Centuries ago, during the presidential election between Barack Obama and John McCain, humorist David Sedaris wrote a great essay for the New Yorker in which he used an airplane food analogy to deride those agonizing over the choice at the last minute.
“To put [undecided voters] in perspective I think of being on an airplane,” he wrote. “The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. ‘Can I interest you in the chicken?’ she asks. ‘Or would you prefer the platter of crap with bits of broken glass in it?’ To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.”
I didn’t realize the piece was eight years old when I first read it recently, so I naturally assumed Sedaris was referring to the contest between Clinton and Trump. After all, the analogy fits even better this year; a glass-filled turd is a more apt metaphor for Trump than it was for McCain (despite his attempt to stick us with Sarah Palin).
Sedaris’ point about undecided voters holds this cycle, too: How can anyone be undecided right now? Sedaris posits that it’s because they’re just too gloomy to care who wins.
“I wonder if, in the end, the undecideds aren’t the biggest pessimists of all. Here they could order the airline chicken, but, then again, hmm. ‘Isn’t that adding an extra step?’ they ask themselves. ‘If it’s all going to be chewed up and swallowed, why not cut to the chase, and go with the platter of crap?’”
Are undecideds pulled between Trump and Clinton similarly thinking, ‘Eh, they’ll both screw stuff up, so whatevs’?
“Ah, though, that’s where the broken glass comes in,” Sedaris snappily closes his piece. Touché.
The Washington Post is publishing a series of articles for just those voters—the ones who think, ‘Trump might be crap, but glass? Nah’—detailing exactly what kind of damage a President Trump could, and probably would, do. (Thank goodness someone’s doing this, not that too many of these voters are Post readers.)
Once you’ve read some of these pieces—about how a President Trump could “deport freely,” “end the era of American global leadership,” and “wreck progress on global warming” — you begin to think that a plate of lacerating poop might be too mild a metaphor after all.
Emma Roller, writing in the New York Times, offers a stronger one in her own airplane-food analogy to illustrate the absurdity of choosing anyone but Hillary in 2016: “Voting for a third party this year is like being given the option between chicken and the plane crashing into the side of a mountain, but calmly asking for a banana split instead.”
Third-party voters don’t have that same hands-thrown-in-air fatalism from which undecideds may suffer. They seem more delusional than pessimistic. “That chicken looks inedible, and I imagine I’ll survive the plane crash somehow or other,” they tell the flight attendant. “So let’s talk about how awesome it would be if we could have ice cream!”
I’ve heard the howls of the Johnson and Stein supporters when faced with the idea that asking for that banana split is tantamount to requesting that the plane crash: You can’t blame Trump on us!
But the message here is not that asking for the banana split will necessarily make the plane crash, it’s that asking for the banana split is the same as not caring if the plane crashes. If you don’t take the option that stops the plane crash, you’re not helping stop the plane crash—you’re just dreaming of dessert while waiting to see whether things go down in flames.
I’ll take the chicken, thanks.
Katherine Gustafson is the author of Change Comes To Dinner, a book about sustainable food, and a contributor on food issues for Forbes.com. Her work has also also been published in Slate, Yes! Magazine, Utne Reader, and others.