Regarding Engineering

If We’re Lucky, Trump Will Be an Instructive Near Miss

Recorded on September 11th, 2016

When I was in engineering school I had a couple of classes that served as an introduction to statistical process control. I’ve long since forgotten most of the theory behind what we learned, but one thing I do remember is the concept of “near misses”. (To all you Industrial & Systems Engineers with a deeper understanding of this, pardon me while I grossly oversimplify here.)

You can measure the outcomes or by-products from a manufacturing process — say, the proportion of widgets produced within spec, or the rate and severity of accidents on the shop floor. By charting those results you get an idea of whether your process is “in control” or “out of control”, and you can determine whether the variation is due to chance or due to some assignable cause that needs correcting.

Near the limits of “out of control”, but not past the limits, we find “near misses”. These are incidents where a product is almost produced out of spec, but some parameter was corrected in time to salvage it, or someone was almost injured, but an assembly line was shut down in time to prevent harm. The great thing about near misses is that they can be tremendously helpful in refining the process, illuminating weak points that you can fix now to prevent disaster in the future.

On November 8, if we’re living right and the stars align, Donald Trump will not be elected President. He’ll be the biggest near miss we’ve ever seen. The fact that he has gotten this far for this long points to a majorly broken, out of control process. Of all the candidates that I’ve disagreed with since I became old enough to vote, none have actually frightened me. Sure, I cringed when George W. Bush spoke, and his debates were cringe-worthy, but they don’t hold a candle to the gear-stripping sounds I hear when Trump’s brain seizes up and his mouth keeps moving. It’s clear he has no idea what’s going on and no plan for how to deal with anything should he be elected.

When we get the chance to do this again in four years, I dearly hope that the process by which candidates are nominated has evolved to where it can weed out incompetence like we see in Trump. If we do manage to scrape by on Election Day, we will not be out of the woods. We will not get to say “whew!” and go back to life as it was before. We have to figure out how to keep Trump or someone else similarly unqualified from ever getting this close to the Oval Office ever again. We are on thin ice and we better not screw this up. Learn from this (hopefully) near miss.