Start spreading the news. For all intents and purposes, the United States has a new capital. Just as it was when George Washington was inaugurated on Wall Street, New York City is again the seat of American federal power. The Gotham White House on 5th Avenue is the city’s latest tourist site. President Elect Trump has it made it clear that he, in the presence of his family, will be running much of the nation’s business from midtown.
And it’s not just Trump. His incoming rival, Democratic Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, the only person who can marshal enough votes to frustrate Trump, is another New Yorker. The two men have a long history together. Trump was a longtime campaign contributor to Schumer, one of the most important power brokers in New York City.
Among the many great ironies of 2016, an election widely described as sticking it to New York elites actually brought an nigh unprecedented amount of political power to the five boroughs.
New York City Is the Center of Our Political Battle
Even beyond pure political power, New York City has found itself at the vortex of cultural resistance to Trump. In New York Magazine, David Wallace-Wells wrote a piece titled “Trump May Have America, But the City is Still Ours.” And in some ways he is right. Trump lost the vast majority of the city’s voters: from the man on the street to the woman on Saturday Night Live, their reaction was one of deep loss. Almost every account of election night from New York City seemed to include people breaking into tears.
At the end of his piece, Wallace-Wells writes the following about the morning after the election:
… below the window of the German friend who spotted us smoking joints after we had bailed on her Fourth of July party, saying we were out of town, and above the courtyard where the building’s Orthodox Jews built their sukkot and ate their suppers together every October — someone had hung an American flag. I was crying again. I didn’t know which America it was celebrating: Trump’s or the new resistance’s. But it didn’t matter. Either way, it was ours.
That is exactly right. It is ours, and it always has been. New York City has never just been the downtown theater scene. It’s also been Wall Street. It has never just been the liberal musings of the New York Times, it’s also the birthplace of National Review. Now in the age of President Trump, Senator Schumer, and the New York resistance, it is once again the center of the battle to define and lead America.
Donald Trump Has New York Values
I didn’t get much right about the recent election. But one thing I stand by is my defense of Ted Cruz’s accusation that Donald Trump has New York values. This is what I wrote last January:
Other than the strong belief that the “soup bread” they serve in Chicago is not pizza, New Yorkers don’t care about ideological purity. This explains how a Northeastern city that Democrats dominate went from 1992 to 2013 without electing a Democrat mayor.
Don’t kid yourself—a lot of ex-VW Bug-driving hippies held their noses to vote for Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. They had significant concerns about police tactics and rising rents, but in the end, results won out. The overall betterment of the city outweighed ideology.
New Yorkers will re-elect corrupt, even indicted political officials so long as they bring home the bacon to their communities. Politicians who fix potholes, improve bus service, and have strong community outreach are rewarded, and nobody cares too much how it all gets done. This is exactly the premise upon which Trump is running his campaign.
Thus far, without even having been sworn in this observation about Trump is holding up. His puzzling politically diverse long list of potential Secretaries of State speaks to his lack of a pure ideological center. But perhaps more telling is his deal with Carrier. That was cold, calculated and effective New York politics. Many conservatives, most notably Sarah Palin, a Trump supporter, were appalled by the deal. They call it cronyism. Well, of course it is. This is New York.
What Trump Knows About Government
To understand why Donald Trump does not share Sarah Palin’s concern about cronyism, we have to realize that first and foremost, Donald Trump is a New York real estate guy. The Museum of the City of New York currently has an exhibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the zoning code. In 1906, it was 12 pages long. Today, it is over 1,200 pages long. I’ve occasionally joked that when my six-year-old plays with Legos here in New York, if he builds anything over three feet high, he needs to get a zoning variance.
This is government regulation that Trump has spent a career successfully navigating. And that is no mean feat. But he didn’t do it by sticking to principles: he did it by giving money to all sides, and developing access to and influence over political power. His attitude has been less the classic conservative mantra of “get government out of the way,” and more “get government on my side.”
Now he is promising to get the government on the side of the American people. He promises to be a great deal maker. That can get messy. Using personal relationships with CEOs or foreign leaders can start to look like corruption. That kind of political patronage is second nature in New York, but not something the rest of the country is always as tolerant of.
The Kid From Queens and The Kid From Brooklyn
Perhaps the most important dynamic of Obama’s presidency was Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell’s obstructionism. In retrospect, it’s hard to argue that it didn’t work, as the GOP was swept into power this year. But notwithstanding the success of McConnell’s approach to Obama, it seems unlikely Schumer will take that approach with Trump.
There have already been hints that the two could work together on massive spending projects, something as natural to New Yorkers as cream cheese on a bagel. And both of them are very fond of ribbon cuttings, television appearances, and accolades.
When Manhattan elite graced the social pages of national magazines, Trump was a kid in Queens, and Schumer a kid in Brooklyn. That time has passed. They are not blue bloods doling out graceful noblesse oblige: they are street fighters who don’t mind getting a little dirty, working with their enemies, or letting principles slide. That’s how things work in New York City—and now it’s how things will work for the country.
Trump Proffers A Steady Diet Of Hyperbole
Living atop a skyscraper and cutting backroom deals aren’t the only things that will mark Trump’s New York presidency. His rhetoric and style of communication comes right out of a fight over a Bay Ridge parking spot. It starts with yelling, name-calling, and descriptions of plans one has with the other person’s mother. Then it calms down a bit when one guy realizes he knows the other guy’s cousin. Then it gets worked out. The insults are forgotten and forgiven, they are just talk.
We saw a perfect example of this in Trump’s tweets about flag burning. He casually tweeted about revoking citizenship for flag burners, causing a predictable apoplectic reaction from the media. Then he walked it back a bit until this week at a rally he said he hates that people burn the flag and we will have to see what can be done. This is a very New York way of communicating. But it is important to know that when his first hyperbolic statement is made, the correct response is to roll your eyes and say, “this freakin’ guy,” until he calms down.
After eight years of Obama’s measured midwestern speeches about progress in the fullness of time, over the arc of history towards a brighter future someday, maybe we are ready for a change. Maybe the guy who unrealistically says “you got two weeks to solve the Middle East thing” can light a fire that catches.
A Trump Presidency Might Just Work
One criticism of pre-inaugural Trump is that he isn’t dialing back his promises and resetting expectations. But Donald Trump isn’t the slow, steady St. Louis Cardinals stumbling into the occasional World Series victory. He’s the New York Yankees. He settles for nothing less than swagger.
For better or worse now, the two most powerful men in our two major political parties are thick-accented denizens of the concrete jungle where dreams are made. Both are dealmakers, compromisers and have a somewhat casual relationship at times with the truth.
In his play “A Thousand Clowns,” set in 1960s New York City, Herb Gardner wrote the following lines for a stoic and tough business guy: “You can’t convince me I’m one of the bad guys, I get up, I go, I lie a little, I peddle a little, I watch the rules, I talk the talk. We fellas have those offices high up there so that we can catch the wind and go with it however it goes.”
That’s New York. That’s Donald Trump. And that is what we can expect from him.