All Political Ideas Are Local
Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report
In 1861 while southern states were in the process of seceding from the union, Fernando Wood, the mayor of New York, made a proposal to his city council that, if the South severed its ties to the United States, New York should, too. That city profited from the shipping of Southern cotton, and its people weren’t crazy about the idea of a civil war. The city would refashion itself into a free city called Tri-Insula, which would do business with both the North and the South, thus sidestepping carnage and substituting business sense for patriotic fervor.
Tri-Insula never happened, but Americans have always tended to treat New York as if it had, says Russell Shorto in his article with same title as this one in the October 2, 2005 New York Times. The “it feels like a foreign country” line is a standard souvenir that visitors from other parts of the nation take home with them. New York is different, both literally and metaphorically insular. New York for a generation has been far from the center of American politics.
Yet in recent polls for 2008, America’s top choices include New York’s junior senator, Hillary Clinton, former mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Governor George Pataki. These factors relate to New York’s uniqueness: the World Trade Center was attacked because of what the city is and represents, and Hillary chose it as her base for similar reasons. New York once held sway over the national political scene, but there hasn’t been a New Yorker in the White House since F.D.R.
What is it that New York had in its glory days–when it fostered political ideas and programs that transformed the nation–and does it still have it?
To approach these questions and to get at some of the political tensions roiling the country today, we need to go back to the beginning. You could think of it as springing from two sources, each of which flows back to the earliest stratum of the country’s existence–the dominant one–call it American–and the subordinate one, the new York source.
The American strain, which has soared triumphant in recent years, is overtly and unashamedly moralistic. It comes straight out of the Puritans who settled New England. Their worldview was theological to the core; Europe was corrupt and despoiled; the New World was the Promised Land. Success was a sign of God’s favor. They were “the new Israel,” the chosen people. Succeeding generations adopted this theological template. In the 19th century the Puritans exceptionalism was reframed as manifest destiny: the notion that Americans had, as John O’Sullivan put it, the right “to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” After World War I, President Woodrow Wilson said the United States had “seen visions that other nations have not seen, and had become a determining factor in the history of mankind,” and “the light of the world.” President Bush hewed to the same theme while pressing to invade Iraq, “We go forward with confidence, because this call of history has come to the right country.” This straight-up claim to a religious basis for the entire national project has always been a source of tremendous strength for the U.S., and for a leader who can evoke it convincingly it is even better than wrapping yourself in the flag. It rallies popular support around the holy trinity: God, America, and liberty.
“Somehow,” says Shorto, “New York has never played along with this morality play. On the contrary its lowlife image hangs on in the American consciousness–corruption- and chaos-ridden, the scabby home base of all the world’s hustlers and scammers–never mind the layers of gentrification and Disneyfication. The image extends to politics as well. ‘Ungovernable’ is the adjective that has been endlessly applied to new York City, from the Tammany Hall days to John Lindsay’s wobbly Vietnam- era morality, through blackouts and riots, from Son of Sam to the squeegee guys.
“The conundrum is that New York is also, historically, the fertile soul from which some of the richest ideas and policies have been harvested,” which have defined the relationship between the American people and their government. Why is it that the first American parties burst into being in the 1730’s along with the idea of an organized opposition to their British rulers, and these things happened in New York? Why was the idea of a free press first articulated in 1735 by a New York printer, John Peter Zenger? Why is it that New York played a crucial role in developing the concept of the government protecting the environment (Theodore Roosevelt, New York governor) and Franklin Roosevelt took New Deal policies–the concept of the government protecting people from the darkest chasms of fate and corporate greed– from Albany to Washington? The America Communist Party, the National Association for the advancement of Colored People and the gay rights movement all started in the city. And both liberalism and the modern conservative movement started there.
All of these disparate political forces and innovations have behind them a single theme: factions. America is a pluralistic nation, but its founding was largely an English affair. The exception is New York: or to be precise, the Dutch colony of New Netherland along the Middle Atlantic which had as its capital New Amsterdam. This colony was one of the most culturally mixed places on earth in the 17th century. Eighteen languages were being spoken in New York.
Latino Roles in Utah Society
John Florez, activist, newspaper columnist, and Mexican, reiterated familiar rhetoric that is being bandied about across the nation since the Bush administration said they wanted to toughen enforcement of immigration laws. “Rhetoric” is defined in the World English Dictionary as “persuasive speech that communicates its point persuasively.”
In his passionate rhetoric, Florez pointed out that racism is rampant for the Mexican and Latino people, that they contribute immeasurably to the economy of the US, that “Mexicans are not lazy,” that employers employing illegal immigrants need to be accountable for their illegal activities, and that the Hispanic and Latino people must continue to fight for their rights in America.
With so much talk about “borders, fences, and amnesty,” Florez said, “But lost in the talk is the human aspect.”
Immigrant life was difficult. Florez recalls a scene on highway five in San Diego where migrant workers lived in boxes in ditches; he marveled how in the mornings they would be lined up on the road, all clean and ready to work. Among them at the turn of the century was his father who knew no English but “wanted a better life for his family.” Someone had remarked, “I don’t know how these people do it,” to which Florez said, “If you’re hungry and your family is hungry, you’ll do anything to help your family.” Working in America with a pick and shovel until he retired, his father had stressed to his children the importance of education and learning English.
Florez said his father was discriminated against, as was he. Recalling experiences at the Capitol Theater where Mexicans had to sit in the balcony with the blacks, Florez became so paranoid that when he went to the store Kress’s, and the service bells rang, he thought that was a secret signal to others the Mexicans were coming.
Memories of his father are vivid. In 1941 when they went back to Mexico but then decided to return to the US “to get a better education,” on the trip back, they were all hungry so stopped to get sandwiches. Returning to the car empty-handed, his father cried because he was unable to get those sandwiches as they would not serve Mexicans.
When the legislature said his people were illegal felons was when Florez said the “kids hit the streets. In this community are kids who have the same hostility as I did because of my father. These kids see their folks suffer, and that’s enough. There is resentment, hostility, and racism.” In the legislature are “off the table subjects, immigration and environment, that people don’t want to talk about, and these are critical issues.”
Florez continued, “Every time America has needed workers, they brought in immigrants, and this renews and energizes the American dream. Anyone can talk all about this nonsense but every time they bring in immigrants, they brought in new energy. And we’re missing the whole boat on this because of many angry people.”
“Congressmen and senators say go back,” said Florez, adding that they are more concerned about being elected than doing the right thing. “We’re in for a hard time, no more legislation this year until after the election…come up with something like the guest worker program, which is the ultimate solution.”
“Lost in debates is the moral aspect and how this affects the country, and what it says about us that says we don’t care about people in need and their suffering.”
We have had Katrina, 9/11, and these people are concerned about border crossings because of the terrorists, Florez said. “Well, hell, the terrorists are not coming in from Mexico. They’re coming in from Canada. Look at it, that’s an open border…that’s how all the terrorists are coming in so this is a racist thing, a fear thing, and any time Americans are fearful, you find scapegoats…we’re the scapegoats.”
“Let’s be realistic that we do have problems. People coming here live in the shadows. They don’t have access to health care, they don’t have access to education…people now go to the emergency clinic, and Hispanics have a high incidence of diabetes, so we don’t treat diabetes but we treat the gangrene that sets in and cut off the leg. They don’t have prenatal care but we will deliver a child, and a child may have physical problems…they don’t have front-end care. This flames a lot of anger here.”
One question asked after Florez’s speech was why an exception has been made for the Latino people about learning English, as much is bilingual now. Florez answered that he believes the common language should be English and Americans should not lower the bar for his people. “We all know we need to speak English, don’t rub it in our faces, and we’ll get there.”
Another question was how many people can America assimilate and still make good use of everyone’s talents and aspirations. Plus how can there be a long-term solution until the economic system in Mexico improves so there isn’t such a large disparity between the two countries.
Florez answered that “it is a two-tier society, the haves and have nots.” In a KUED series called “Shadow of Hope,” Florez said, “In there, one of the priests…and this one mayor said that if we didn’t have the escape valve of people coming over here for economic reasons to find a better life, we’d have a revolution in Mexico.”
“The solution to immigration is really an economic issue and how do we really give Mexico the incentive to do something about It.” We are enablers here. Florez’s proposal is to look at this as a problem of the Western hemisphere; we need to “gather natural resources of this hemisphere,” use natural talents of these people, use the World Wide Web, educate everyone…to solve this.
FYI, Wikipedia states that although the United States currently has no official language, it is largely monolingual with English being the de facto national language.
On May 18, 2006 the Senate voted on an amendment to an immigration reform bill that would declare English the national language of the United States. The immigration reform bill itself, S. 2611, was passed in the Senate on May 25, 2006, and now has to go back to the House of Representatives in conference to make sure amendments are agreed upon.
I hope that your summer is going well. Please don’t ask me, “Is it hot enough for ya?” I might give a smart assed reply, or worse. I enjoy living where there are a variety of seasons, but the hot part of mid-summer is not my favorite. If it never got over 80 , that would be fine with me.
Speaking of summer, the Board has decided to look into making further changes to the meeting schedule. In my message for June, I announced that we were going to suspend activities for that month in the future. That may have been premature, as we are also contemplating suspending activities for July. The same reasoning applies in that attendance is rather poor in July as well. We are also planning to make the August Social a picnic to start the new season. These changes will take effect next year.
Additionally, we are starting a new activity, where we get together and watch a movie of the group’s choosing. We hope to do this on a quarterly basis, starting next month.
To start off “Video Night” we will present a showing of Heart of the Beholder. Of course admission is free, but we need you to let us know if you plan to attend. Notification is necessary because we are having the first event at the home of Board members Bob and Julie Mayhew and will need to restrict it to about 20 attendees. Lights will dim at 7:00 p.m. on August 24th. I hope we see some of you there. I think it will be an activity we can all look forward to.
The Board is looking for a few volunteers from the membership to help with some of the chores. At the General Meeting it can become a bit hectic getting everything set up and taken down. We think it would make for an easier evening if a few members would agree to come early to the general meeting, to set up chairs and tables, and some others who will help with the serving of refreshments on a regular basis. We don’t need a large crew, but a couple of volunteers would help keep some of us board members from working up sweat before the meeting.
Finally, invitations will be going out soon for our Summer Social at Distinctive Catering on August 10. We always have a good time, so try to keep the date open and join us. See you soon.
For an understanding of the Bush administration’s foreign policy I strongly recommend you read The One Percent Doctrine by Ron Suskind. As the dust cover says, “Suskind has written a narrative of nonfiction, filled with exclusive, historically significant disclosures that will echo across America and the world.” For example, regarding a scheduled meeting with leaders of Saudi Arabia, the Saudis sent the president an advance letter outlining the important things they wanted to discuss. The problem was the president never saw the letter. It was diverted to VP Dick Cheney who failed to give it to President Bush. No wonder the president had no idea what the Saudis considered of importance and failed to address their vital concerns during the meeting at his Crawford ranch.
The title of the book refers to the Cheney doctrine, “if there is even a one percent chance of terrorists getting a weapon of mass destruction the United States must respond as it if were a certainty.” Suskind compares the post World War II containment policy of George Kennan with post 9-11 one per cent doctrine of Dick Cheney.
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