I have believed for a long time now that Donald Trump was elected president partly because of the behavior of companies like United Airlines and its large and growing fraternity of institutions that find the individual customer an inconvenience.
We live in an age where we have to take what we are handed by the institutions that are supposed to serve us. We live in an age of frustration. The daily frustration of life has bubbled up in politics, on social media and even in graffiti.
These are some of the institutions of our torment:
—The banks that leave you half an hour on the telephone, pleading to speak to someone — a human being — who might, just might, help you.
—The telephone companies that want you to crawl around the floor, at the behest of directions from a call center in Bangladesh, doing your own repairs.
—The internet providers that will not believe that their systems could need fixing and will only send a technician when all logic and patience is exhausted and someone in the Philippines is satisfied that you do know what you are saying and that English is, in fact, your first language.
—The medical insurance company that has a computer converse with you about a problem with your account.
Nowadays services are provided for high, unexpected fees. Vendors, such as hotels and car rental companies, dissemble about costs. They use marketing to bait and obfuscate — Amtrak excels at this. The fine print is there for the purpose of trapping the hapless customer. The price of everything is calculated as to what can be extracted from you at the time of purchase.
Of course, Trump was not the answer. Electing him may have been electing a fox to protect the chickens. But it was a cry for help from many voters.
Big is not beautiful when it comes to services. It means that you, the customer, are nothing, an impediment, a nuisance, an awkwardness, a de minimis statistic, a grain of sand on the beach of corporate wealth.
Most especially, you are to be kept at arm’s length, at the end of a computerized telephone system, to be contacted only to upsell or to threaten, if you are a day late with your payment.
When it comes to large institutions — primarily corporations but not-for-profits, like the AARP and the unions, are as guilty — the adage that the customer is always right is inverted: The customer is always wrong and should be fleeced and not heard.
Moreover the customer is a nuisance, an impediment to corporate well-being, and should be kept as far from corporate comfort as possible, preferably by employing computers and automated telephone systems. If human contact is necessary, that sort of customer impudence can be handled by call centers in faraway places.
Limited English is an asset; bloody-mindedness, a virtue. Customer insubordination must be checked firmly and early.
And the contracts. Oh, the contracts! The poor victim who was manhandled off a flight he had paid for had a contract with United, allowing the airline to overbook flights (a kind of fraud, selling a seat they do not have). He did not know he was party to such a contract.
We all have these unilateral contracts — with banks, credit card companies, internet providers, telephone companies — stuffed down our throats all the time. In fact, any time you deal with Big Inc. You pay, they dictate.
I believe that is why some people voted for Trump: They were “mad as hell and … not going to take this anymore.” Looks as though they were conned again.