Michelle Dunaj, who is dying of leukemia, was Hawaii-bound for one of the last trips of her life. But the TSA in Seattle made it memorable for a different reason:She called Alaska Airlines ahead of time to request a wheelchair and to ask how her medicines should be separated for the security line.
"I did everything they asked me to do, so I didn’t think it would be an issue," she said.
But Dunaj says nothing went right at the security checkpoint. A machine couldn’t get a reading on her saline bags, so a TSA agent forced one open, contaminating the fluid she needs to survive. She says agents also made her lift up her shirt and pull back the bandages holding feeding tubes in place. Dunaj needs those tubes because of organ failure. With other passengers staring, Dunaj says she asked for privacy and was turned down.
"They just said that it was fine; the location we were at was fine," she said.
As I’ve said in the past, this is what the TSA has to do in order to have any chance at pretending to be effective. There are those who will say that these situations can be avoided by reforming the current TSA regime. But the TSA can’t really afford to take those chances. In a world where terrorists aren’t afraid to use mentally disabled individuals as suicide bombers, it is hardly beyond the pale to think they would send someone feigning a terminal illness to get the “big one” through security and on to a plane.
This is the choice we are faced with: we have a choice between a world in which the government humiliates and molests our most vulnerable citizens on a regular basis in an effort to prevent “the smoking gun” from getting through; or, we can return to a more sane, pre-9/11 security paradigm, where we don’t subject countless thousands to outrageous searches and seizures to prevent a violent attack that is so unlikely that you are more likely to be struck by lightning than die from a terrorist attack.
This is all the more infuriating when you consider that these procedures do not actually make us safer. So another vulnerable person struggles to get through a TSA checkpoint, and can’t make it through without having her health, dignity, and personal belongings compromised. And meanwhile, both of America’s two major presidential candidates are essentially in agreement on this policy. Meaning that there’s little likelihood that these sorts of outrageous incidents will become less likely in the near future. If anything, they will only become more common as Israel’s Prime Minister sabre-rattles for armed conflict with Iran, and there’s little to no official backlash against a national security state that has become so large that no one person in the government knows every piece of it. One in which the TSA plays a vital role.
It is precisely because the consensus on these issues has become so widespread among our nation’s leaders that voting for a candidate from either major party seems unappetizing. The two major parties have enraptured the American electorate by creating a political environment in which every American voter finds themselves faced with a political Prisoner’s Dilemma that leads them to vote out of fear rather than conviction. To wit, I expect that this latest incident with the TSA will not be discussed by the candidates during the foreign policy debate, which promises to be another exercise in making relatively small differences of opinion appear to be massive ideological divisions. And yet many people will still vote for one of the major party candidates, because they don’t want to risk “throwing their vote away.”
The problems that this country faces have become too worrisome to leave to entrenched political institutions and their personal representatives. Unfortunately, until people begin to trust themselves and vote with their convictions rather than their fear of the greater of two marginally dissimilar political evils, we will find ourselves continuing down the same road that got us here, ad infinitum. And real policy shifts in many of our nation’s most pressing political issues will continue to be elusive.
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