Monday, November 7, 2016

Urban Blight

CBS’ Bob Schieffer called this election process and the seemingly unhealable schism that is tearing America apart “the dark side of America.” The Chinese press has touted an issue-sparse campaign predicated on criminal and sexual-accusation-laced barbs as clear evidence of “the total failure of the American democratic model,” suggesting that when responsible leaders in the modern world abdicate their responsibility to lead and throw the decisions directly to the people, disruption, not progress, is the result. Increasingly, the developing world seems to agree, and even our democratically-governed allies stand aghast at what we have become. These descriptions are alarmingly on the nose as Republicans threaten to dig their heels further into the mud, guaranteeing that they will do everything in their power to deny appointments of a more liberal judiciary or anything that smacks of Democrat-platform planks.
But that underlying schism – one that pits a once-primarily-rural-white-Protestant America (traditionalists) against a now-majority ethnically-culturally-racially diverse primarily-urban America – has taken on the desperation of a very-angry, cornered tiger. Traditionalists feel an existential threat. Think of the obvious underlying reasons.
Look at the difference in the relevance of having a pretty open right to own and carry guns between, say, a Wyoming rancher versus a New York or San Francisco white collar worker. Guns in either place have entirely different applications and relevance. Look at the importance of churches as central parts of social gatherings in rural communities versus the over-abundance of venues with massive social interaction in any big city. Examine the importance of nature – God, if you will – to weather-dependent farmers versus urban dwellers. Traditionalists do not want to be told that God isn’t going to bail them out and that global warming is our fault.
Cities are the crossroads for tourists, global business transactions and clearly have much more cultural diversity. Anti-globalism, isolationism if you will, is very old school and traditional. Blame others, put up walls, throw out foreigners and the world will be better off for it? Funny that Trump’s message resonates with “traditionalists” overseas, and it is urban-Hillary’s international experience that brings in global economic realists. “In India, right-wing Hindus who pray at their temple for Donald J. Trump to defeat Islamic extremism. In Saudi Arabia, a crown prince who engaged in a Twitter war with Mr. Trump. (‘Dopey Prince,’ Mr. Trump called him.) In Mexico, economists who predict that the peso will plummet if Mr. Trump wins. In Japan, a generation that has taken United States military protection for granted, but worries that it might no longer be able to do so.
“But regardless of who wins, after a presidential campaign marred by scandal, political violence, allegations of corruption and fears of voter fraud, America’s image stands tarnished in the eyes of its own people and the world.” New York Times, November 5th. Our truly ugly internal domestic dispute has lowered our prestige almost everywhere.
But as America continues its demographic shift, there is no question that both the social-media-connected Millennials and younger (reflecting less religiosity and more tolerance of diversity) and the new “majority of minorities” are beginning to swamp traditionalists and their values. If the 2010 Census told us we are over 80% urban, what will the 2020 Census, which is the basis for political districting, say? There are more Democrats than Republicans, but independents are rising fast, disillusioned with both parties and their antics.
For traditionalists, the writing is on the wall. They will inevitably be marginalized into “irrelevant.” So every focus of their leadership is on maintaining their values for as long as possible, knowing that their attempts to keep that growing “majority of minorities” from exercising their voting rights are unsustainable. Gerrymandering requires supporting Census data. Voter ID laws increasingly are slammed by the federal courts, so getting conservative federal judicial appointments (which are always for life) to endure well-past any election cycle is mission critical.
Thus, if you promise workers with obsolete skills to get their jobs back, if you tell traditionalists that global warming is a hoax, promise to take the country back in time to a simpler era (where blacks knew their “place”), tout failed “trickle down” economics, if you can scapegoat terrorism and if you can blame inevitable economic change on “others” – even knowing these are simply untrue – you just may get enough executive and legislative power to impose your traditionalist will through disassembling liberal programs that will take decades to replace and appoint ultra-conservative judges whose power will also endure for further decades.
So if the power is increasingly urban, how do Republicans strategize to take back the cities in this environment? How about they don’t. “Only three of the 25 largest cities in America now have Republican mayors. In the House of Representatives, Republicans from dense urban congressional districts have become extinct. In the 2012 presidential election, the counties containing Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Washington, San Francisco and Philadelphia each gave less than 20 percent of their vote to Mitt Romney…
The pattern highlights a paradox about Mr. Trump: ‘He’s the most urban candidate in American history — he was born in Queens and lives in a skyscraper on Fifth Avenue,’ said Aaron Renn, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute. And Mr. Trump’s personal fortunes have risen with the comeback of major American cities, with signature real estate projects in New York, Washington and Chicago. But he has portrayed these same cities as dystopias.
“Mr. Trump has elevated a strategy that is risky to the Republican Party in the long run. Not only have recent Republican candidates neglected cities, but they’ve also run against them, casting urban America as the foil to heartland voters. Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin caricatured coastal cities as unmoored from the ‘real America.’ Ted Cruz derided ‘New York values, as if those values, whichever ones he meant, were alien. Mr. Trump has pre-emptively annulled the votes of Chicago, St. Louis and Philadelphia, cities where he warns the election will be rigged against him.
“‘It’s unimaginably distressing, even by eight years ago, let alone 16 years ago,’ said Stephen Goldsmith, a former Republican mayor of Indianapolis and an adviser to George W. Bush in the 2000 campaign. ‘We had an opportunity to reach broadly across the country to have an inspiring voice of opportunity, and there’s a set of coherent Republican policies that would amplify that opportunity. We’re doing the opposite. We’re insulting folks who could vote for us.’
“The history of how the G.O.P. got here is partly about the ideological realignment of the two parties, and the disappearance of liberal Republicans like Jacob Javits, a senator from New York State, and John Lindsay, a mayor of New York City (a Republican who left the party, he said, when it left him). The party even moved away from conservative Republicans like Jack Kemp, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the George H.W. Bush administration, who spoke often about urban opportunity. But this history is also about the physical realignment of voters, as the rise of suburbia enabled Democrats and Republicans to move, literally, farther apart.” New York Times, November 2nd.
The harsh reality for traditionalists is that their definition of “the real America” is no longer the American average than is Main Street in Disneyland. What’s worse, with every passing day, the United States is decreasingly traditional, and those cornered tigers seem to be willing to do whatever they need to do, right or wrong, to extend their values and make sure that those “new Americans” are thoroughly contained and marginalized. No matter who wins the election, the dysfunction has only just begun. The rear guard may just be willing to lay waste to the lands over which they retain “control.” Call it enforced gridlock or living on knowingly-false promises, the worst is yet to come.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I wonder whether we can get through the vestiges of a loosening grip of those clinging to a long-gone past into the next generation of bona fide majority control… or break apart before we get there.

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