Wednesday, July 5, 2017

For City & Country

What's the difference between a city and a country? The answer to this question is obvious -- and not. Both are places of some geographic size with boundaries (either natural or not) where people live. The main difference is that a city is an urban, somewhat-to-very densely populated area that usually is no more than several miles from end to end while countries are (or can be)  vastly larger spaces with various and multiple geographies and populations living in it.

A lot of this affects how they're governed. Cities are usually run by mayors, people who run their governments to deliver basic services to their populations, a day-to-day manager who keeps a going-concern going (some cities don't even have mayors, they have "city managers"). Countries, on the other hand, are led by people for whom the day-to-day delivery of services of part of the job but mostly a county's leader is to shape its future and establish its place in the world. In short, mayors play small ball but a country's leaders necessarily play large ball. Small picture vs. big picture, mirco vs. macro, etc. you get the idea.

So what happens when a man with a small ball, small picture, micro mentality assumes the leadership of the greatest nation in the world?

That brings us, inevitably and depressingly, to Donald Trump, currently inhabiting the White House as the 45th President of the United States. As this article notes, Trump is not treating the White House and the Presidency with the reverence and sense of overarching mission that most presidents do -- he's treating it like a jumped up City Hall.

In order to assert their authority and get stuff done, mayors spend a lot of time, as we in NYC politely put it,  "breaking balls" -- of the press, of political opponents, of the bureaucracy, of anyone holding up, or making the business of, the city more difficult. Presidents, on the other hand, leave the ball breaking to others and spend their time leading the government and the people into a vision of progress.

If you look at a mayor like Ed Koch, he was effective because he constantly broke balls. But could you have imagined him the White House? Would you want to? Similarly, presidents like Reagan or Obama successfully inspired and led their nations -- but could you imagine them dealing with the day-to-day nastiness of leading NYC? Me neither. Don't think so.

Trump is a very bad president because he thinks that he can somehow lead the government and his country by breaking balls, like he's the mayor of a city of 300+ million people -- and this just doesn't work. Never has. Think of the presidents who inspired America, like FDR and Reagan, and how effectively they motivated and led the nation. Then think of someone like Rudy Giuliani, who broke balls constantly as mayor and was effective at it but failed to translate that into the presidency. The job of mayor and president are very, very different, and Trump just doesn't seem to understand that.

There's a reason why we want our presidents to be "presidential", why we hold them to a higher standard in terms of comportment, why their vision and leadership is so important -- it's about our future as a nation and our role in the world. Mayors aren't expected to do that or be like this; if anything, we like that they're people on the ground who get us through the day -- and hey, if they gotta crack a few skulls, so be it.

But there's another very interesting thing in this article comparing the Trump presidency to a mayoralty. Unlike previous presidents, mayors in the past have had no problem being, like Trump, openly racist, hate-mongering vulgarians who sparked division and fostered an atmosphere of ethnic tension. Ethnic politics, after all, has been the staple of city politics since the beginning of time but presidents have, mostly, avoided ethnic politics. But Trump doubles down on white racist ethnic politics.


Because, in the past, Trump-like mayors usually exposed the death-rattle of white ethnic dominance. In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, cities like LA, Chicago, Philadelphia and, of course, NYC, had openly racist, hate-mongering vulgar mayors like Sam Yorty, Frank Rizzo and our own Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani. In their day, they represented and governed in the interest of white voters who were petrified that their cities were "changing" i.e. becoming less white, more tolerant, more progressive, etc. etc. etc. These racist mayors aimed to protect the white population and spent all their time talking about "fighting crime" (i.e. arresting blacks), "ending dependency" (i.e. welfare for blacks), "restoring order" (i.e. more arresting blacks), trashing the media (i.e. Jews), protecting our neighborhoods (i.e. keeping non-white people out) -- you get the idea.

This kind of politics worked for a while but, in the end, it failed. As the saying goes, demographics is destiny. These mayors went away and  were replaced either by black mayors or by a new generation of white mayors governing in very different cities in very different times and in very different (i.e. less racist) ways. The cities changed and the politics followed. Today, in big cities, white ethnics are still around, they still make noise, they vote, but they simply don't have power they once did because they are outnumbered by non-white (I'm a white guy in NYC so I know). Most big cities are majority-minority now. Bloomberg and De Blasio, as different as they may be, simply could not be the same kind of hate-mongers like Koch and Giuliani were and expect to stay in office. The USA is expected to be a majority-minority in the next few decades so, one day, a president like Trump will be impossible. He'll simply be a curiosity of history, a to another time and place, a man of the past who fought but ultimately lost the battle to keep the future away.

P.S. Here's another great article about that time and place where Trump came from, namely the NYC of the 1970s and 80s.  

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