The View From the Platform

The View From the Platform

How an incident on the Boston T is emblematic of what is happening to the political climate in this country.

  • Posted on: 19 February 2020
  • By: jcreason

While I’m fond of the T, Boston’s public train system certainly has its downfalls. More frequently than is ideal, Boston’s subway is subject to delays, shuttle reroutes and the cancellation of line service. Unfortunately for me one hurried morning, a routine issue would spark the fuse to a more fundamental incident.

As my train hurtled up the red line track, I held my breathe for Central Cambridge station. Only a stop away at Kendall MIT, the train intercoms sounded.
“This train is out of service, please exit and wait for the next train”

There were brief groans and exclamations as the train doors opened for people to exit. It was all very routine except for the man sitting directly across from me.
“Keep voting for the goddamn Democratic Party this is what you get!”.

The man drew some dirty glances and forced a couple heads to turn from his controversial statement, but most passengers left the train without incident. It was only after we had all exited out on to the platform that the incident occur.

Embarrassment swelled within me for this man (though it was evident he did not have all his marbles), as he continued his ranting flow of politically charged comments. Once on the platform, the man became fair game. He was descended upon by a mob armed with deeply held opinions. In my limited observation of life, good opinions are crafted and articulated in a way so that they may have at least the slightest chance of being persuasive to someone of the opposite belief. Instead of a carefully crafted tool for making articulate incisions like that of a scalpel, the opinions this mob was armed with were more like that of a mallet which they proceeded to beat this man over the head with.

They seemed to incircle him on the platform “The republicans are destroying this country!’ “How could you blame the Democrats for this!?” “Donald Trump is the worst most corrupt president we have ever had!!!” “The Governor of Massachusetts is a Republican!” “This Republican Senate is taking us to hell”. The man would continue to fire back with disparaging comments about the Democrats and I watched as the view from the platform unfolded in front of my eyes.

There are many things wrong with this situation. Obviously the man in question did not have all his mental faculties about him, otherwise he would not shout his unsolicited political opinion in a confined space. The man is entitled to his opinion but a subway car is not the place to espouse it. However there is another problem and that is the willingness with which these other passengers were ready to engage this man who was clearly not all there. This engagement was not of the sort for reconciliation, but one for condemnation. On a different and perhaps more concerning level, amidst the throws of this political brawl, I had the eerie feeling that many of these people did not fully understand the problem that led them to arguing in the first place. The Train.

The MBTA subway is governed by two bodies, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the Fiscal and Management and Control Board (FMCB). The FMCB was created in 2015 by Republican Governor Charlie Baker. The managing boards in the case of both governing bodies are all appointed by the Governor. Massachusetts has had a long history of Republican governors for the past several decades. It is also the case that funds used to operate and maintain the MBTA subway come from the Commonwealth Transportation Fund (CTF), created by the 2009 Transportation Reform Law, which consolidated many agencies under MassDOT. In 2009 there was a Democratic House, Senate, and Governor in Massachusetts. The problems with the Boston T precede 2009 and have obviously continued on to this day, but the simple fact also remains that the Massachusetts state Legislature has been firmly under Democratic control for decades. The clear conclusion from these facts is that blame for poor maintenance of the train and the entire reason for the dispute on the platform lays somewhere in between the two parties. The truth is often somewhere in the middle. Yet a problem still remains.

The other passengers on the train were so willing to come after this seemingly irrational man with their metaphorical mallets, that it reflected their own irrationality. I am a person of progressive values and was raised in a family which instilled progressive values in me from a very early age. I am a life long believer in personal freedom, social equality, healthcare as a human right, an equitable economy, and the need to save our environment from the destruction we have brought it. With all that being said, something has gone horribly wrong. The progressive culture and political temperament on which I was raised and still love, has turned sour. Some might say that progressive culture has always been about being loud, protest, chaining oneself to a tree or desk, and unreservedly sharing your opinion so I am going to unreservedly share mine.

Many ordinary progressives and especially those progressives whose networks have grown to gain influence over powerful institutions in this country, such as the Democratic Party, have become dogmatic and puritanical in their beliefs. So much so that the passengers from the train that broke down at Kendall station, (many of which undoubtingly hold progressive beliefs) were unwilling to let this crazy man pop off a couple times about the Democratic Party and opted to engage in fighting and condemnation as if he had committed heresy. The passengers sought conflict with this man, when he could have been ignored and the argument avoided.

The obvious truth shines through here, we most think long and hard before we start fighting with each other. My view from the platform is this: if we do not overlook some of our political differences, than we will continue to waste our time being at each other’s throats to society’s detriment.