Will New Yorkers Get Desperate Enough To Vote for Trump?
Democrats' coronavirus power-grab gives us a good idea of what their leadership would look like in the long term.
With elderly Caucasian Joe Biden as the Democratic candidate, November 3 will be less about the rise of progressive politics than the noise of the last four years would have you believe. But while the shine of AOC and her ilk winds down, progressive thought will find at least a petri dish to fester in during a Biden administration, and perhaps even a second media wind if Trump wins.
Since it’s not going away, seeing what would happen if progressives escape the lab and go viral is important. For that case study, we’ll look to COVID-laced New York.
COVID is supposed to be, finally, Trump’s white whale, the thing that will bring him down after he wriggled out from under the Russians and the Ukrainians and Stormy Daniels. Not enough ventilators! Not enough tests! Mass graves in Central Park! And it is all Trump’s fault. (See the headline: “Donald Trump is the Most Successful Bio-Terrorist in Human History.”) That set the stage for Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to craft a response far more political than medical. New York today is a laboratory for what happens when progressive ideology displaces reality.
But first a quick reality check: For every death in this global epidemic, it is critical to remember the virus did not strike masses down in the streets like the Black Plague, and did not create hideous sores like the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s that tore through this city. It is unlikely to infect a third of the world’s population like the Spanish Flu. An overwhelming number of those infected today never even know they have COVID, surprised by an antibody test months later. Most infected people do not pass on the virus. On July 12, New York had zero virus deaths for the first time since the pandemic started. But keeping the emphasis on “cases” and not conclusions keeps the fear alive.
But enough of reality; we’re talking progressivism here. Lockdown has left New York economically devastated, mired in “the worst economic calamity since the 1970s, when it nearly went bankrupt,” according to the New York Times. The unemployment rate nears 20 percent, a figure not seen since the Great Depression (during the 2008 recession it was about 10 percent). The newly unemployed strain food banks and soup kitchens. Policy described as a “pause” in March morphed into a semi-permanent state to keep things bad ahead of the election. While de Blasio authorized nail salons to reopen, he’s kept the city’s core sectors, the stuff that symbolizes New York—Broadway, tourism, conventions, restaurants, hotels, and museums—shut, sacrifices to The Cause. Look what Trump wrought!
So people are leaving. More than 10,000 Manhattan apartments were listed for rent in June, an 85 percent increase over last year. The super wealthy neighborhoods have seen 40 percent migration out, the biggest outward migration from the once economically strongest neighborhoods in midtown and the Upper East Side. Enough rich New Yorkers have left that it is affecting the census. The situation mirrors the outflow of the 1970s which decimated the tax base and led to landlords torching buildings to collect the insurance because they could not collect rent.
So it matters that 25 percent of New York tenants have not paid their rent since March. Those overdue payments left 39 percent of landlords unable to pay property taxes. A new NY law prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants facing pandemic-related financial hardships may help on the micro level while contributing to the destruction of the greater economy, which of course will eventually devastate everyone. Progressive zeal created an economic tide to sink all boats.
The mayor who threw his city out of work also banned large gatherings through September. He did however say Black Lives Matter protests would be allowed, claiming “the demonstrators’ calls for social justice were too important to stop.” The mayor himself, maskless, took time off to help paint “Black Lives Matter” on Fifth Avenue in front of Trump Tower. The central thoroughfare in Manhattan was then closed to traffic to let the paint dry. Some are more equal than others; the mayor criticized Trump for putting politics first in his coronavirus response.
De Blasio is also allowing an “occupation” to continue at City Hall, where a mix of activists and homeless (attracted by donated food) live in makeshift tents. It stinks, a throbbing health-hazard island of human feces and drugs and food scraps even before you get to the COVID part. The city allows them even as, until recently, it sent goons to chase unwoke citizens in twos and threes from playgrounds. A woman at the occupation asked my preferred pronouns while behind her a half-naked homeless man screamed. A few cops stood in front of a graffitied courthouse and laughed. Maybe they just like graffiti; it too is back across New York.
So what else are the cops up to? A former police commissioner criticized city and state leaders for abandoning the police (de Blasio pushed through a $1.5 billion cut to the NYPD on BLM demand) and for helping create a “crime virus” to go along with the coronavirus. Amid defunding elite NYPD units in spite of a 205 percent rise in shootings this year (one of the most recent shootings was a one-year-old caught in gang crossfire), so many NYPD officers are seeking retirement the department has been forced to slow-walk applications to get out. The state legislature meanwhile is proposing a new law to hold cops (not the city, as it is now) personally liable for events on duty even as New York City made the use of certain restraints by cops a criminal act.
De Blasio and Cuomo found ways to put more criminals on the streets. New York state recently eliminated bail for many crimes, claiming alongside BLM it was unfair to POC without resources to pay. Adding to the criminal population, Mayor de Blasio supported the release of some 2,500 prisoners due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. At least 250 of those released have been re-arrested 450 times, meaning some have been re-arrested more than once. Since they cannot be held for bail, most are returned to the street under Governor Cuomo’s fairness policy.
The next battleground will be the schools. With only weeks to go in summer, the mayor announced the nation’s largest public school system will reopen with an unspecified mix of in-person and online classes. Teachers say crucial questions about how schools will stay clean, keep students healthy, and run active shooter drills while maintaining social distancing have not been answered. There have been no directives on how to handle online classes, no published best practices, not much of anything. Quality of education, like quality of life, is not on the agenda.
One certainty is New York’s students will have fewer options—26 Catholic schools will not reopen due to low enrollment and financial issues. That affects more than religion. Many of those schools represent the only neighborhood alternative to the failing public system. Closures will drive middle class flight.
And there’s always something more. With indoor restaurant dining prohibited, many places are setting up sidewalk tents. In addition to adding to the Hooverville atmosphere, all that food has brought out the rats, who are attacking patrons.
There is no sense we will ever end this. It’s easy to criticize places that have moved too fast, but they had the right underlying idea: we can’t live like this forever. People need to work, not just for money (though they need the money) but to have purpose. So much of what has been done in the name of justice feels more like punishment—suck on this bigots—racial score-settling under the guise of progressive social justice.
A lot of us are just sitting around like the Joad family, waiting for something to happen. The thing is, we’re not sure what we are waiting for. The lockdown was, we were told, to flatten the virus curve. We did that. COVID hospitalizations and actual deaths in NYC are at their lowest levels since March. But the lockdown is still here and nobody seems to know when to declare victory—is the end point zero new cases before we can re-open Broadway? A vaccine? We just wait, the days violent, hot, and liquid. De Blasio and Cuomo are waiting, too, but for November 3 to free us. No need for a continuing crisis after Biden wins.
But maybe the New York case study will serve as a different turning point in the election. Imagine enough purple voters who look at New York and become frightened of what the Left will do with power in Washington. They want to work. They want their kids in school. They might just vote for Trump.
Peter Van Buren, a 24-year State Department veteran, is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.