Life in the Big City

Big cities have their songs, although I Left My Heart in San Francisco was written in 1953 in Brooklyn. George Cory and Douglass Cross were a bit homesick. Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn were a bit more professional with My Kind of Town – that was written on spec for a lighthearted movie set in Chicago. Randy Newman’s I Love L.A. is from his 1983 album Trouble in Paradise – it’s nasty and ambivalent – but New York, New York isn’t. That was the theme song to the 1977 Martin Scorsese film – he didn’t like it much but used it anyway – and now it’s wildly popular. It’s played at Yankees games and Mets games, and played just after the ball drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. It’s about shedding your small-town blues and waking up in the city that never sleeps. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere – and you will. It’s about defiance and ambition and pride. You can do it – whatever it is. Nothing can stop you. It’s very American. Workers were probably humming it when they cleared the rubble and built the new skyscraper that replaced the two World Trade Center towers. Don’t mess with New York. Don’t even bad-mouth New York. It’s the most defiantly American place in all of America.

Ted Cruz should have known this:

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump sparred over remarks Cruz made about Trump’s New York City roots during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate in South Carolina on Thursday evening.

Cruz suggested Trump may have “socially liberal” values because he is a New Yorker. Trump responded by calling Cruz’s comments “insulting.”

The background:

Trump’s ties to the city first came up on Tuesday when Cruz was asked in an interview about the fact that Trump has played Bruce Springsteen’s song “Born in the USA” at recent rallies. The song choice was widely seen as an effort to mock Cruz, since Trump has been raising the question of whether the fact that Cruz was born in Canada could affect his eligibility to become president. In that interview, Cruz said Frank Sinatra’s song “New York, New York” might be a more appropriate anthem, because Trump “comes from New York, and he embodies New York values.”

Cruz elaborated on this when moderator Maria Bartiromo asked him about the comment at the debate.

“I think most people know exactly what New York values are,” Cruz said.

“I am from New York. I don’t,” Bartiromo responded.

Cruz went on to explain. “Listen, there are many, many wonderful, wonderful working men and women in the state of New York, but everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal, are pro-abortion, are pro-gay marriage, focus around money and the media,” he said.

And unlike Iowa and South Carolina, there are all those Jews in New York City too, although Cruz didn’t mention that – even if other people immediately got it – but that set off Trump:

“So conservatives actually do come out of Manhattan – including William F. Buckley and others,” Trump said, adding, “Just so you understand.”

Trump said Cruz’s comments had “insulted a lot of people.”

“New York is a great place. It’s got great people. It’s got loving people, wonderful people. When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York. … You had two 110-story buildings come crashing down. I saw them come down. Thousands of people killed. And the cleanup started the next day. And it was the most horrific cleanup, probably, in the history of doing this construction,” Trump said.

And then Trump twisted the knife:

“I was down there, and I’ve never seen anything like it. And the people of New York fought and fought. And we saw more death and even the smell of death. Nobody understood it. And it was with us for months, the smell, the air,” said Trump. “We rebuilt downtown Manhattan, and everybody in the world watched, and everybody in the world loved New York, and loved New Yorkers. … I have to tell you, it was a very insulting statement that Ted made.”

Cruz said no more about New York, but the damage was done:

The New York Daily News made its opinion loud and clear, in a way only a New York City tabloid can: by placing a middle-finger-flipping Lady Liberty on the cover next to the big, bold words “Drop Dead, Ted.” In case there was any confusion as to how the paper feels about Cruz’s take on New York, a slightly smaller chunk of text at the bottom of the page reads, “Hey, Cruz: You don’t like N.Y. values? Go back to Canada!”

And this:

While the Daily News was telling Cruz to beat it, a former New York cop and 9/11 widower invited the Texas senator to come witness New York values for himself.

Jim Smith is a retired NYPD officer whose wife, fellow Officer Moira Smith was killed in the World Trade Center collapse after leading hundreds of injured people to safety on Sept. 11, 2001. According to the Daily Beast, Smith posted on Facebook that he was “disappointed” by Cruz’s “disparaging remarks about New York values somehow being different from Iowa and New Hampshire values.”

Smith then invited Cruz to “come to the National 9-11 Memorial and Museum and see for yourself, and perhaps learn something about the values of New Yorkers and the heroes who defended American values on September 11, 2001.”

And this:

Washington Post writer and lifelong New Yorker Philip Bump extended a very different kind of invitation to Cruz.

“I invite you to come to New York and live in a small apartment in an unfancy neighborhood for a month,” Bump wrote Thursday evening. “I invite you to come and figure out your favorite bodega and which train car to get in to optimize how quickly you can get back out of the station, and to wait in line for a doctor at one of the city’s many weird health-care facilities. I invite you to experience New York City and learn about New Yorkers, beyond the people who pay $2,700 to shake your hand or who offer you water in green rooms.”

And this:

One of the harshest reactions to Cruz’s comments came from fellow Republican Sen. Peter King, a conservative who was born in Manhattan and raised in Queens. In a statement to CNN Thursday, King said, “Memo to Ted Cruz: New York Values are the heroes of 9/11; the cops who fight terror, and the people you ask for campaign donations. Go back under a rock.”

Ah well, as John Cassidy (at the New Yorker) notes, Cruz did have his moments:

Cruz, who is running neck-and-neck with Trump in the Iowa polls, had a good start to the night, parrying a question about a report, in the Times, that revealed that he and his wife had taken out, and failed to disclose, a loan from Goldman Sachs to help fund his 2012 Senate campaign, during which he had portrayed himself as an enemy of Wall Street and Wall Street bailouts. In his response, Cruz described the failure to disclose the loan to the Federal Election Commission as a “paperwork error,” continuing, “If that’s the best the New York Times has got, they better go back to the well.”

Fox Business Network’s Neil Cavuto, one of the hosts, then asked Cruz about whether, having been born in Canada, he is eligible to be President. This is the so-called “birther question,” which Trump has recently raised. “You know, back in September, my friend Donald said that he had had his lawyers look at this from every which way, and there was no issue there. There was nothing to this birther issue,” Cruz replied. “Now, since September, the Constitution hasn’t changed. But the poll numbers have.”

There followed a lengthy interchange, in which Cruz displayed the verbal skills that made him a champion debater in college, and Trump was reduced to claiming he had only brought it up to spare the Republican Party the trouble of a possible court battle if the Democrats were to sue to prevent Cruz from taking office. Asked to respond to this argument, Cruz said, dismissively, “I’ve spent my entire life defending the Constitution before the U.S. Supreme Court. And I’ll tell you, I’m not going to be taking legal advice from Donald Trump.”

Cruz clearly bested Trump in this exchange.

Call it even, but the New York thing followed that:

Trump was several times interrupted by applause. One of those clapping for him, the cameras showed, was Cruz. Evidently realizing that he had exposed himself to being cast on the wrong side of 9/11, and that Trump had exploited the opportunity with great skill and apparent sincerity, the Texas Senator tried to make the best of it. But the damage had been done.

This was Trump’s best moment in any of the debates. From then on, Cruz and Trump mostly left each other alone and concentrated on the other candidates. In another notable exchange later in the debate, on immigration and taxes, Cruz got into it with Marco Rubio, who gave his usual polished performance but didn’t do anything to change the impression that he is, perhaps, a bit too slick and rehearsed.

But the others didn’t matter:

Rubio also had a series of spirited exchanges with Chris Christie, who may be his main rival for the role of representing the wing of the GOP that won’t vote for Trump or Cruz. From where I was sitting, Christie appeared to get the better of these exchanges, barely, but that was partly because he slipped in a couple of dubious claims, saying that he never wrote a check to Planned Parenthood or supported the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

Jeb Bush, for his part, made one of his trademark verbal slipups early on, saying that “terrorism is on the run” when he evidently meant to say that it is on the rise. After that, though, he made some sensible points – too sensible for this arena. Noting that the United States needs the support of Arab nations in the fight against ISIS, he called on Trump to rethink his proposal for a blanket ban on Muslims entering the country. “We’re running for the Presidency of the United States here,” Bush said. “You cannot make rash statements and expect the rest of the world to respond as though, well, it’s just politics.”

Trump, of course, refused to yield an inch. Not giving a fig what the rest of the world thinks is a central plank of his campaign.

And so it goes, as Josh Marshall notes:

This debate had a lot of drama and pyrotechnics. But debates lead to elections. And elections are zero-sum exercises. Everyone who does well must do so at someone else’s expense. From that perspective, I think there were only three real players in this exercise: Trump, Cruz and Rubio. Trump wins, Cruz loses a bit of ground but not much and the clock continues to run out on Rubio.

Trump was the strongest, both in absolute terms and relative to what he needed to do, given his current standing in the polls. After a somewhat slow start he was a dominant force throughout the debate. It’s been a subtle process but he’s no longer that freak show who is bizarrely running up the poll numbers. He’s the frontrunner. He’s being treated as such. His early debates were crude and aggressive; the middle ones he fell back and became more restrained. Now he dominates the conversation in a way that seems familiar both to him and his competitors. The 9/11 evocation was a complete shutdown of Cruz. That was a big moment. He didn’t do nearly as well on the birth eligibility question – in part because he wasn’t terribly well prepared… But even though he handled it clumsily, I think Trump did more damage than it may seem. He commanded a huge audience for a couple minutes hitting a central point: Cruz may not be eligible. The Democrats will sue. It’s a risk… the law is not that clear cut – far less than I had realized. That will become more clear over coming days. So Cruz’s claim that it is a silly or baseless issue (an extremely high standard) won’t hold up. And Trump, albeit less ably than he might have, seeded the question for a wide audience. That will matter in the coming days and weeks going into the key early trials.

And then there’s Marco Rubio:

There’s no one here who can breeze through a few hundred words and have it seem polished, direct and coherent the way that he can. But he’s done that in pretty much every debate so far. And it hasn’t helped him. … I also think he stumbled in his effort to explain his turnabout on comprehensive immigration reform as justified by the rise of ISIS. That doesn’t pass the laugh test.

Stepping back though, I don’t think Rubio had a bad debate. He seemed as fine as he has in any of the others. But right now, he’s on the verge of being eclipsed as a real contender in the race. Cruz has taken and continues to hold the ‘alternative to Trump’ position that Rubio should have claimed. I saw nothing in this debate that will change that trajectory. I think we come out of this debate with it still being a Trump/Cruz race, with Trump in a somewhat stronger position than he went in, Cruz slightly weaker and the clock running out on Marco Rubio.

And then there’s the more subtle dynamic:

Always in Republican politics but especially in this cycle, much of the meta-messaging of the campaign is about dominating and being dominated. It is the central theme of Trump’s whole message and he has used his competitors as the canvas on which he paints the picture – first Walker, then Bush, Fiorina, now Cruz. Trump didn’t just catch Cruz out with 9/11, he crushed him. He dominated him. Completely… you can see Cruz’s face start subtly to wilt as he sees what’s happening and is helpless to defend himself. And not half way into Trump’s assault Cruz starts clapping. Cheering the man who is in the midst of eviscerating him. That kind of weakness can’t go unanswered in the battle to be the nominee the Republican base is looking for. That’s why Cruz is running around so stung today.

That is also what Francis Wilkinson sees:

The most primal scene in American politics is a debate stage, where candidates wrestle in rhetorical mud for dominance. Of course, when the candidates are auditioning for the presidency, their aggression is sublimated, their rapiers metaphorical. (When political attacks merge with the physical kind, the combatants are no longer in a democratic republic as Americans understand the term.)

Among the innovations Donald Trump has brought to the Republican Party – along with an infusion of reality TV culture, a cult of personality and a refurbished authoritarianism – is a cruder brand of machismo than presidential-level politics has generally been willing to indulge.

This should come as no surprise:

In early debates, Trump’s interruptions, derision and bluster seemed to rattle Jeb Bush, a largely successful two-term governor of one of the nation’s largest states. (Politico: “Bush Allies Worry: Is Jeb Tough Enough?”) But Bush, a policy sophisticate, is now getting the hang of things. The super PAC supporting his candidacy, run by a veteran consultant who has known Bush for more than two decades, this week released an Internet ad focused on … Rubio’s boots.

There was chatter on Twitter about the ad’s stupidity. But it achieved its goal. It featured a rework of the 1966 Nancy Sinatra hit “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” (among core GOP voters, 1966 was yesterday) and a pair of gyrating boots like the Rubio pair that had caused a stir. The lyrics were retooled to highlight Rubio’s flip-flops. The combination of the twirling high heels and Rubio’s inability to stand his ground on key policies painted the Florida senator as a girly-man. In a subsequent interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” the 6’3″ Bush personally advanced the attack. He didn’t need heels himself, Bush said, because “I don’t have a height issue.” (Rubio is 5’10”.)

Yes, it’s absurd, but it is what it is:

Rubio increasingly risks being on the wrong end of a showdown. To survive the faux Wild West of today’s GOP, he’ll have to man up – or, more to the point, pretend to in a manner instantly recognizable from Hollywood melodrama. Rubio can keep his comfortable life as a well-groomed lawyer living in an upscale West Miami neighborhood. But when he takes the stage to debate, he’d do well to don a ten-gallon hat and a six-shooter.

Michelle Goldberg says no, that’s not it at all:

For decades, our politics assumed the moral superiority of small Southern and Midwestern towns over decadent, immoral East Coast cities. This was true of Democrats as well as Republicans; Bill Clinton and Al Gore rose in no small part because of their Southern roots. Politicians of both parties spent election season pretending to be NASCAR devotees who love nothing more than scarfing deep-fried Twinkies at county fairs. Now, however, the two leading candidates for the Democratic nomination are Hillary Clinton, whose headquarters is in Brooklyn, and Bernie Sanders, who was born there and sounds like it. The front-runner for the Republican nod is a brash Manhattan real estate developer. New Yorkers are dominating this election.

The political embrace of New York and New Yorkers is not just about 9/11. In the years after the towers came down, conservatives regularly sneered at the cultural predilections of East Coast elites even as they appropriated New York City’s tragedy for their own ends. Remember the famous Club for Growth ad against Howard Dean? It featured an elderly couple outside of what looked like a small-town diner lambasting Dean’s “tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times–reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show.”

What’s the matter with Kansas? Tom Frank’s 2004 best-seller was all about this sort of cultural populism. Conservatives, he wrote, sought “to cast the Democrats as the party of a wealthy, pampered, arrogant elite that lives as far as it can from real Americans; and to represent Republicanism as the faith of the hardworking common people of the heartland, an expression of their unpretentious, all-American ways just like country music and NASCAR.”

Rather than defending cities, Democrats often went on the defense when Republicans played the hayseed card. That changed with Barack Obama, who proved that a cosmopolitan sophisticate could win the presidency despite a rumored, much-discussed affinity for arugula. (If you’re too young to remember the 2008 election, this was actually a big thing.) Democrats have now fully embraced their identity as the party of liberal urbanites.

Trump decided to grab that back, and Goldberg reminds us that the country knew Trump through The Apprentice, which debuted in 2004 with Trump’s voiceover – “New York. My city. Where the wheels of the global economy never stop turning. A concrete metropolis of unparalleled strength and purpose that drives the business world. Manhattan is a tough place. This island is the real jungle.”

That resonated with folks, because they knew their own sad little lives all too well:

The essential story of the religious right is that wholesome small-town values are under attack from immoral big-city globalists. That’s the narrative Cruz invoked last night, and it surely still has currency among the Republican electorate. Trump, however, speaks to people who know that American small towns aren’t so wholesome anymore – that they are, in fact, places of widespread social breakdown and desperation. He describes a country that’s “going to hell,” with decaying infrastructure, massive unemployment, and a growing heroin problem.

Trump speaks to their despair and promises to use his New York deal-making magic to turn them from losers into winners. He’s not telling people that their towns are better than New York, because they know that they’re not. Rather than channeling their ire towards smirking urban elitists, he directs it outward, toward Muslims and immigrants. It’s a new sort of culture war, one for people who no longer believe that their little communities are models for everyone else.

In short, their little-town blues are fading away. They’re gonna make a brand-new start of it, maybe not in old New York, but somehow. That’s why Donald Trump plays that song at his rallies, and Conor Friedersdorf puts it this way:

Aren’t many qualities that Trump supporters like about the candidate very New York City? He’s big, loud, brash, unafraid to brag, and full of superlatives. He speaks his mind and has the high opinion of himself. He’s comfortable with being pushy and with open conflict. He values ruthlessness and winners.

Trump supporters like those qualities much, much more than they dislike departures from conservative ideology and social mores.

Yeah, there are a lot of jerks in New York. So, you got a problem with that? Deal with it, asshole. Trump took the Tea Party’s crude belligerence and turned it urban. Ted Cruz never knew what hit him, but that’s life in the big city, and what any of this has to do with being an effective president is unclear. Maybe that doesn’t matter anymore. There are dark days ahead.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Life in the Big City

  1. Dick Bernard says:

    In my growing up years in North Dakota (1940-58), the largest town we lived in had 230 people, and that was a large town in my context. In the year just past I have spent a great deal of time in a North Dakota town of 1000, attending to the affairs of my last Uncle, who died Feb. 2. There’s been no formal survey, but my guess is that most of my large midwest family is reliably Christian Conservative. But if Bernie were the Republican candidate, they’d think he was alright.
    I know small town thinking.
    I wonder what these “real American small town” believers in Trump and Cruz would say if the two of them spoke identical rhetoric but were avowed Democrat Liberals. No need to answer that.
    There is sanity out there somewhere, or so I like to tell myself. There are a great plenty of reasonable people who, when the time comes, will think reasonably. Now, if only they take time to vote in the primaries, and in November….

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