Perhaps there is no greater evidence that hot air rises than the election of our current president. You would think that having been a psychologist for all these many years I would know a thing or two about how that happens, but I confess that although I struggle—I really do—for the life of me I can’t figure it out.
I can explain with greater facility and perhaps a modicum of accuracy how actual hot air rises, even though I have never seen it directly. But I have seen its effects while flying, and it’s dramatic. The local County fire authorities designate certain days of the month “burn days,” in which farmers can legally set large piles of brush ablaze without sparking the brave men and women who get paid to keep us safe to don their heavy protective gear, put their playing cards on the table and slide down their poles to their big trucks. Years ago I was out flying on one of those days with my instructor, who thought it might be fun to give me a physics lesson by guiding our rented Cessna over a few of those pyres.
Although the flames disappeared under the airframe, we knew we were flying right over them because, commanded only by the rising heat below us, the Cessna gently rose as we passed over them, then settled back down a few seconds later.
The fact that hot air rises and cold air sinks is one of the keys to understanding many weather phenomena. The uneven heating of air is a result of the uneven heating of the earth, which absorbs radiated sunlight differently depending on the terrain. As the earth’s temperature varies, the heat it generates warms the air, and the differences in the air mass’s temperature causes differences in pressure, because the molecules in hot air move faster and expand outward, while cold air is more compact and dense. Cold, dense air, is “thicker,” and therefore heavier.
I suppose we call people who spout empty phrases, devoid of depth or import, as filled with “hot air,” because their verbiage takes up a lot of space but there isn’t much substance to it, like the air in a hot air balloon. All that is required for a hot air balloon to take flight is to capture a chunk of air and heat it up. Off you go into the wild blue.
In struggling to understand just how it is that certain hot-air balloons, such as the one on Pennsylvania Avenue, manage to rise, I have observed that there are some people who are attracted to bluster, bombast, posing and empty rhetoric. Narcissists marry, often several times, so at some point in their self-aggrandizing lives there are those to whom hot air is appealing.
I have known many people over the years who have been filled with hot air. Almost to the person, each of them had very few, if any, friends. Most of them had significant alimony payments. Generally, they didn’t care much about having friends, but they cared greatly about the alimony.
The thing is, many people who voted for Mr. T report that they actually like the man, which is astounding to me. He may be a liar and a thief, but he’s at least a thief you can count on to be a thief. I believe it was Oscar Wilde who said that a friend is someone who stabs you in the front. Mr. T may lie to you, but you know he’s a liar, and so does he, so it doesn’t much matter. What matters is the same thing that probably mattered to Melania; if he buys you that diamond ring you wanted, at least you’ll end up with a diamond ring. He may even convince you he has a good heart, and will even take care of you, and that he cares as much about you as he does himself; but if you fall for all that, well then, you’re just naïve and deserve what you get. None of that’s important, after all. It wasn’t important for all the years Chicagoans supported the elder Mayor Daley. What was important was that the trash got picked up, the potholes were fixed, and that you got that diamond ring you always wanted.
So if you pay for a ride in a hot air balloon, you expect that when the air inside of it is heated it will reliably rise into the atmosphere, taking you passively suspended in a basket beneath it. The amazing thing is that, after all is said and done, all that hot air will lift you off the safety of the earth and take you with it. You will, however, have no power to steer it, so where it will end up, well, that’s anybody’s guess.