There is a certain type of thinker on the Rabid Right. You know, the kind of person who never misses an opportunity to blame the Democrats for their follies in the most vitriolic of terms. And who also never misses an opportunity to blame the Democrats for the things they haven’t, strictly speaking, done. Yet upon further investigation you find this enthusiasm for deriding the Democratic party — for social ills beyond its proximate control — is actually a form of politesse. You see, it is far more acceptable in polite society to blame a party headed up by aging White folks than it is to cut out the middleman and blame any actual miscreants of color.
The faces of the Democratic Party
I am thinking of something specific here. Public figures who identify as right-wing are frequently quick to point out that cities run by Democrats suffer from uncommonly high levels of… take your pick… income inequality, crime, civil disorder, municipal bankruptcy and doubtless many other ills. Very frequently, the talking head will find a ranked list of cities and observe that most of the ones on the bad end — of whatever metric — tend to be run by Democratic politicians, while on the good end many municipalities tend to be run by independents or Republicans.
But let’s apply a little undergraduate logic here. If ‘a’ implies ‘b’, it does not necessarily follow that ‘b’ implies ‘a’. Translated into concrete terms: Just because a bad city likely has a Democratic mayor, it does not follow that a city with a Democratic mayor is likely to be bad. And a quick look around the United States will confirm this point. San Francisco, Seattle, Portland (Oregon), Austin, Boston and Denver — to randomly pick some well-regarded cities with population 500,000 to 1 million that anchor their metropolitan areas (avoiding satellite municipalities that are parts of metro areas anchored by even larger cities) — are all large cities that score well on most measures. Yet there has rarely been a non-Democratic mayor in any of these cities in the past 25 years. Democrat-run cities are frequently good places to live, yet they are also frequently bad places to live.
What’s going on here?
As much as people love to spill ink on the importance of political ideology, I think the answer lies deeper within our bones. Below is a demographic table showing, based on 2010 Census data, the racial and ethnic composition of the “good” cities mentioned above, as well as six leading “bad” cities — Detroit, Memphis, St. Louis, Cleveland, Baltimore and Milwaukee (in rank order of “dangerousness” based on one previously-mentioned crime ranking, excluding Oakland as a satellite of San Francisco):
|Bad City||Non-H White||Black||Hispanic||Asian|
There is a pattern here. I find it easier to spot when the data is rendered graphically (bad cities in left cluster, good in right cluster):
Here with one further transformation which I think useful:
To sum this up in words: The “bad” cities are heavily Black. The “good” cities are heavily White, and even more pronouncedly, heavily White-plus-Asian. Interestingly, Hispanics tend to congregate somewhat more in the “good” cities, not in the “bad” cities. I would guess that this is due to the greater economic vitality of the “good” cities; after all, Hispanic migrants frequently come here to work, and their labor is more in demand in prosperous locales (after all, mowing lawns and maintaining fancy landscaping is a Job Americans Just Won’t Do… for the wages on offer). Remember: All the cities mentioned here — good and bad — have strong Democratic political tendencies.
So when Rabid Right talking heads denigrate cities run by Democrats, what they’re really denigrating are the conditions that prevail in heavily Black areas, which also happen to be run by Democrats. On other words, it’s not the little letter next to the mayor’s name that makes a city good or bad — but they’re too polite to say that. The fact that Blacks vote Democrat 4-to-1 means that heavily Black cities are also reliably Democrat-leaning, but the arrow of causation does not plausibly run from Democrat to bad neighborhood as much as it runs in reverse (save for the longer-term notion that a Democrat is more likely to attempt to elect a new people, who themselves make the neighborhood bad).
Frankly, I think that ignoring the underlying demographic correlation is a mistake. The right wing will never outflank the Democrats on virtue signalling through anti-Racism poopytalk. They will always be on the receiving end of that bludgeon — accept it; own it. More to the point, by finding a polite stand-in for race, the right wing is misidentifying the problem, making it impossible to find a solution. An appointed administrator, parachuted into heavily Black and Democratic Flint, Michigan, by the Republican governor (after that town’s financial crisis) did little to make things better and, if anything, allowed things to get worse on his watch — particularly with respect to the lead-contaminated drinking water crisis. Political affiliation is not a magic wand of administrative competence.
And by mis-identifying the problem, these talking heads are failing to connect with the middle-class law-abiding voters who know, deep in their bones, that when they head out to the suburbs in search of “good schools” they’re not running away from some school administrator’s stance on IB versus AP, or even some politician’s stance on cap-and-trade emissions targets or gay civil unions; they’re running away from Blacks. And, even as these liberal urban refugees hypocritically and shame-facedly enact de facto segregation, they don’t particularly want to hear Democrats being berated ceaselessly for incompetence when they know that Democrats are capable of running cities well, and when they are moderately sympathetic to certain other traditionally Democratic positions, such as environmental conservation, acceptance of gays, abortion rights, public support of the arts, and similar.
The Rabid Right needs to get to the starting line if they are going to run this race, and as I pointed out in connection with Baltimore, even left-wing intellectuals have (begrudgingly) acknowledged the strong correlation between Blacks and social dysfunction. The left has its own just-so stories accounting for these results: structural Racism as ineffable as the ether, generated knowingly or not by the White man, pervading all space, and which through mystic processes — unseen by ordinary man and undetectable to modern science — retards the achievement of the Black man on all fronts. That’s their theory, anyway; I like to summarize it as ‘evil Racist eye-lasers which the White man uses to keep down the Black man.’
Of course, there are more-plausible seeming accounts of what causes what, and the time is ripe to put aside the false politesse of political correctness, identify the problems without fear of reproach by the infantile, and think of solutions that actually have some shot at success. This year we are holding a Presidential election, and the choice is not between some corporate drone promising marginally lower taxes on the rich, versus a stuffed shirt who rolled-out, though major drama, a misbegotten — but also popular in some quarters — universal healthcare system. No, this time we’re faced with a choice between a blow-hard publicity hound who, for all his flaws, fundamentally gets that a nation is the sum of its people and not the mystic result of magic dirt, running against an untrustworthy Lady Macbeth who just doesn’t get it. It’s time to cast aside politesse and speak frankly to a public that’s willing to listen.