I Can’t Handle the Truth Edition
It turns out that Progressive policies don’t just create hell-holes in far away countries like Venezuela. Here in the good ole United States there are cities and whole states that have been so dominated by radical Progressivism that they too are becoming at least Purgatory-ish for their inhabitants. For example, in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle the homeless population has both skyrocketed and metastasized to the point of unbearability for the general population. In Chicago the city’s failure to control gang violence and deliver minimal education in their public schools is an unending scandal.
It’s gotten so bad that even some Progressive activists have noticed. However, this realization creates dangerous cognitive dissonance. For a Progressive activist doesn’t just believe that their policy prescriptions are undeniably the best, but also that they possess ultimate intellectual and moral superiority. Therefore to even approach the possibility that their policies, let alone themselves, might be faulty is unthinkable.
So how to square this circle? One noteworthy recent attempt was made by Farhad Manjooopinion pieceAmerica’s Cities Are Unlivable. Blame Wealthy Liberals.” Mr. Manjoo gets off to a good start in his first three paragraphs.
To live in California at this time is to experience every day the cryptic phrase that George W. Bush once used to describe the invasion of Iraq: “Catastrophic success.” The economy here is booming, but no one feels especially good about it. When the cost of living is taken into account, billionaire-brimming California ranks as the most poverty-stricken state, with a fifth of the population struggling to get by. Since 2010, migration out of California has surged.
The basic problem is the steady collapse of livability. Across my home state, traffic and transportation is a developing-world nightmare. Child care and education seem impossible for all but the wealthiest. The problems of affordable housing and homelessness have surpassed all superlatives — what was a crisis is now an emergency that feels like a dystopian showcase of American inequality.
Just look at San Francisco, Nancy Pelosi’s city. One of every 11,600 residents is a billionaire, and the annual household income necessary to buy a median-priced home now tops $320,000. Yet the streets there are a plague of garbage and needles and feces, and every morning brings fresh horror stories from a “Black Mirror” hellscape …
However, from these initial sweeping (and damning) observations the article’s scope suddenly narrows to a commentary on affordable housing. The issues of public defecation and drug use, crime and disease simply evaporate. Yes, Mr. Manjoo continues to stick it to the wealthy Progressive left, but the focus has shifted to complaining that they aren’t sufficiently living up to their stated beliefs on urban planning.
It was another chapter in a dismal saga of Nimbyist urban mismanagement that is crushing American cities. Not-in-my-backyardism is a bipartisan sentiment, but because the largest American cities are populated and run by Democrats — many in states under complete Democratic control — this sort of nakedly exclusionary urban restrictionism is a particular shame of the left.
By the article’s end a reader is left with the impression that if these unlivable cities would just modify their zoning laws the problems would be mostly solved.
Reading opposition to SB 50 and other efforts at increasing density, I’m struck by an unsettling thought: What Republicans want to do with I.C.E. and border walls, wealthy progressive Democrats are doing with zoning and Nimbyism. Preserving “local character,” maintaining “local control,” keeping housing scarce and inaccessible — the goals of both sides are really the same: to keep people out.
By this sleight of mind Mr. Manjoo is able to acknowledge that which he sees without ever considering the implications for his Progressive ideology and his presumed personal superiority. This purposeful myopia is a necessary consequence of Progressivism’s intentions-based reasoning and self-righteousness. For, to even acknowledge the possibility of failure in policy or reasoning is to place in doubt their self-image of unquestionable superiority. For Mr. Manjoo and many other Progressive activists this is the black hole whose event horizon cannot be ever crossed. To do so would cause their entire identity to be obliterated. Better to let the people in our cities suffer than for a Progressive activist to experience that worst of all fates — admitting that they aren’t perfect.