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Current Affairs

A Magazine of Politics and Culture

Moderates, Not Leftists, Have Created the Crises in Democratic Cities

The right claims that radical leftists have run ‘woke’ cities into the ground. But this is false. Moderate policies over the last few decades have created the conditions for crime, drug use, and homelessness to increase in Democratic cities.

The American city is in disorder. Demented homeless people roam needle-strewn streets. Shoplifters smash windows in broad daylight. Soft-on-crime prosecutors let dangerous criminals walk free. And radical, far-left policy elites let it all happen. 

So claim conservative media and politicians, who never miss an opportunity to promote Law and Order. “Crime infests our cities,” claims Ron DeSantis’ campaign announcement video, which is soundtracked to horror movie-esque pizzicato strings. Donald Trump’s proposed second-term agenda consists of mandatory stop-and-frisk, instituting the death penalty as punishment for drug dealing, and sending the military into big cities to fight street crime. (They’ll stay there “until law and order is restored.”) 

In a campaign ad titled “We Need to Restore Sanity Across This Country,” filmed in San Francisco, a perturbed-looking DeSantis describes scenes of open-air drug use and public defecation, bemoaning that the city has “really collapsed because of leftist policies.” This notion—that American cities have been driven to the brink by a cabal of radical, “woke,” police-defunding, city-ruining “far-left Democrats”—is central to the larger narrative about the decay of America’s cities. It has even made some headway among moderate Democrats like Bill Maher and New York City Mayor Eric Adams: it allows them to blame the left for the moderate center’s decades-long policy failures.

But these cities’ issues with homelessness and crime aren’t the left’s fault. Instead, they’re the direct consequence of policies inflicted upon these cities by fundamentally conservative leadership over the course of decades. These people have a fundamental approach to policymaking: that policing, austerity, and the free market are one-size-fits-all solutions to a city’s every problem. And that dogma has had severe consequences.

According to the likes of Fox News, the Heritage Foundation, Donald Trump, and the New York Post, the cities most harmed by the radical left include Portland, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago, among many others. It’s a narrative anathema to progress, and one rapidly becoming a fixture of American politics, both on the right and the center. While so many leaders are quick to make electoral hay out of public health and safety crises—and mobilize that sentiment in favor of the very politics that caused them—we must instead address these crises with humane and just policies. And we must put this false, left-blaming narrative to rest.

Trouble in “Woke”-topia

Portland, per the Trump Twitter Archive, is the subject of 80 Trump tweets. It’s a famously progressive city, branded a “woke-topia” by “wokeless sports reporting” media site Outkick (fun fact: they’re owned by Fox Corporation). As the narrative goes, Portland was the “crown jewel of the West Coast” until woke mayor Ted Wheeler defunded the police, gave carte blanche to window-smashing leftist mobs, and let a zombie horde of homeless people terrorize the city. Now, the average day in a Portlander’s life consists of “dodging stray bullets, losing catalytic converters to thieves, and sidestepping tents.” According to Bill Maher, the school curriculum is “woke.” According to Fox News, the justice system is “woke.” Even the police department, per anonymous internal feedback on a training program, consists of “Marxist ideologues.”

I recently visited Portland and found myself neither dodging stray bullets nor losing car parts to thieves. Like many major U.S. cities, Portland experienced a rise in violent and property crime in the first year of the pandemic, which appears to be (also like many major cities) returning to pre-pandemic levels; its crime rate is nowhere near that of America’s most dangerous cities. Despite the right’s hyperbole, however, Portland undoubtedly has a homelessness crisis. County-level data recently showed 6,297 homeless Portlanders, and the city ranks 12th among the cities with the largest homeless populations in America. In the face of these facts, one would expect a progressive, “woke” mayor to, say, make even the slightest attempt to house people. Not so.

Ted Wheeler’s response to Portland’s homelessness crisis has consisted of making homelessness illegal, and then sending the cops to sweep encampments. Wheeler’s sweeps are inhumane, traumatizing, and fundamentally ineffective: forcing people out of sight, rather than housing them, doesn’t actually solve anything. Multnomah County data also shows that, of the roughly 1,700 Portlanders swept from encampments over a 10-month period ending in February 2023, only 11 percent are currently in temporary shelter—just 1 percent have been permanently housed.

And, according to one Portland civil rights lawyer, the city’s sweeps are also criminal: contractors have been caught stealing swept belongings and taking them to the dump, in flagrant violation of Oregon law. In one case, the family of a 57-year-old woman who died after a sweep of her campsite sued a city contractor for wrongful death, claiming that loss of medication in the camp sweep led to the woman’s death

Much of Wheeler’s response to the homelessness crisis has been contracted out to unaccountable private security firms, which rule Wild-West style over “Enhanced Services Districts” encompassing vast swaths of Portland. A 2020 city audit found that the city “provides little oversight of [these] privately funded public services” and, at the time of writing, had never received or reviewed budgets, internal audits, or incident reports from these private security firms. (It has taken the city three years to respond to the audit, an effort which appears to be stalling into nonexistence.) Advocates say that homeless people living in ESDs are subject to a level of arrest for low-level offenses as much as 22 times higher than in other parts of Portland: their raison d’être may very well be to allow for the more efficient harassment of Portlanders for the horrible crime of taking a nap in public.

The result, predictably, is a humanitarian crisis spiraling out of control, as Wheeler piles on false promises while repeatedly displacing an already struggling homeless community. None of this sounds particularly progressive. This, of course, begs the question: what does the actual progressive response to homelessness looks like?

Thankfully, this very magazine has the answers. As a wonderful Current Affairs piece explained (although all Current Affairs pieces are wonderful), Housing First policies like those implemented in Helsinki, Vienna, Columbus, Salt Lake City, and Medicine Hat, Alberta have a near-universal track record of dramatically reducing homelessness. Their conceit is simple: that the solution to homelessness is to immediately, unconditionally, and permanently house people, rather than dragging them through a quixotic network of shelters, jails, and hospitals. Although implementing a policy like Housing First is harder in America than in a country with a robust social safety net like Finland or Austria, if Portland were to implement Housing First, it certainly wouldn’t be the first major American city to do so. Lack of resources isn’t an excuse in Portland: Columbus’s city budget per-capita is far tighter than Portland’s.1 

Further complicating the narrative of Portland as a “woke-topia” is Wheeler’s police department’s inexcusable conduct toward the very protestors the right would consider “woke.” Even prior to the Trump administration’s effective occupation of the city beginning in July 2020—under the pretense of protecting federal property from “anarchists and agitators,” which generated an endless stream of hellish images of violent repression—the Portland Police Bureau’s own conduct against peaceful protesters had hardly been different. Under Wheeler’s tenure, and beyond, Portland police have long demonstrated a bias against left-wing, anti-fascist protestors, while turning their backs to right-wing violence. As Itchy Trigga, a local rapper and organizer, told Jacobin, “The Portland police was coming with the same types of brutality. … The only difference is there are more feds.” 

In 2018, police fired explosives and chemical weapons upon a peaceful crowd counterprotesting the far-right Patriot Prayer group, prompting a lawsuit by a woman who received third-degree burns from an explosive device. Her case is one of many filed by the ACLU against the city on behalf of peaceful left-wing protestors, who have been disproportionately brutalized by Portland police. In one case, police abruptly and without warning knocked multiple protestors to the ground, inexplicably singling out and beating a woman with a baton. In another, cops beat a man who was already handcuffed. And, in another high-profile case, police tackled a peacefully protesting 5-foot-1 grandma to the ground, leaving the woman with a broken nose and bloodied face.

Later, Wheeler’s police crowd-control liaison, Jeff Niiya, was caught colluding with Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson, sharing logistical details about upcoming left-wing protests. (In response to the incident, the mayor’s instinct led him to suggest, at first, that the police bureau—don’t laugh—investigate itself.)

I defer to your judgment as to whether a supposedly “woke,” “leftist” mayor’s police department would display a clear pattern of bias against left-wing protestors while letting the far-right off nearly scot-free.

“The bullshit that has destroyed our city”

Right-wing thinkpieces on the supposed demise of San Francisco at the hands of the woke mob are a dime a dozen—the “Woke Mind Virus Destroys San Francisco” op-ed is practically its own genre of pseudo-journalism. They all follow roughly the same formula, titled something like “San Francisco is Decaying” or “How San Francisco Became a Failed City” or “San Francisco Falls Into the Abyss,” and repeat a similar narrative about crazy left-wing leadership ruining America’s greatest metropoles. As Nellie Bowles, who writes for The Free Press alongside founder and outspoken critic of “wokeness” Bari Weiss, put it in The Atlantic, “progressive leaders here have been LARPing left-wing values instead of working to create a livable city.” (For readers uninitiated in the verbiage of the terminally-online, “LARPing” is a derogatory phrase essentially meaning to act as something one isn’t, particularly in an exaggerated way.) The result, as these commentators claim, is a city chronically plagued by homelessness, crime, and impotent prosecutors supposedly unwilling to lock up dangerous criminals.

An attentive reader will notice that, aside from the recently-ousted progressive San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, it’s tough for commentators like Nellie Bowles (whose experience is in tech journalism) to actually name the all-powerful progressives who are supposedly responsible for the city’s malaise. (To be fair to Bowles, she actually does manage to name and shame a handful of school board members. It remains unexplained, however, how three school administrators single-handedly ruined a city.)

These commentators are unable to name the supposed progressives ruining their city for a simple reason: they don’t exist. San Francisco Mayor London Breed is the latest in a long line of outspoken moderates who wield extraordinary power by way of San Francisco’s strong mayor system. Breed, who famously said during a press conference in late 2021 that the solution to crime was to be more “aggressive” with policing and not to tolerate the “bullshit that has destroyed our city,” controls the city’s budget, appoints replacements to all vacant elected positions, and hand-picks a majority of all major commissions. While the city’s Board of Supervisors can, in theory, check the mayor’s power, it requires an eight-vote supermajority to do so—and, if the mayor disagrees with the supervisors’ budgetary priorities, they can just not spend on them. The result is that the left wields no meaningful power in the city. (If there’s one thing the right has no shortage of, it’s imagination.)

Bowles dedicates much of her piece to the city’s homelessness crisis, which she blames upon “empathy-driven progressivism.” That crisis, however, began under Mayor Dianne Feinstein (1978-88) and has continued under the leadership of every moderate mayor since. (The only remotely progressive San Francisco mayor since the ’80s has been Art Agnos, whose mayoralty lasted a mere four years, from 1988-1992.) These mayors enthusiastically welcomed gentrification to San Francisco, offering generous tax credits and millions of square feet of new office space to tech companies willing to set up shop in the city. Predictably, their high-paid workers can pay far more than existing residents, and—in the absence of proper protections—many found themselves forced out onto the streets. 

Maybe San Francisco’s homelessness crisis could’ve been avoided if the city’s moderate leaders had heeded the progressive demand to, say, require some portion of luxury development be set aside for affordable housing. The moderates, however, chose to leave housing to the free market, and even today, London Breed needs to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to take even the most incremental steps toward taming San Francisco’s housing market. In 2021, the Board of Supervisors passed a measure to direct $64 million of city funds to fund rent relief, public housing, and to take vulnerable properties off the speculative market. Breed fought the measure tooth and nail—when it finally passed, she simply ignored it. Breed also opposed in 2019 an update to the jobs-housing linkage fee, which charges a fee on commercial development in order to fund affordable housing. When the Board of Supervisors passed such a measure, she “expressed her opposition to it in a letter, and returned it unsigned,” said Matt Haney, a Supervisor at the time, in a tweet. 

Forty years after the start of San Francisco’s homelessness problem, it hasn’t quite clicked for moderate Democrats that, to stem gentrification, and thus homelessness, new development must be linked to new affordable housing. The result is that 70 percent of homeless San Franciscans once had housing in the city—a statistic that neither the Bowleses nor the Breeds of this world have any interest in contending with. The city’s cost of living, meanwhile, continues to climb with no end in sight.

The June 2022 recall of progressive DA Chesa Boudin is an event of near-mythological proportions for “anti-woke” types. Conservative commentator Josh Hammer declared the recall an “Inflection Point in the Fight for Civilizational Sanity.” Some, like Hammer, even believe it to be The Moment when the tide turned against “gender ideology” and “urban anarchy.” It was when David, the silent majority of pissed-off commonsense moderates, defeated the all-powerful woke Goliath.

Boudin, among the only San Francisco progressives to hold any meaningful city-wide power in the last four decades, had become something of a supervillain in the right’s imagination. Unmistakably an activist DA, Boudin ended his office’s use of cash bail, established a commission to review all wrongful convictions, sought alternatives to incarceration to tackle substance use, and restricted the use of sentencing enhancements under California’s “Three Strikes” law. This earned him a number of high-profile enemies in city politics, including Silicon Valley magnates, venture capitalists, and hedge-funder and Republican mega-donor William Oberndorf. This roster, which immediately began organizing to recall Boudin, scapegoated him for an imagined urban crisis—never mind that violent crime actually fell during his tenure.

The ultimate irony of the situation is that, despite the conservative hand wringing about Boudin’s soft-on-crime, impotent progressivism, his replacement has fared no better at taming San Francisco’s crime rate. Since Boudin’s ouster, in fact, violent crime has risen in San Francisco. These are the wages of the urban moderate-conservative alliance.

San Francisco isn’t a “woke city” because a right-wing blogger’s local gentrification-spawned coffee shop has a pride flag on the wall. Its story isn’t one of a crazy left running the city into the abyss: moderate Democratic leadership, after decades of hegemony, has hit a brick wall. 

Annual Austerity Mode

Marjorie Taylor Greene recently visited New York City. She wasn’t a fan. Choice adjectives used to describe the city during her subsequent Tucker Carlson Tonight appearance included “absolute chaos” and “smells bad.” Carlson quipped back, saying: “Mayor Adams described New York as his ‘home.’ How did his home look? Pretty neat and tidy?” MTG responded: “His home is disgusting. The streets are filthy, they’re covered with people basically dying on drugs. They can’t even stand up. They’re falling over. There’s so much crime in the city. I can’t comprehend how people live there.” 

If one took the likes of MTG at their word, they’d presume that NYC’s mayor must be a police-defunding radical leftist. They’d be incredibly wrong. New York’s mayor is not a blue-haired raging Social Justice Warrior, but Eric Adams, an ardently moderate ex-cop. If you tune into an Eric Adams speech on any given day, you might hear the mayor claim that the city is being “destroyed by the migrant crisis,” tell “woke” people to leave NYC, or declare war on socialism.

Adams, a proud crusader against all things leftist, revels in his anti-progressive stance. His fellow travelers include former Independent Democratic Conference members (a breakaway faction in the state Senate which caucused with Republicans, handing the GOP control of the body in 2013 and 2014), pro-Trump billionaires, a fraudster Brooklyn church leader, real estate executives, and several noted homophobes.

The Adams agenda is essentially a laundry list of various public institutions he believes should be defunded. Adams’ 2024 budget, ironically dubbed the “Working People’s Agenda,” proposes $169 million in budget cuts to the city’s public university system, almost $1 billion dollars in cuts to public schools, and a blanket 4 percent budget cut to all city agencies, including sanitation, homeless services, and fire departments. Also on the chopping block is NYC’s universal 3-K preschool program. Perhaps most controversially, Adams floated a nearly $42 million budget cut to public libraries before extreme opposition forced him to back off in late April. (Adams’ current proposed budget still leaves public libraries with a $36 million deficit, which library leaders say will need to be made up by cutting hours of service, programming and classes, and opportunities for underserved New Yorkers. Politico reported in late June that a deal had been reached to restore the funding.) Additionally, the NYPD’s multi-billion dollar budget has only recently been included in the group of city agencies asked to cut public spending. The Adams era has no shortage of heavy-handed symbolism. 

These cuts are just part of Adams’ latest annual austerity push. City agencies are still reeling from the previous three rounds of the “Program to Eliminate the Gap,” whose achievements included a $479 million cut to city schools, a $615 million cut from homeless services, a blanket budget cut to all city services, and ordering city agencies (which already struggle to retain staff, given previous budget cuts) to eliminate half of all vacant positions.

Meanwhile, Adams is gutting the social services that actually help build safe communities. It’s a well-established fact that college enrollment reduces crime, and that increased investment in public schools directly leads to lower adult crime. Evidence also indicates that public libraries, which provide young people with activities, education, and opportunities, also reduce local crime rates. And after-school programs provide activities that mitigate juvenile risk factors.

All these budget cuts come at a time when they couldn’t be more unjustifiable: New York City revenue is up. In fiscal year 2023 to date, the city collected $55.4 billion in tax receipts, $5.3 billion over that collected during the same period the year prior. The city’s cash balances averaged $9.8 billion, an over $2.6 billion increase from last year. And, from March 2022 to February 2023, sales tax revenue surged by 18 percent. The comptroller’s office writes that “the City has seen record-high cash balances in Fiscal Year 2023” and that “the continued rebound of New York City’s economy since the pandemic has led to year-over-year increases in tax receipts.” Eric Adams seems to be doing austerity just for the hell of it.

And, in lieu of an actual solution to NYC’s homelessness crisis, Adams, like his West Coast counterparts, has adopted a policy of “out of sight, out of mind.” Among Adams’ first moves as mayor was to ban homeless people from taking shelter in New York’s subways; in the period between March and October 2022, his administration swept 3,198 encampments, or 14 a day. Almost everyone displaced in said sweeps remains homeless—only 115 swept New Yorkers in that period accepted shelter—just without personal belongings like Social Security cards and birth certificates, which sanitation workers have a reputation for sending to the dump.

Sweeps are, ostensibly, a measure to move homeless people off the streets and into temporary shelter. Unfortunately, Adams is cutting that, too. In May of this year, Adams issued an executive order kneecapping NYC’s decades-old right-to-shelter law, which “obligates the city to provide a bed to anyone who asks for one,” as noted in Gothamist. Homeless families, too, no longer have access to a legally-mandated bathroom, kitchen, and refrigerator.

New York’s shelter system is deeply flawed—there are good reasons why many homeless people forgo it nightly—but the right to shelter is a basic safety net not seen anywhere else in the United States. It’s the legal groundwork of a system providing secure housing to tens of thousands nightly. There’s a particular cruelty, then, to Adams’ attempts at replacing it with mass involuntary commitment. In December 2022, the Adams administration issued a directive that “expanded the scope of behavior that could result in forced psychiatric evaluation from ‘likely to result in serious harm’ to the much broader criteria that the individual ‘appears to be mentally ill, and displays an inability to meet basic living needs,’” as explained in The Nation. Worse, the individuals issuing these psychiatric judgments need not even be psychiatrists. It could mark the beginning of a disturbing return to the era of mental asylums—institutions that didn’t rehabilitate people, but removed them from society.

Adams is, in his defense, not the only mayor of New York City unwilling to contend with the basic realities of homelessness. Former Mayor Bill de Blasio was also an eager contributor to the criminalization of homelessness: his Department of Sanitation conducted nearly 10,000 sweeps throughout his term, with some even personally called in by the mayor. And this is just scratching the surface of de Blasio’s extensive failures, with the “affordable housing” built under his tenure disproportionately unaffordable to those with the most urgent housing needs.

His predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, similarly failed to take on homelessness, leaving behind a crippled and insolvent public housing authority unable to make basic repairs. And, while Bloomberg’s wide-ranging rezonings are often praised, many of those rezonings were actually downzonings, making it harder to add density—and many upzoned neighborhoods happened to be gentrifying, working-class communities. Inclusionary zoning, another much-touted flagship Bloomberg policy, aimed to incentivize developers to build affordable housing in exchange for an increase in maximum allowed density; according to a report from the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, it “fundamentally failed,” creating fewer than 3,000 affordable apartments in an eight-year period. By the end of Bloomberg’s third term, New York’s median rent had risen 19 percent. In turn, NYC shelters’ nightly population rose by 69 percent. (For homeless families, that number surged 80 percent.) 

New York’s current crises are, through and through, the product of decades of failed moderate leadership—leadership which not only refuses to solve existing problems, but also insists upon creating new ones.

“Worse than Afghanistan”

In May and August of 2020, in the name of promoting public safety and limiting property destruction, then Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered the Chicago River’s bridges raised. For weeks, every night, Chicago was quite literally divided in two. The city’s North was no longer accessible from its South, the road connections between its wealthy and its disinvested neighborhoods severed for the night. Workers living on the South Side (disproportionately people of color) suddenly found their mobility decimated.

Longtime Chicagoans told ProPublica that they couldn’t recall a mayor ever before raising the bridges like literal drawbridges over a castle moat. Yet, this is how things have been, for decades, in Chicago. It’s America’s most segregated major city, one severely stratified along racial, ethnic, and class lines. The city’s Black poverty rate is triple that of its white poverty rate—and its racial wealth gap appears to be growing

In August 2020, the bridges along the Chicago River are raised to “prevent violence” (Shutterstock)

To the American conservative, Chicago is the very image of the failing blue city, run into the ground by the soft-on crime radical left. “It’s embarrassing to us as a nation,” proclaimed Donald Trump in 2019. “All over the world, they’re talking about Chicago. Afghanistan is a safe place by comparison, it’s true.” The truth, however, would tell a different story.

As recently-elected Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson told Jacobin, former Mayor Lori Lightfoot—who was on the receiving end of Trump’s attacks—was one of many figures in Chicago politics who “run like Frederick Douglass, and then they govern like Jefferson Davis. They take on this platform of equity and justice for the people, and then try to convince people that these things aren’t possible.” Lightfoot carefully cultivated her image as a realistic progressive, one willing to make both tough calls on Law And Order and to challenge Chicago’s status quo. Far from being, in conservative parlance, “soft on crime,” Lightfoot drew criticism from the left for reneging on her promises to steer Chicago’s approach to public safety away from a dogmatic reliance upon policing.

Lightfoot’s conception of due process was one in which cops and prosecutors were to be the jury itself. She insinuated that looters had been emboldened by a lack of consequences for their actions, and that it had simply become too easy for offenders to get out of jail easily. Allowing people charged with violent crime out on bond, she said, “undermines the legitimacy of the criminal courts.” Judges, then, shouldn’t allow those charged with violent crime out on bail because it can be assumed that “these people are guilty.” This was not merely a stance against the progressive demand for ending cash bail: Lightfoot opposed the institution of bail itself, and the justice system’s very presumption of innocence. A year on, these words—even from the mouth of a figure like Lightfoot—remain shocking.

Lightfoot’s policy approaches tiptoed around anything that might upset corporate bottom lines: there’s no better example of this than the “Housing Solidarity Pledge,” a compact between a group of landlords and lenders purportedly aimed at managing Chicago’s housing crisis. Conspicuously absent from the negotiating table were tenants’ rights organizations, or any form of housing rights group—nor would it have mattered, for the pledge was non-binding and unenforceable to begin with. Predictably—and, as Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor wrote in The New Yorker, “as if to make the point of tenants’-rights activists”—a signatory violated the pledge almost immediately. This, somehow, was supposed to be a flagship Lightfoot achievement, touted as an example of bold leadership in the face of impending crisis.

When the federal government allocated millions of dollars to the city through the CARES act, the mayor proposed an ordinance granting herself extraordinary control over the funds. She clashed with council members who pushed back against what they described as the mayor’s “power grab” and demanded that the mayor’s response keep to the principles of racial equity she campaigned upon. The mayor’s remarks toward democratic socialist alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, who led the charge against the ordinance, were particularly severe, as she declared herself to be “personally embarrassed” by him.

The concerns that a progressive, equitable response to COVID was not a priority for the mayor were almost immediately vindicated. Lightfoot’s hand-picked COVID recovery task force was co-chaired by persistent Republican donor Samuel Skinner, who had previously served in various positions under George H.W. Bush. (As H.W.’s Transportation secretary, he used his power to defend Exxon Mobile’s abrupt abandonment of the Exxon Valdez oil spill cleanup.) Other appointments included Richard Edelman, CEO of a PR firm with a major gig in helping fossil fuel companies plan astroturf campaigns (in other words, an individual who, in a just world, would be nowhere near power).

Despite posturing as a progressive, Lori Lightfoot’s sympathies were persistently with the right—and this is to say nothing of her harsh 2020 austerity budget, much less her immediate post-election shift towards advocating against taxing Chicago’s rich.

Lightfoot’s style of governance is how it has always been in Chicago—yet conservatives insist they lack responsibility for any fate that befalls the city. Asked on the campaign trail why prominent Republicans had donated to his campaign, failed mayoral candidate Paul Vallas portrayed himself the defender of Law and Order contra Lightfoot’s irresponsible progressivism. “The city’s in trouble [and] crime is out of control,” Vallas said. “I think I’m getting the support from the business community because … I’m the one best equipped to deal with those issues.”

Brandon Johnson’s recent election certainly signals that voters are tired of that status quo, and want a real rupture from conservative leadership. One can only hope that rupture will materialize.

Is the conservative storytelling on American cities the product of ignorance, malice, or both? I couldn’t tell you—but the reason it’s irresistibly appealing to conservatives of both Democratic and Republican stripes is quite clear. For Republicans, leftist-induced urban malaise is a seemingly concrete, visceral argument for their policy agendas of “backing the blue” and being “tough on crime.” And, for conservative Democrats, it allows them to ignore the fact that, for decades, they’ve held political power in America’s largest cities—and have left behind only long legacies of failed policy. The present crises faced by the communities they’re responsible for are transformed, in their telling, into new and unique beasts brought about by a radical fringe, rather than outcomes decades in the making. And, most conveniently, this false narrative pins the blame for said crises upon burgeoning progressive movements, forcing them to answer for problems they bear no responsibility for.

In reality, conservatives have led America’s cities to a place they simply can’t lead them out of. The tools of their trade—austerity, criminalization, and simply leaving it to the free market—have hit a dead end. Their only way out, seemingly, is to lie to your face.

MAIN PHOTO: In May 2020, the San Francisco city government decided that instead of finding housing for the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic, it would erect a special sanctioned, socially distanced encampment as a “safe sleeping area” in front of City Hall itself. (Getty Images)

  1. At the time of writing, Columbus, a city of 906,528 people, had a city budget totalling $1.13 billion. Portland, a city of 641,000, is set to spend $7.1 billion next year. That’s a budget over six times higher than that of Columbus, for a city 70 percent its size in terms of population. 

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