The most deplorable thing about the general election was the awful choices voters were handed. The wife of a former President and a shady real estate mogul best known for hosting a reality television show? There was no way the outcome could be anything less than embarrassing. Each candidate deserved to lose.
There’s not much negative about Donald Trump that he didn’t say himself. He refused to even read the news during his campaign, brushing aside the pleas of his staff that he prepare for debates or learn about the world he was asking to lead. He’s arrogant and vulgar and his life is a monument to bad taste and delusions of grandeur. He’s been wrong about almost everything. But he was right on illegal immigration and crime and America is so desperate for people to speak at least partially honestly on controversial topics that this paid big dividends at the polls.
Hillary Clinton is an intelligent person with political skills and a mastery of the law and public policy. While there’s no doubt she got to where she was in large part because she is a former first lady, she’d be a formidable candidate and no question the most qualified by experience on the ballot. No one doubted her intelligence or her skill. But her career has been marred by repeated short-sighted judgements based almost solely on political calculation. In the end Hillary Clinton outsmarted herself.
The Clinton campaign followed the conventional wisdom of American politics that says accusations of racism is the Kryptonite of Republican candidates. Anyone so shamed with that scarlet ‘R’ is supposed to meekly apologize for whatever infraction they’ve committed, and sulk off to political purgatory. Trump threw that political calculus out the window and if fortune smiles upon our republic it will be his enduring legacy.
Trump set the stage early with his stand against illegal immigration. It was considered radical and extreme because he delivered a speech with his usual bombast. But the Democrats’ year-long overreaction to Trump’s stand against illegal immigration was their biggest gift to him.
You can’t solve a problem by pretending it doesn’t exist or trying to demonize those who want to fix it, even if your opponent is an ignorant blowhard. Illegal immigration on the scale we have now suppresses wages, brings criminal aliens into the country, poses serious public health risks, and often places unfair burdens on state and local governments forced to provide higher levels of service for populations that pay little or no taxes. You would have to be a reclusive millionaire not to see first-hand some of the negative effects unchecked immigration has had on our country. Somehow the view from Trump Tower was better than that from Chappaqua.
[N.B.: The idea of building a wall to solve the immigration problem shows just how clueless Trump is. Many if not most illegal immigrants enter the U.S. legally and then overstay their visas and Mexican cartels have shown themselves extremely adept at digging tunnels.]
Instead of serious policy solutions to issues of immigration and crime, Democrats delivered pompous moral lectures and in doing so they helped hand the election to Donald Trump. While it was impossible to cast a vote for either candidate, it was fun watching the premature Clinton victory celebration dissolve into a weepy pity party.
But what Trump supporters will soon realize is that they’ve been sold a false bill of goods. Trump is no real populist, and he’s aligned himself with religious conservatives hostile to science. It’s good to no longer ignore realities that were verboten in American political discourse, but Trump has never been interested in helping working-class Americans before. He’s a snake oil salesman. His willingness to speak a few harsh truths somehow overshadowed his bulwark of lies and empty boasts.
But the game has been changed in at least one positive way: The valid concerns of working-class Americans can no longer be shunted to the nether regions of the Internet by smearing them as “racist.” That’s the silver lining of Trump’s victory; it may be the only one.
When a local supermarket closes down, people scatter like ants seeking safety. Our area of Queens is seeing two stores close down over the next few weeks. It will be interesting to see where shoppers will go before these stores are reopened.
The scene in the Waldbaum’s on 20th Avenue in College Point, Queens was a sad one. More than half the shelves were empty. Where abundant displays of vegetables once stood were now vacant. Everything was on sale. Products in the aisles were consolidated onto a few shelves. As I was checking out, a woman asked if she could have my shopping basket when I was done; she couldn’t find another one anywhere.
Local supermarkets throughout Queens are being sold or closed after the A&P, which owned several supermarket chains, declared bankruptcy earlier this year. The local ones near where I live are supposed to be reopening. The Waldbaum’s will reportedly reopen as a Shoprite later this year. The Pathmark near our home is supposed to reopen as a Stop & Shop. Both are closing down in the meantime leaving people wondering where they are going to shop.
Food shopping, like much else in New York City, is a generally ethnically segregated affair. There was a Key Food in the shopping center right behind our home. It closed and is now Good Fortune, a grocery store that mainly caters to Chinese shoppers. All the announcements on the PA are in Chinese and many of the people who work there speak no English. Some of our neighbors refuse to go but it’s not a bad store. If you’re looking for fresh fish they have a lot of it, and they even kept a real deli, but if it’s too early in the day and the deli person isn’t there, none of the multitude of Chinese workers will help you other than to tell you in the best broken English they can that you are shit out of luck.
One thing I noticed when I first visited Good Fortune is that there is no cash register #4. The cash registers skip from register #3 to register #5. The Chinese believe that #4 is bad luck. The word for the number four is similar to the word for death in Chinese, so Chinese will go through great lengths not to have the number four in their addresses or phone numbers. Similarly in western cultures there is often no 13th floor of an office building because of bad luck associated with that number.
A few blocks down the street is the H-Mart, a Korean grocery store. It’s smaller and does not have a wide selection, though on Fridays you can go through there and practically eat an entire lunch’s worth of food in the form of free samples. This supermarket also has odd sections of electronics and other things you don’t normally find in a grocery store; maybe that’s a Korean thing. Their selection of non-Asian foods is pretty dismal and we rarely go there. A few years ago supermarket union workers protested outside of this store asking people to boycott it because it had no black or white employees. I haven’t seen these protesters in a while. I don’t normally go to this store but I’ve never seen a black or white employee there to this day.
So some people are not going to shop at the Asian supermarkets and they’ll soon get the chance to shop at their old stores, renovated and under new management. Some have taken to shopping at some of the smaller stores in Whitestone and some will shop at the nearby Target.
New York’s ethnic cauldron will continue to boil and churn. Luckily I don’t mind shopping among the Chinese and will stay well fed.
Filmmaker Spike Lee made news when he complained about the gentrification of Brooklyn recently, decrying the efforts of white interlopers to “bogart” black cultural enclaves like his native Fort Greene.
But Lee suffers from the one-sided view of gentrification that informs much of the current debate. Real estate investors have helped foment ethnic changes in neighborhoods for generations both in New York and beyond, and the “hipsterization” of today’s neighborhoods echo the block busting and white flight of decades ago.
Gentrification today usually refers to middle or upper-class whites moving in to non-white neighborhoods, causing property values to rise and the non-white residents getting priced out of living there. But in the not-so-distant past it meant poor non-whites moving into mostly white neighborhoods in numbers large enough to drive down property values and chase away the white residents.
For every black family being priced out of newly trendy neighborhoods in Brooklyn, there are a half dozen white families that were chased out of New York City years ago. My father’s family was one of them. My grandparents had seven children and were able to raise them all in the Fordham Road area of the Bronx starting in the late 1940s. By the time my youngest aunts were in high school in the 1970s, the area had become too dangerous and they left for Westchester.
The hipster Brooklynites that Spike Lee assails are indeed loathsome beings, and ironically they’ll be the first to agree with and trumpet Lee’s remarks. (One of the surest signs that you’re a hipster is that you don’t recognize that you’re a hipster.) But many of these new residents have only bought into the cinematic view of Brooklyn that Lee popularized in his films. They want the urbane cultural currency of living in a black neighborhood without any of the risk and inconveniences of living in a black neighborhood. They are miserable wretches. Fine.
But if Spike Lee is right to complain about the whites moving into Fort Greene, then the previous generations of whites who were chased out of Brooklyn were right to complain. If ethnic displacement is bad for blacks, then it’s bad for whites and everyone else. You can’t claim virtue in preserving black neighborhoods and not white neighborhoods. If it’s a worthy cause to keep Harlem, Fort Greene and Bed Stuy as they are, then it’s virtuous to keep Breezy Point, Woodlawn and Middle Village the way they are.
But no matter how you remember them, old neighborhoods are destined for change. The coming and going of people from New York is so great that just about every neighborhood and enclave looks ethnically different than it did decades ago.
That same rapid force of change that we would curse now is the same force that helped make the city what it was at our preferred moment. There is no golden age of New York City except in our own separate minds. The Roman Empire that gave us Rome is long gone, but Rome is still there. The American empire that helped birth New York City is fading now, but New York City will be here forever. That change is unavoidable; it’s helped New York survive.
The more you selectively rail against gentrification, the more hopeless your cause. In New York City, the worst place to live is in the past.