“There is no reason for the president to send federal troops into a city where people are demanding change peacefully and respectfully.” Joe Biden. (Which city is he looking at?)
7/22/2020. WSJ by Daniel Henninger
On Tuesday the New York City sky was clear, blue and filled with sunshine. That’s it for this week’s good news. We turn now to Portland, Ore.; Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco and all of America’s other seemingly Godforsaken cities.
President Trump watches a lot of television, so he’s seeing the same daily urban nightmares we’re seeing. It’s hard not to sympathize with his instinct to send in federal authorities to restore civil order to cities like Portland, as he proposed Wednesday with the expansion of an urban anticrime initiative called Operation Legend to Chicago and Albuquerque.
It’s equally hard to disagree that, other than protecting federal facilities, Mr. Trump should let all of these smug Portlandia American cities stew in their own juices.
I loved it when Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, said the federal presence “is actually leading to more violence and more vandalism.” Where’s Groucho Marx when we need him to make sense of nonsense?
Still, no matter one’s politics, it is sickening to see this happening to any U.S. city—mobs hammering and burning buildings along Portland’s streets and then a carbon-copy mob battering Seattle.
Days before, we’d watched video of two groups of police beaten bloody on the Brooklyn Bridge. Days later 15 people were wounded in a gun battle at a Chicago funeral for the victim of a drive-by gang shooting.
There is a serious matter of civil order at issue here, but if you can look beyond the mayhem, something else quite sad is happening. The irrepressible vitality of these cities—their reason for being—is disappearing, undone by pandemic, lockdowns and a new culture of permanent protest.
For years, I’ve been on the email list of Spike Wilner, the owner-founder of two jewel-like jazz clubs in New York’s Greenwich Village—Small’s and Mezzrow. Mr. Wilner’s weekly paeans to jazz and the people who play it are always a good, diverting read. This week’s email was different. Here is a chunk of it, because he’s got the city exactly right:
“It’s hard to describe but the feeling is gone, the vibe absent. The thing that made New York, New York is missing. What’s it like now?
“It’s very tense. People are very anxious and angry. Everything is closed or, if open, listless. There is no nightlife. If you leave your apartment after 9 p.m. it’s a complete ghost town inhabited by wraiths and zombies, dangerous people. . . . In certain parts of town you have a mob of folks partying outside, like a street fair. Other folks keep their masks tightly on and live in fear. The only place I’ve found some civility and warmth is the city playgrounds where I take my daughter each day. The children are oblivious to the pandemic and just play and climb.”
OPINION LIVE Q&A
Are the U.S. and China Headed for a New Cold War?
Join WSJ Opinion’s Paul Gigot, Jillian Melchior and Jason Willick for a live online discussion and Q&A on China-U.S. relations on Thursday, July 30. Register Now with WSJ+
Outside wartime, with bombardments turning blocks into rubble, I’m hard put to think of any precedent for what is happening to these U.S. cities now. The enforced pandemic closures and isolation were bad enough. But the endless protests—with their instinct to violence and atmosphere of dread—have broken the spirit of many cities.
The political story of the 2016 presidential election was Donald Trump’s identification of overlooked lower-middle-class white voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. A new political division may be taking place now in big cities—between progressive elites and working-class residents, primarily the people who own or work for the storefront businesses that are the lifeblood of these cities.
A story recently in Crain’s New York Business described how the outdoor dining tables of restaurants in Hell’s Kitchen on Manhattan’s West Side are overrun by disturbed or half-dressed beggars, whom Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has housed in nearby hotels. Said one restaurant owner: “Every bit of progress this neighborhood has made over the years is stepping backwards.”
During New York’s 1970s financial crisis, the Daily News ran a famous headline about then-President Gerald Ford —“Ford to City: Drop Dead.” Here’s the update—“Progressives to Cities: Drop Dead.”
People living and working in these cities, most of whom consider themselves liberal, are being sold out by progressive politicians and activists blinded by politics to the quality of daily life.
Progressive prosecutors refuse to prosecute. Cops are holding back because progressive mayors and governors don’t have their backs.
Responding to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s directive that no alcohol can be served without food, many bar owners say they won’t survive. The state’s Labor Department just reported an unemployment rate in the Bronx of 24.7%, Depression level.
The progressive ruin of major cities inhabited by liberals is a significant political event. Consequences that might have emerged over years have been compressed into months by the pandemic and protests.
It is doubtful many will check the box for Mr. Trump in November, but who knows? Their alternative is Joe Biden, whose contribution to the urban chaos this week was: “There is no reason for the president to send federal troops into a city where people are demanding change peacefully and respectfully.” Which city is he looking at?