By Raymond Freeman
The train service was once the envy of the world. But it had really declined. Nobody knew why.
Some blamed the engines. But nobody knew what they were. There were arguments for all types: steam, coal-fired and oil-fired; internal combustion, two-stroke and four-stroke; even gas turbines. Everyone agreed, however, they needed more power.
And everyone agreed the train cars had been changed for the worse. There were plenty of luxurious first-class cars. The cost of their tickets had gone down. But the coach cars had been drastically reduced to standing room only; many were left behind. And the cost of their tickets kept going up.
The coach-class passengers had been promised improvements in the service, but these never came. Finally their anger boiled over. There was a revolt against the Bigwigs. All the benefits heaped on the aristocracy did not trickle down to the peasants crammed into the coach cars, as promised, not even after 40 years.
Then the job of Railroad Chief came vacant.
One applicant blamed the coal supply. Mexicans were stealing it. He would send them all back, all 11 million. He promised a “beautiful” wall to keep them out because they were “rapists.” Magically, none of this would cost a penny due to his Obvious Brilliance. Muslims were also to blame. He was good at finding scapegoats, the oldest trick in the book.
But nobody knew how the trains worked. Nobody wanted to. It was all too much. Hours of media coverage never delved into it. No matter: This applicant assured the yokels that technicalities did not matter to Undisputed Geniuses like himself. His remedy was simple: more coal for the steam trains!
People liked this remedy. They could understand it. They liked his swaggering attitude. He was a Celebrity!
Another contender for the position did know about trains, engines, cars, tracks, costs, etc. He said the “supercharged two-stroke V12 diesels” needed overhaul; the number of first-class cars needed to be reduced; the cost of first-class tickets had to go up; the number of coach-class cars needed to be greatly increased; more money had to be spent on the infrastructure, and less money had to be spent coddling the first-class passengers. This was a technically accurate remedy.
Some people agreed. Overall, however, his support was weak. People said he was “wonky” (which was very damning). People hated having to think logically about facts (supercharged two-stroke diesels, indeed!). He was a grumpy old geezer from Vermont. And he was a “socialist,” meaning that everybody would end up in Siberia following the dreaded midnight knock.
The other main contender was a woman. She seemed to avoid discussing technicalities. Once she had thought that all those foreign-made railroad cars were a good idea, but had recently come to believe it was better to make them in America.
She was not very inspiring, and said so herself, but she had been working in railroad management for a long time. She was married to a former Railroad Chief, whose management of the railroad had been mostly very good (apart from all those foreign-made cars he let in). One could actually get her to see sense. Overall, she was a good candidate.
Now the Brilliant Celebrity held rallies where he preened himself and boasted about his fortune. He was vague about railroad engineering, but the hicks all lapped it up anyway, thinking they would magically get fortunes, too (even though the Tax Policy Center said he really planned to give more to aristocrats like himself). Besides, Mussolini got the trains running on time but knew nothing about railroads, so why worry?
And the media lapped it up. He treated them like dirt but they worshiped him anyway. Then things turned ugly. People got roughed up at these rallies. He encouraged this thuggery. He canceled a rally, saying the police had ordered him to. The police denied this completely spurious allegation a few hours later. Nobody cared. All media publicity is good. Lies work in America.
My friends, this is no way to run a railroad.
This revolt of the peasants has the gouty old Robber Barons very worried. They can no longer pull the wool over the eyes of the yokels in the coach cars. Hence they want to stop their wannabe Railroad Chief in his tracks. This offends His Lordship, who threatens “riots” if he is not crowned King.
If you think this reads like an obituary in The Economist, you’re quite right. It’s the forthcoming obituary for the Republican Party. And that grinding noise you hear is not a train crash. It’s the Founding Fathers turning in their graves. They lived in the Age of Reason.
(No offense is intended to the Metrolink crash victims and their relatives.)