Victor Davis Hanson contends that we country mice are about to have the last laugh on our urban cousins.
Then came the COVID-19 epidemic. Suddenly, green mass-transit rail, high-density, elevator-reliant town houses, and subways were petri dishes, in a way Wyoming, upstate New York, and the Sierra Nevada foothills were not. Translated, what was the upside of going to Greenwich, Conn., poetry readings of the latest hipster poet or buying the prints of the future Andy Warhol on Manhattanâ€™s Upper West Side if you were either infected or locked in your cramped apartment dependent entirely on a host of previously taken-for-granted Others who brought you water, food, and power, and took out your garbage and sewage â€” or sometimes didnâ€™t?
Michael Bloombergâ€™s slur of dumb farmers dropping seeds by rote into the ground to produce corn on autopilot suddenly seemed even dumber when boutique bread was not to be so easily had at the corner La Boulangerie.
The contagion and the lockdown led to economic catastrophe. If the cities might have fared better than the countryside in the abstract calculus of finance and stocks, the recession also gave us another, rawer glimpse of Armageddon to come. Urban services and necessities may break down, but at least in the countryside, the proverbial basics of existential survival â€” food, water, power, guns, and fuel â€” are not so tenuous.
In small towns, outlying suburbs, and farmhouses, you can grow food, have a well, pump out your own septic tank, take target practice at home, and have a gasoline tank or a generator in reserve. You can be worth $2 billion on the Magnificent Mile, but if your Gulfstream is locked down at the airport, your driver socially distanced at home, your elevator on the blink, and your food courier a day late, then you are poorer than a peasant in Nowhere, Okla. The poor in high-rises in Queens are far more vulnerable than those in rickety farmhouses in rural Ohio.
After the Trump election, the virus, the lockdown, and the recession, then came the looting, street violence, and arson of the protests that spiraled out of control after the initial demonstrations over the horrific death of George Floyd while in police custody. America saw that in extremis blue-city mayors and police chiefs would virtue-signal away the publicâ€™s own safety, to veneer either their own bias, fright, or impotence.
The countryâ€™s major cities â€” New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Washington, Philadelphia, and others â€” experienced not just mass fire and theft but state-sanctioned or de facto allowances of both. Police departments either could not â€” or would not â€” stop the stealing and burning. And officers on the beat often blamed their mayors and governors, who characteristically contextualized the violence, either because they felt they could do nothing about it or they wanted to do nothing about it, or they saw that excusing it was the more persuasive political narrative, at least in the short term. A family in the country may be two hours away from the rural constable, but when armed, it has some recourse against the nocturnal intruder, in a way that someone locked down in an apartment in gun- and ammunition-controlled Queens, with a politically beleaguered police force, does not.
On the national level, blue-state congressional representatives and senators treated chaos in city streets in the same way they had earlier packaged the epidemic, lockdown, and recession: more mayhem that could be blamed on Donald Trump and that would thus accomplish in November 2020 what Robert Mueller, Ukraine, and impeachment did not. Suddenly millions without masks reminded us that shouting about endemic and systematic racism exempted one from the quarantine â€” though Donald Trumpâ€™s flag-waving crowds did not enjoy the same privilege. The urbane who quoted â€œscienceâ€ chapter and verse manufactured all sorts of pseudoscientific exegeses about how storming into restaurants to shout down patrons and strolling through burning and smoke-filled Walmarts to loot for hours were permissible indoor social congregations, while going to a peaceful indoor Trump rally was Typhoid Mary recklessness.
For many liberal urban dwellers, all the violence, filth, dependency, plague, incompetence, and sermonizing were no longer worth the salaries earned from globalized high-tech and finances. Even the cityâ€™s retro, gentrified neighborhoods, its internationalism and sophistication in food, drink, and entertainment, its cultural diversity, and its easy accessibility to millions of similarly enlightened liberals with superior tastes and tolerance began to wear. When stores go up in flames, or the 58th floor comes down with the coronavirus, or Mayor de Blasio plays â€œImagineâ€ to illustrate why there are no police on the streets, then who cares about the intellectual stimulation that supposedly comes by osmosis from the nationâ€™s tony universities anchored in cities or their nearby suburbs?
Increasingly over the past four months, millions of city folk have discovered that the police are as essential as water, food, sewage, and gasoline. Without them, life reverts not to a summer of love but more often to the Lord of the Flies and Deadwood. The urban hipster and marketing executive discovered that a spark somewhere 2,000 miles away can ignite their own neighborhood, and all the kneeling, foot-washing, and social-media virtue-signaling wonâ€™t bring safety or food.
For the boutique owner, whose store was looted, defaced, and burned, the existential crisis was not just that capital and income were lost, and a lifetime investment wiped out, after the earlier one-two-three punch of plague/quarantine/depression.
Instead, the rub was that the urban store owner and his customer grasped that all that mayhem could easily happen again and on a momentâ€™s notice â€” and the ensuing losses would once again be written off as the regrettable collateral damage that is sometimes necessary to â€œeffect social change.â€ When the mayor and police look the other way as the mob carries off Louis Vuitton bags, and CNN reporters assure us of peaceful protests while flames engulf our television screens, why rebuild or restore what the authorities and the influential deem expendable? Why live in Detroit in 1970 when a constant 1967 repeat was supposed to be a tolerable cost of doing business there?
A Mayor de Blasio or Durkan and a Governor Inslee or Newsom were more or less indifferent when â€œbrick-and-mortarâ€ livelihoods were wiped out. Observably, they expressed very little outrage. Preventing the recurrence of anarchy might alienate the looters and burners, and especially their appeasers and contextualizers.
Add it all up, and as the country mouse of old learned, the giddiness and opulence of the city are increasingly not worth the danger, noise, and mess of the city, at least after February 2020. There are simply too many claws and too many sharp teeth to justify the rich crumbs from the opulent table.