represent 2021 better than any other phenomenon, is that…
The Ruling Class is Exempt From It All
All of the indignities of flying might be a little more bearable if there was an egalitarian dimension to it, if all Americans were forced to suffer together in the name of security. But of course, we can’t even have that.
Airports and airlines attempt to exacerbate class divides in America by inducing people to pay for even the most basic shreds of dignity. Business travelers are siphoned off into overhyped and overpriced lounges. They board flights first and are treated mildly better while on board.
But this elite status is a mirage. The real ruling class is opting out entirely. America’s superrich are flying private more than ever. They can skip the TSA, keep their liquids, show up 15 minutes before takeoff, and more.
Rather than care enough about the country to fix its crumbling airports, America’s ruling class decides to opt out entirely — which, come to think of it, is a perfect summation of their approach to the country at large.