The Failure of the American Autopilot

by Bob Schwartz

Otto the Autopilot

Congress is going on vacation, again. Will we miss them?

Maybe the greatest thing about America is its ability to run on autopilot, the brilliant way that it manages to handle whatever may come, internally or externally, to right itself, and move forward. Politics, corruption, war, economics, inequities—they have been painful, damaging and upsetting, but America was somehow able to get to tomorrow, and rise a little bit higher when it was all over.

Only once in the past century, before this moment, has the autopilot failed. The Great Depression required action and intervention, and we got it. Since then, and with the victorious end of World War II, it has been onward and upward. We’ve overcome so many mistakes that an entire generation now takes the American autopilot for granted.

This has lulled some into a sense that doing the wrong thing or doing nothing can’t hurt in the long run because, based on history, nothing can hurt in the long run. The problem is that we have hit one of those very rare moments when the autopilot is not doing its job. So that when we have a conspiracy by some in Congress not to do their job—confident that doing nothing is just the sort of medicine that an overactive American government needs—we are in a seeming tail spin. But they simply don’t believe that’s possible, because they have never lived in a time when the autopilot failed and, despite their embrace of vintage America, they may be poor students of history.

The least effective Congress in generations, maybe ever, is about to take another break. The country will still be here when they get back to non-work, and they will continue to engage in embarrassing their opposition, petty insults, ideological blowhardery, and mostly just trying to get elected again.

The American people are much smarter than them. For the most part, we know the autopilot that we’ve depended on is not working, and we know that Congress doesn’t seem to know that, or at least won’t admit it. We also know that Congress isn’t working, and if not them, who exactly is supposed to keep this country running straight, on and up?

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
The Times They Are A-Changin’
Bob Dylan