NEW YORK — This is the city and the new American experience that too many white suburban and rural voters loathe. Good leadership and smart taxpayer investments modernized the subways, scrubbed clean the shoreline, rebuilt Harlem, and turned Brooklyn into a multi-racial millennial hot spot for good jobs and housing. Crime is down, way down. City revenues are up. Voters here support an African American president, public education, gun control, gay marriage, the science of climate change, clean energy, immigration reform, and medical marijuana. Intelligent design describes a new energy-efficient office building, not an explanation for the origins of the 6,000-year-old Earth.
New York, in sum, is the capital of the newly dynamic America that is moving on from the era of dysfunction and disinvestment, the period of national reckoning and stagnation that followed 9/11 and the Great Recession. It turns out that many cities and regions across the country are thriving again. American democracy still works in places that reward insightful and strong leaders, and have replaced ideology and revenge with shared values and some measure of common decency.
Two hundred miles south of here, in political Washington, D.C., the nation watches in fascination and no small measure of horror the desperate acts of a minority — white suburban and rural voters — who either feel boxed in or have been ruthlessly misled. It’s probably a mix of both.
Fear, though, has led these voters to countenance an extortion attempt — demanding the rollback of the healthcare law in exchange for opening the government and approving a debt ceiling increase. Having lost an election that considered the healthcare law as a primary issue, the extortion bid displays contempt for law, democracy, and precedence. These same voters would find such tactics intolerable from foreign leaders seeking influence in the United States. And they certainly would recoil from these tactics if they were deployed by a Democrat or Al Qaeda.
Still, most House Republican voters support what their representatives are doing. Despite what Democrats here in New York hope, and mainstream editorialists predict — that the GOP will pay for this recklessness at the polls — I’m not convinced that is true. GOP voters are calling for their House representatives to be more strident, not less. Giving up is a sign of weakness. The disdain that GOP voters have for government will not recede because of this manufactured fiscal and political crisis.
What it’s producing is not just divided government. It’s splitting the nation. City from suburb. North and West from South and Plains states. White from every other American. Baby Boom from millennials. It is draining the country’s ingenuity and imagination. Anger and frustration, stridency and recklessness are hardening the lines between a blue America and a red America. Having failed to convince a majority of Americans that “government is the problem,” the next apparent goal of the right wing minority is promote the politics of division. That goal, it seems to me, is precisely what GOP voters and their elected representative are after.