New York. In recent weeks, the debate in New York has raged again as to whether the city is now finally dead. This discussion is not new. It was run in the 1970s when the white middle class fled the decaying metropolis, leaving behind only the Bohemians and those who couldn’t afford to move to the suburbs.
It was conducted after 9/11, after the attacks on the World Trade Center, and then again during the boom of the Michael Bloomberg years, when increasingly only the financial elite could afford the city. And when it appeared that all forms of creativity and nonconformity were being squeezed out of the streets of Manhattan and squeezed to the edges.
Now it is Covid that is supposedly killing New York. The hedge fund manager James Altucher recently stated in a column for the “New York Post” that he wrote from his exile in Palm Beach that the city no longer had anything to offer him. Restaurants and theaters are closed, business life has frozen. The Midtown business district has degenerated into a ghost town.
Summer in New York
For those of us who did not flee the city, the discussion about the supposed death of New York sounds strange. Behind us lies a summer that was a lot – unusual, sometimes frightening, sometimes beguiling, sometimes loud, sometimes melancholy, sometimes enchanting. But there was one thing he wasn’t: lifeless.
If Altucher had spent an August afternoon in Washington Square Park, he wouldn’t be talking like that. New York was as lively there as ever. Around half a dozen jazz trios improvised fervently in the absence of other performance opportunities, while couples in love dreamed through the afternoon, old men played chess and skateboarders practiced their tricks.
In those days you could experience wonderful moments of happiness in the parks, on the streets and squares of the city, moments like those that the poet Walt Whitman described more than 160 years ago standing on the deck of the ferry between Manhattan and Brooklyn: “I am with you, men and women of a generation, I feel the way you feel when you look across the river and up into the sky, and as each of you is part of a crowd, I am part of a crowd. “
This summer, perhaps for the first time in decades, New York experienced a deep community, undisturbed by tourists and people like Altucher, who only want to be entertained or earn money in the city.
The USA a failed state?
Similar to the talk of the death of New York, when you live here you have a different lament that has been loud recently and that sounds not only, but above all, from Europe. America is finished, you can hear. The election and possible re-election of Donald Trump made the bankruptcy of the political system clear. The state violence against minorities demonstrates an omnipresent racism, which one has to understand not only as ineradicable, but possibly as constitutive for this country. In short: America can no longer be saved, especially if it were to re-elect Trump on November 3rd.
One can easily understand how such an impression can arise from a distance. After all, there is no shortage of pessimism in the US itself. The journalist George Packer recently described the country as a “failed state”. And black intellectuals like Frank Wilderson or Ta-Nehisi Coates have turned their backs on the project of reconciliation between black and white.
The USA’s enormous problems cannot be denied. The polarization of the country and the corruption of the political class have largely paralyzed the state apparatus. It has become difficult to convey to a new generation or those traditionally excluded from the political process why they should not become cynical. The fact that a man, whose talents lie in staging rough spectacles, has succeeded in hijacking this apparatus makes this desperation in American democracy even more understandable.
Barack Obama’s America has not disappeared
And of course one can also despair of the fact that a caste of white suprematists is holding on to power that has no interest in ending the systematic oppression of minorities. The massive imprisonment of African Americans, their systematic exclusion from American society and the daily murder of blacks by state power with largely impunity are scandals that certainly raise questions about the legitimacy and internal cohesion of US society.
Still, life here feels a lot less disastrous than any of this sounds.
When talking about America’s implosion, it is important to remember that the country did not become a completely different country overnight when President Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017. Barack Obama’s America, well-loved around the world, has not been swallowed by the earth.
Of the 138 million voters who traditionally voted for the Democratic Party, around 7 percent let themselves be carried away in 2016 to vote for Trump. Many of them, we know today, were protest voters who were dissatisfied with the neoliberal paradigm of the Washington power elite and wanted to try an outsider. Most of them regret it today and have already made up their minds to vote for Democrat Joe Biden this time around.
Not everyone wants Trump
That leaves 52 million Americans who probably voted for Trump and his party out of conviction and who at least partially share his reactionary, racist worldview. That’s a lot of people, but not nearly the majority in the country of around 330 million people.
Anyone who wants to understand the constitution of American society would prefer not to fixate on such numbers anyway. Rather, he observed in the summer how a broad coalition of Americans from all walks of life and corners of the population demonstrated fiery but peacefully against the ongoing racism in society. A deep understanding of what structural racism means was expressed in the protests. Those who are politically informed today – and that is a large part of the American population – understand the complexity and historical dimensions of racism in the country. And he’s in the process of thoroughly questioning his own racist stereotypes.
USA: More and more older voters want to vote for Democrat Joe Biden
US President Donald Trump is currently losing a group of voters who were firmly behind him four years ago.
And something else gives hope: the parties in Washington may have forgotten how to talk to one another and how to govern in the interests of the people. But since 2016 a new generation of politicians has emerged who have also managed to mobilize the electorate who never had hope of being represented by the political establishment. Among them are women like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush or Ilhan Omar, who want to make the country a place where people in the Bronx or East St. Louis no longer feel forgotten and left behind.
America is an adventure
Since the election of Trump, the thought has never actually occurred to me that America is finished, that the country as a system and as an idea has had its day. Such apocalyptic rhetoric seems to me more like the tool of people like Trump who are trying to bring about a deep crisis and fantasize about a better past to return to – to secure the power of their own class. “Make America Great Again” is the doctrine of a terrified caste of old white men.
These people’s America is an obsession. The America of the Americans, who I love and because of whom I still love this country, is something completely different. It is unfinished, forever in need of care and repair, a process of becoming and a risk. Obama has called it an “imperfect union”, a reference to the constitutional mandate to create a “more perfect” union. Generation after generation, over and over again.
In that sense, America is an adventure that never ends, a path to a new, new kind of community that is never finished. It is not nice that every now and then a ruffian comes and tries to trample all over the handicrafts. But it does not prevent people who are unwilling to give up their belief in this path from continuing on it undeterred.