Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions’ Justice Department created a dust-up when, in true Trumpian fashion, it fired without aiming at the City of New York. NYC, according to Sessions, “continues to see gang murder after gang murder, the predictable consequence of the city’s ‘soft on crime’ stance.”
Never mind that New York City is one of the country’s law enforcement success stories. Homicides there have fallen from 2,000 in 1988 to 335 last year. What had Alabama’s Sessions in a twist was NYC’s unwillingness to play along with his police-state approach to illegal immigration. Sessions and Trump have threatened cities with the loss of federal funding if they don’t turn their police departments into effective arms of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
A week later, a federal judge in San Francisco issued a nationwide injunction, forbidding the Trump administration from withholding federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities: “Federal funding that bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement cannot be threatened merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the president disapproves.”
According to the Mainstream Media, this is an immigration story, another chapter in Trump’s fevered quest to make America white again. That’s true as far as it goes. But Sessions’ hip-shooting willingness to spray prejudicial misinformation about public safety in NYC betrays something even more pernicious. He and his boss can’t stand cities.
But, you say, Trump lives in a city! In fact, he lives with a magnificent view of one — Manhattan — whose roiling urbanity he keeps at an air-filtered distance of 58 stories. Trump may be a city boy, but he has done everything in his power to shield himself from the life that actually goes on there. A self-confessed germophobe, he can barely bring himself to clutch an Uptown doorknob without misgivings. This, it turns out, made him weirdly credible to a constituency that had no earthly reason to believe he word he said.
Trump’s deeper problem with cities is that he lost them in the election. Even in otherwise red states like Indiana, urban areas voted overwhelmingly against him, costing Trump the popular vote and genuine legitimacy. This cities-versus-the-rest polarization is at the root of American dysfunction. It has allowed for the kind of gerrymandering that enables Republicans to control statehouses and Congress while getting fewer overall votes.
The increasingly grim irony here is that without its cities, this country looks more and more like a husk of its former self. Fifty-two percent of America’s total GDP is created in its 20 top metro areas; and cities with populations of 150,000 or more accounted for 85 percent of the country’s GDP in 2010. Tax revenues generated by cities provide life support in a lot of places that haven’t been able to support themselves for years.
If America is going to regain a truly representative form of government, its challenge may not be, as so many Democrats would have it, persuading the countryside to come around. Government will only reflect the needs and desires of our people when cities receive the proportional representation they deserve.