American Presidential Politics (and the Tokyo Train System)

Are you like me…totally frustrated and perplexed by the U.S. presidential race this year? Faced with two choices between highly questionable candidates, I have tried my best to come up with an acceptable path forward with my vote. After searching my mental database of all my past experiences that could advise me on the matter, I have concluded that (believe it or not) this year’s race bears much similarity to the Tokyo Train System.


Looking at the included train map, the first thing you may notice is that it is complicated! So complicated, in fact, that upon my arrival years ago in Japan my employer required me to take a “train class”. Little did I realize at the time that the class would prove to be a lifesaver over my next eight years in Tokyo!

One thing I have observed in recent years is that our American political process is a lot like a train headed down the tracks. Our unique check-and-balance feature created by our Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branches keeps our government running along established tracks year after year. No branch, person, or party has complete control. Our two major political parties (Republican and Democratic) are like trains that run on their established routes. Their big difference is that they generally run in opposite directions. The engineers ‘driving’ the train have little control over the route of the train…the train’s direction and route is already established. Never during my eight years in Tokyo did I ask, “Who’s driving this train?” I trusted each train to go in the direction of its rails.

Just as the Republican and Democratic parties often have similar multiple candidates running in the primaries, the Tokyo train system has multiple lines that run in the same general direction operated with different engineers. That certainly adds complexity to the map. But to get to where you eventually want to go, taking any of those ‘party line trains’ will move you in the right direction. From my early experience riding the Tokyo trains, I learned that getting on the wrong train was a mistake relatively easy to correct, as long as it was moving in the general direction I wanted to go. Similarly, in this year’s presidential race I saw multiple candidates that could have taken me in the direction I wanted to go. But now, that once complicated train map has been reduced to two lines running in opposite directions…Republican and Democratic (discounting the role of any realistic third party possibility).

My own worst mistake in riding the Tokyo trains was once to hastily hop on a train while standing on the wrong platform! The unnerving result was that I traveled miles in the totally opposite direction I wanted to go, taking me far away from my desired destination.

From that simple personal lesson, I get my perspective on this year’s presidential race. Contrary to the media message, the engineer sitting in the front of the train is not the gravest of our concerns. Instead, I am much more concerned about the DIRECTION of the train I am about to board. To ensure I get on the train headed in the direction I want to go, I must first make sure I am standing on the platform where the departing train is moving in the direction I want to go. If I happen to board the wrong ‘political train’, then four years from now I will find myself ‘miles’ from the place where I really want to be. And to correct that mistake, I would have to make my way back to the right platform, wait for another train going in the right direction, and then travel twice as far to get back to my original desired destination.

So, here is my new perspective: All this American political hoopla about picking the best ‘engineer’ to ride in front of the train is of little importance in the big scheme of things. But boarding the train from the right platform is much more critical to get me (and my country) closer to the desired destination.

What’s my take-away from all this? I need to make my decision wisely after studying the political train map in light of where I want this country to go. At the voting booth I will “board the train from the platform” that will take me in the direction I want to go (and the direction I want this country to go)! I hope you will do the same. Do your part and trust our American political process to work.

A caveat…this political analogy only works for trains! J If either of our two major presidential candidates were piloting an airplane that I wanted to board, there is no way I would take even one step down that jet-way!  The plane analogy would better fit a dictatorship form of government. Fortunately the U.S. is NOT a dictatorship where its ‘pilot’ would have complete control and could easily run this country into the ground at any whim.


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