Editor’s Note: The following contains an excerpt from Scott McKay’s book The Revivalist Manifesto: How Patriots Can Win the Next American Era. It discusses a key concept which has appeared in several of his more recent columns to describe the decline of America’s cities.
With the 2022 midterm elections less than three weeks away and the alarming dysfunction of urban areas run by Democrats contributing in large measure to the public’s unease as expressed in countless right track/wrong track surveys, Scott says nothing about any of this is accidental.
Let’s call it Weaponized Governmental Failure. It’s the single most explicative factor in the breakdown of American political consensus in the 21st century, even though it’s been around since the latter part of the 20th century.
The simple definition of Weaponized Governmental Failure is this: it’s the deliberate refusal to perform the basic tasks of urban governance for a specific political purpose.
The crime and the graft and the potholes and the bad drainage, not to mention the spotty trash collection or nonexistent snow shoveling, aren’t incompetence. In fact, none of what you see in the American public sector is incompetence. The people responsible for it are quite highly educated and well-trained in their craft. You just need to understand what their craft is.
It’s a choice to do a poor job with the more mundane tasks of running a city, and an educated and purposeful choice at that. If you do those things effectively, after all, what you will get is middle-class voters moving in. Middle-class voters tend to choose to live in places where they can expect to get actual value out of their tax dollars — good roads, safe streets, functional drainage, decent schools, a friendly business climate, and a growing economy, among other things — and those things are hard to produce when you govern the way the Left does.
Put a different way, middle-class voters are a pain in the ass.
They want lots of things that make for unrewarding grunt work for a mayor, and a Democrat blowhard like a Mitch Landrieu or Ted Wheeler of Portland would rather spend his time on vacuous cultural aggressions like “social change” and offering wealth redistribution and excuses for the bad personal habits that cause so many people to be poor.
Not to mention tilting at bronze statues of better men long dead and nearly forgotten as a means of “making a difference.”
For a Landrieu, or a Kwame Kilpatrick, Marion Barry, Bill de Blasio, or Lori Lightfoot, it is no great loss if those middle-class voters declare themselves fed up and decamp to the suburbs. Their exodus simply makes for an electorate that is a lot less demanding and easier to control.
That “white flight” is a feature. It’s not a bug. And it isn’t all that white either. Those suburbs the folks are leaving for? Their minority population share usually increases as their population does. Why do you think that is? Simple: the black middle class has no more use for these woke urban Democrats than the white middle class does.
And it’s quite a mutual sentiment, to be sure.
The urban socialist Left wants a manageably small core of rich residents and a teeming mass of poor ones, and nothing in between. That’s what Weaponized Governmental Failure produces, and it’s a wide-scale success. New Orleans votes 90 percent Democrat. Philadelphia is 80 percent Democrat. Chicago is 85 percent. Los Angeles? Seventy-one percent. None of those cities will have a Republican mayor or city council again, or at least not in the foreseeable future.
Because there are very few middle-class voters left in the cities.
Rich voters don’t really ask for anything, because they can generally pay for whatever they need out of pocket (for example, their kids go to private schools, and they’ve got private security in their neighborhoods). All they require is that the WGF politicians give them access and the occasional favor, and they’ll not only vote for them but write campaign checks.
Poor voters? Please. They’re generally unsophisticated and susceptible to government dependency, and thus manipulating them is no great task. Give them the occasional crumbs from the table, and keep them busy with stupidities like bowdlerizing old monuments, or midnight basketball, or Black Lives Matter “defund the police” pandering, and you can get them to vote however you want without ever lifting a finger to provide real opportunity for social and economic advancement.
Or even by vigorously promoting policies and outcomes that actively hold back the social mobility of the urban poor.
You don’t really think the public schools in those cities spend $15,000 or $20,000 per student per year to turn out functional illiterates because the people involved in making all that money disappear are all idiots, do you?
Louis Miriani was the last Republican mayor of Detroit. He left office on January 2, 1962. When Miriani gave up the mayor’s gavel to Jerome Cavanagh following a major upset in the 1961 elections, Detroit was the richest, most productive city in the world with a population of nearly two million. It had the richest black community in the world and an industrial output that dwarfed the vast majority of nations on earth.
By 1967 Detroit was in flames thanks to the 12th Street Riots. Coleman Young, elected as the city’s first black mayor in 1973 and the third in a string of Democrat mayors, which as of this writing appears impossible to break, would oversee such an economic rout that a peculiar tradition called “Devil’s Night” was born. Arsonists would descend upon the city and burn large swaths of its dead industrial base the night before Halloween, with little response from the fire department. This went on for years.
Today, Detroit’s population stands at 639,000, less than a third of what it was when Miriani said his farewell. It’s one of the poorest cities in America; the poverty rate in Detroit in 2019 was 31 percent, compared to 13 percent in Michigan as a whole and 10.5 percent nationally. Detroit’s public schools spend some $14,750 per student per year, ranking among the top ten most expensive in America, and yet in 2018 just 5 percent of fourth graders were proficient in reading and 4 percent proficient in math, the worst scores in the nation.
The more middle-class voters you drive out of the city, and the fewer middle-class voters your public school system creates, the more pliable the electorate becomes.
A pliable electorate is one you can rule forever without successfully governing.
They rule over a ruin, but they rule.
And the Democrat Party barely exists outside of the ruins those urban machines produce. Check out any county-by-country or congressional district-by-congressional district electoral map from the 2016 or 2020 presidential elections, and what you’ll see is a few islands of blue in a sea of red. Even in blue states like Washington, Oregon, Illinois, and Minnesota most of the territory is solidly Republican; it’s the dense population of Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis, and the other big cities that always, or at least often, overwhelms Republican votes in the suburbs, exurbs, and small towns.