The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
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Travel Is Politics. We Cover It. Get Over It.
February 2, 2017 -- I've written this a dozen times, a hundred times, a thousand times.
I hate it when airlines lie. After more than 30 years of writing about them, I assume airlines are lying until they can prove they are telling the truth.
I've written this less often, but it is equally true.
I hate it when politicians lie. After 63 years of life and becoming an adult in the time of Watergate, I assume politicians are lying until they can prove they are telling the truth.
Nixon claimed he wasn't a crook. He was. Clinton stuck a finger in our faces and claimed he didn't have sex with that woman. He did. Bush said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There weren't. Obama said he'd run the most transparent administration ever. He didn't.
Which brings us to Trump--and the indivisible and eternal intertwining of travel and politics. And, not coincidentally, the purpose of JoeSentMe, why we do it and why you may dislike this site going forward if you're a Trump-can-do-no-wrong, Trump-must-not-be-criticized snowflake.
But, first ... a kind word about Donald Trump.
On Monday morning, Trump's Twitter finger got twitchy and he tried to deflect responsibility for the protests that broke out over the weekend at airports.
"Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning. Big problems at airports were caused by Delta computer outage," he claimed.
Ignore his lie about how many travelers are affected by his ill-formed, ill-conceived Muslim ban. As I said, politicians are liars and the real number and the actual impact are easy to find. Even the Customs and Border Protection Web site shows Trump lied, er, bigly.
But by throwing Delta Air Lines under the bus, President Trump brilliantly makes my point in less than 140 characters: Politics and travel are indivisible. You can't talk about one without the other.
International flights? Impossible without an aviation treaty literally approved by the president. Passport and visa? Issued by government. Letters of transit? Signed by De Gaulle himself and can not be rescinded.
American airports? Built by local governments, buffeted by everyday politics. Until a decade or two ago, airlines in most nations were owned by their governments. As I said last week, some still are the aeronautic expression of their rulers. Our own airlines still suck at the taxpayer teat.
The U.S. government owns Amtrak. Want to build a hotel? Talk to the local municipality for all sorts of permits--and tax breaks. The federal government controls airport security, regulates motorcoach lines and investigates crashes.
We have an interstate highway system because Dwight Eisenhower said we should have it. The U.S. government claimed hubs at Tokyo and Frankfurt for U.S. airlines as the spoils of World War II. President Trump seems most annoyed about the war in Iraq because we didn't take its oil as the spoils of that spoiled war.
Ever been to Cuba? I haven't because the United States government until last year essentially said I couldn't. Why? We were in a political pissing match with Castro. President Obama changed the rules to allow us to travel there. That was a political calculation, too.
Ever been to North Korea? I should have gone when David Rowell sponsored a trip because the current nut-job ruler has made it impossible. Iran? Never been because business travel withered after the fake-religious autocrats who control Iran attacked our Embassy. Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi personally ordered the downing of Pan Am 103 in 1988 and more than 250 travelers died.
JoeSentMe literally exists because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. None of the majority-Muslim countries whose citizens perpetrated that atrocity were included in President Trump's ban even though the executive order specifically references 9/11. Yet no citizens from the seven countries on the list have ever committed a terrorist attack on American soil. How is that not politics?
And for the more than 15 years JoeSentMe has been around, we have criticized the TSA, the bloated federal bureaucracy that was a product of the 9/11 attacks. We criticized it under Bush, who was dragooned into creating it. We criticized it under Obama, who made it worse. Their political choices made our travel more annoying than ever before.
Nobody at JoeSentMe makes any money from this. We're volunteers. And, in my case, I've sacrificed a chunk of my real career to keep this site going. We do it because we want to write about travel intelligently. To speak truth to power without worrying about pressure from advertisers. Or politicians. Or political fanboys.
When Trump does dumb stuff and it affects travel, I'm gonna call him on it. Just like we called out Obama and Bush when they did dumb stuff. And made fun of their foibles when I found a snarky line.
Forget for a minute that Trump's travel ban was vile bias wrapped around naked politics hermetically sealed inside his insatiable ego. Forget that his own secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security had to hurriedly carve out ex post facto exceptions because Trump's minions, um, forgot about legal residents and immigrants who aided our war efforts. Forget the incompetent rollout, which rolled over the bureaucrats, airlines and airports charged with implementing it. Forget the ham-fisted gaslighting when the White House spokesman says we shouldn't call it a travel ban even though Trump himself calls it a travel ban.
Let's talk instead about the future of travel. Why would anyone come to America now that they've seen we are run by an Administration that thinks nothing of making up rules on the fly while we're flying?
Or put the proverbial shoe on the other foot: Would you go to a country knowing a thin-skinned, Twitter-fueled bully could have you locked up when you arrive even though you had all the documents you were told to have? Why would you step on a plane to that place knowing that you didn't know what could happen to you?
Airline executives, many supportive of Trump, have told me bookings to the United States have plunged in recent days. How many American jobs will Trump's travel shenanigans cost when airlines are forced to drop routes, hotel rooms go empty and rental cars sit idle in airport parking lots?
There was nothing about Trump's actions over the weekend that made sense. They did not make us safer. They trampled on our rights. They were awful for business. And they are a sign that he is exactly as narcissistic as he promised. Remember "I, alone, can fix it?"
If he fixes it, I'll write it. If he breaks it, I'll write it. It's the same standard JoeSentMe had for Bush and Obama. You do good for travel, we'll say it. You do bad for travel, we'll say it. You act like a buffoon, we'll lampoon you. You tear at the fabric of what makes this country great, I'll try to tear you a new one.
Because we cover what we cover, JoeSentMe is at the confluence of travel and politics. And if you are offended because you voted for Trump and we're calling him out, retreat to your safe space. Which, not coincidentally, is exactly what I told the Obama and Bush fans. Conversely, if you want JoeSentMe to be the nexus of resistance to Trump on all things at all times, well, ain't gonna do it. Which, not coincidentally, is what I told the people who hated Bush and Obama with a red-hot passion that could not be quenched.
I'm against anything that makes my life on the road harder. I'm against anything that makes your life on the road harder.
Right now, Trump is making our life on the road harder. JoeSentMe will not be afraid to say it. And if and when Trump makes our life on the road easier, JoeSentMe will not be afraid to say it.
Smart travelers should be smart enough to listen to both. I firmly believe you're all smart travelers.
This column is Copyright © 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.