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Amtrak Derailment Highlights Left’s Theodicy Of Federal Government

Perhaps we politicize everything in part because we have lost any understanding of the world as fallen and out of our control.


Whenever and wherever evil occurs in the world, questions of “theodicy” arise among some religious adherents. Theodicy attempts to defend God’s goodness and omnipotence in light of the existence of evil. Why do bad things happen to good people, the question goes. (To which a Lutheran might reply, “Trick question! There are no good people!”) There are various schools of thought and debate, rekindled with every hurricane, tsunami, earthquake, act of terror and mass shooting.

Last night an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia, killing at least five people and injuring scores of others. As pictures of the crash spread around social media, some of humanity’s worst impulses were on display. One crash victim was judged by the ever-hungry social media outrage mob to have not responded appropriately to the crash and was hounded off of Twitter.

Before anyone knew anything about the cause of the crash, many Twitter users began blaming the crash on insufficient federal subsidies to the for-profit Amtrak corporation. Some journalists even blamed future potential budget cuts to Amtrak, which receives more than $1 billion (with a b) in federal subsidies each year. See, for example:

One can feel helpless watching tragedy unfold on social media, and the desire to have someone to blame while struggling through that experience is understandable. Still, the quick and completely uninformed rush to politicize the tragedy struck some as ghoulish and juvenile.

But what if journalists — some of whom just yesterday were admitting they know “close to zero” Christians — don’t have a religious or even non-political vocabulary for use in such tragedies? Perhaps we politicize everything in part because we have lost any understanding of the world as fallen and out of our control. It would explain both the social mobs who police every utterance and the quick rush to find meaning in a corporation’s tragedy based on how many billions of dollars it has received in federal subsidies over the last few decades.

So instead of contemplating how fleeting and out of our control life can be, we instead begin with the question, “Why do bad things happen to good administrations?” (“Trick question!” the conservative or libertarian might respond. “There are no good administrations!”) The theodicy of federal government requires an explanation that defends the goodness of government control or subsidies into the given sphere. So just as some religious groups might blame a weather event on insufficient fealty to the relevant god, some progressives blame — before the National Transportation Safety Board has even shown up on site to investigate the cause of a crash — insufficient fealty, sacrifice and offerings to the relevant god of federal government.

Yes, it’s annoying how some progressives politicize everything. But if it’s understood as a sort of primitive religious reaction to confusion about holy government’s many failures, it at least helps explain why they do it.

In the meantime, perhaps calmer minds will prevail, focused first on rescue and recovery operations. The question of whether Amtrak is well managed or poorly managed is one that has many decades of Government Accountability Office and Amtrak Inspector General reports as answers (page 3 of this latest report might be instructive). It’s easy to continue to throw other people’s money at a political hot potato but legislators should wisely consider whether continued increases in subsidies of the corporation, the proposed reorganization that its sponsor claims will “improve rail infrastructure, reduce costs, leverage private sector resources, create greater accountability and transparency, and accelerate project delivery for Amtrak and the nation’s passenger rail transportation system,” or some other plan could best deal with Amtrak’s many problems.