Friday, November 05, 2004

Shock and Awe

New York is a city under siege. It is a blue island in a sea of red, and many New Yorkers are experiencing true shock and awe. New Yorkers are so out of touch with the rest of America that most of them do not know anybody who voted for George Bush. I got in an argument with a colleague of mine on Monday night over this issue. I told him I was going to Pennsylvania to walk precincts for John Kerry because I thought he was in trouble and Bush was likely to win. The guy looked at me like I had three heads.

“No way,” he said, “nobody will vote for George Bush. Nobody is that stupid.” I replied that he only thought that because he lived in New York, and then I used a line on him I feed my students all the time: “New York is not America.”

He was deeply offended, because he thought I was saying that he was not an American and, while many in the South and Midwest might argue this to be the case, I was not. I simply meant that most of America operates under a different paradigm then New York does, and Tuesday proved me right.

George Bush won just 24% of the vote in New York City, and that’s when you factor in Staten Island, the only republican borough. In Manhattan, where I teach and where the Republican convention sparked a week of street protests in August, John Kerry captured 82% of the vote, Ralph Nader 1%. George Bush not a measly 17%.

George Bush is not simply disliked here he is reviled. He is hated. He is the anti-Christ. And people in New York just don’t understand how so much of the rest of the country can be so wrong. New Yorkers, the cockiest breed of human being on the planet, are so sure of their rightness in everything that they know in their hearts it all must be some terrible mistake. They can’t possibly be out of step with the rest of the country so they assume that the rest of the country is out of step with reality. New Yorkers just can’t be so far off base, can they? I mean, isn’t this the capital of the world, the city where all American culture begins and ends? Well, yes and no. The money begins here but God lives in Dixie.

New Yorkers are expressing their disbelief in terms of anger. Everybody has been talking about the election. Walking around the city I have heard the same conversation over and over again, and everyone agrees on whose fault it is “Those idiot rednecks shouldn’t be allowed to vote,” some of them say. “The fly over zone is full of stupid people.” Obviously anyone with a brain could see what an idiot George Bush was, how dangerous, how evil. East coast liberal elite? You bet, and damn proud of it. New Yorkers are just smarter then everybody else, and the election proved it.

Others, a bit less damning, say that Midwesterners just don’t understand the world because they are so isolated. Again and again my students have said “these people know nothing of the world. What about Europe? What about Japan? When I go over there for spring break I’m going to get attacked!” That idea may not be too far off base. New York, home to the United Nations, “crossroads of the world,” a city of immigrants since it was founded, has a much stronger connection to the rest of the world any other US City. They care that America is reviled in the rest of the world and, obviously, a lot of other places don’t.

Joseph Berger in an article in the New York Times on Thursday quoted New Yorkers who complained that the people in the Midwest obviously don’t care about New York. They believe that President Bush makes their city more dangerous, that his unilateral foreign policy will lead to more terrorist attacks not fewer, and New Yorkers know they are the main target. My students echoed these sentiments yesterday. Here, in the city where the 9/11 attacks took place, where 3,000 fellow New Yorkers were murdered by terrorists, George Bush’s appeal to patriotism and fighting terror didn’t just fall on deaf ears, it was openly mocked.

But it was the idea that so much of the country is willing to support a conservative Christian agenda that shocked New Yorkers most of all. It’s not that there are not people of faith in New York City, but they are certainly in the minority here and they often temper their faith with a worldly acceptance of diversity. “They’re morons,” my best friend Charlie screamed, “Every one of these Christian idiots should be shot!”

Of course, they aren’t really morons. The Midwest, where the land grant college was invented, has always been the most highly educated part of the country, and one of the most worldly. They know what is going on in the world and they have well thought out opinions as to why they voted for Bush. In spite of it being the big news story, and in spite of the fact that gay-marriage bans obviously helped Bush at the polls, especially in Ohio, it wasn’t just a Christian vote that won Bush the election. 22% of the electorate listed moral values as their biggest issue, and of those 80% voted for Bush, but that only means that 16.16% of the electorate voted for Bush based on his moral positions. While that’s bigger then the percentage who voted on jobs, terrorism or Iraq, it’s not a whole lot in a supposedly Christian nation. But still this is the issue that worries people here most. A friend of mine said that gays must feel like he Goldsteins of Munich in 1938. One lesbian I know agreed, “I now have no rights under the law. Civil liberties will continue to erode for every body. I’m appalled.” She insists it is only a matter of time before the government begins taking children away from gay couples. New Yorkers equate George Bush with George Orwell and Christian conservatives with Nazis, and not without some justification. Richard Burr who was voted into the seat John Edwards vacated to run for Vice President, voted to ban adoption by gay couples in the District of Columbia while a member of the House of Representatives, and has said that gays should not be allowed to be teachers. The conservatives, high on a victory they see as theirs, are pushing an agenda that could easily lead to the re-criminalization of homosexuality. The Supreme Court only recently struck down the anti-sodomy laws in Texas, and if Bush has his way on Supreme Court appointments that will be quickly reversed. Both justices Scalia and Thomas, Bush’s ideal jurists, voted to uphold the law. They also voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, to allow school prayer and to allow states the establishment of religion (they hold that the bill of rights applies only to federal law). A lot of my gay friends are beginning to fear the midnight knock.

Oh, you think they’re being melodramatic. This quote just came over the internet. I have no idea if it’s accurate, but it is interesting:

"The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and cooperation.It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundationof our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life ... "---Adolph Hitler

None of this may seem to matter in the suburbs of Ohio and Missouri—though I have gay friends in committed gay marriages in both places--but in a city that thrives on diversity, where you are sure to have gay neighbors and friends, some of whom are married to one another, a city where Jews, Muslims, protestants, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, pagans, Rastafarians, atheists, witches and even the occasional Zoroastrian mingle every day, the idea of a bible thumping elite telling people how to live their lives is seen as frighteningly fascist.

People usually think in geographic terms. They like to visualize relationships based on physical space. But a graphic representation of the voting makes New Yorkers feel even worse. All that red! Just three little patches of blue in a sea of red. It looks like the stands at a NASCAR race—all Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans in red and just a few Jeff Gordon fans in blue. New Yorkers usually don’t admit that there is anything of value west of the Hudson, and this will only strengthen their provincialism. The New York times on their website had an interesting graphic that they published in the special elections section on Thursday. It allowed you to compare two electoral maps, one in which the red states take up about 90% of the US, and another where the states are represented on a graph in which each square represents one electoral vote. In other words, they are sized by population. In this graphic the red and blue are much closer. You can switch back and forth from one to another. It is fascinating. Check it out at

I also received another interesting graphic today, a map showing “The United States of Canada,” a country in blue which includes California, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, New York Pennsylvania and New England. Drawn this way the US of C would have a continuous border, save for Hawaii floating off there in the pacific. Below this is a red country called “Jesusland.” This is the new world order.

New Yorker’s have to face facts: the people living between I-5 and I-95, with a few exceptions around the lake Michigan, live in a totally different world. They operate on a different paradigm. And they just totally kicked New York’s ass.


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