I never thought I would long for the days of George W. Bush. But on this day, September 11, 2019, I watched archival footage of George W. arriving on the presidential B747 at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport on September 10, 2001, the day before the attacks.
I got choked up, for a lot of reasons. Because the day that footage captured is the last day the world was like that. Because in 1994, I’d been there, at that same Sarasota airport, watching George H.W. Bush step off that plane onto my airport. Because in 2006 I’d watched George W. walk off that plane and onto my airport, this time in Texas. I’ve been there, i.e. somewhere, to watch every president since George H.W. walk off that plane onto some airport I worked at. Some I had voted for. Some I had not. All up until Trump. I was out of the business by the time he came to office. And I’m glad. I don’t think I could ever have handled watching that man step off that plane onto my airport.
That Plane – Air Force 1
For the record, Air Force 1 is not a physical aircraft. It’s an air traffic control call sign. Any fixed wing US Air Force aircraft the sitting president is on, whether a B747 or a Cessna 172 (unlikely, but technically accurate) is call sign Air Force 1. For the sake of argument, in this post, that plane is Air Force 1.
So why is THAT plane important enough for me to write a blog about it? I’ve heard people say—Why do we need a plane like that to move the president around? It’s so expensive. It’s so ostentatious. Other world leaders fly on military transports (technically Air Force 1 is a military transport) or even – gasp – commercial!
Because that plane is a symbol. Air Force 1 is so recognizable that almost anywhere in the world, if you see that plane touch down, you know the US is here. And the US is a badass. And so is that plane. It can fly indefinitely as long as a tanker is around to refuel in flight. It doesn’t have an escape pod (sorry Harrison Ford.) At least not that anyone admits to. But it has state of the art navigation, communication, and can be a virtual flying White House.
But that plane is also Ronald Reagan’s shining city upon a hill. That plane is Lincoln’s hope for “…malice toward none…charity for all…” That plane is the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. that his, and all, children will be judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character.
This Is Our Airport Now
Over 25 years, I had the incredible privilege to be a part of and even the lead on many AF1 ops. When you work airports ops and the president of the United States pays a visit, hundreds of people descend on and virtually take over your airport. They show up, and with professional humility that they realize they are essentially fucking up your workweek, say, “This is our airport now.”
Did I mind that I was no longer technically in charge of my airport, that I’d get nothing done for a week that I had expected to, that all my deadlines got pushed back? What do you think? The President is coming!!!!!
A Great Privilege, Regardless?
In 2006, when W. flew through McAllen, TX, I was lead airport rep and worked with all the agencies. White House. Press corp. Secret Service. Air Force. Strike teams. Advance teams. To name a few. It takes an army of people a week, usually, for POTUS to land and then takeoff. My phone never stopped ringing. I was pulled in a zillion directions. The inside of my office was a distant memory. One hour I was in a meeting with a hundred other people. The next hour I was on the ramp with Air Force pilots, laying tape on the concrete where the nose and main gear wheels would park. I was the go-to person for a dozen government agencies, departments, and units.
It was the most fun I had ever had in my job. I felt privileged. Not just because it was part of the work I loved. But because I was, and still, am, a patriot. I love my country. I love what it stands for. Did I love George W. Bush? Hell no. I hadn’t voted for him. I was devastated when he won his second term. I disagreed with all his policies. I was against the wars he’d gotten us into. By 2006, I thought he was a terrible president.
But he pales in comparison to Trump, and what that man is doing to our country and the world we live in. When George W. Bush walked down the stairs of Air Force 1, I busted with pride. Not for the man, but for the office, and for the small part I had played in getting him safely to the ramp. I was proud of what the office represented. For the Constitution that had created that office. For the Founders who had dared to make a more perfect union. Because although I did not approve of Bush, did not like him, I never in eight years questioned that he might have his own interests in mind over those of the country. We disagreed completely on what was best for the country, but I never believed that Bush wasn’t doing what he thought was best for the country. I never thought he was a conman. I never thought he was a crook. I never thought he had a serious mental disorder that made him unfit for the job.
If I was still working at airports, and Trump came through, I would do my job. But I would throw up a little in my mouth to see him walk off that plane. I would not stand in line to shake his hand. I would not take a photo to put on my wall with my other AF1 photos and certificates of appreciation. I would not take presidential swag that you get from all those professionals as a way of saying, “Thanks and sorry we took over your airport.” I would not bust with pride. I’d be ashamed. I’d be disgusted.
Trump has defiled the office of the president of the United States. He’s mocked it and made a mockery of it. He might as well have broken into the National Archives and put the Constitution through a paper shredder. All those years ago, watching George W. Bush, I never could have imagined I’d see a time when the president was so unworthy, so dangerous, so unfit. So undeserving of my respect.
But I do. It makes my teeth itch to see Trump descend the stairs of that plane, that plane that I had personally welcomed at least a dozen times or more. He doesn’t deserve it. That plane, and everything it symbolizes, is so much better than him. I hope they fumigate the hell out of it once he’s no longer allowed to set foot on it.