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Why Are People In Denial That Urban America Is A Dystopian Hellscape?

The first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one, and a certain species of smug urban progressive won’t admit America’s cities are falling apart.


Increasingly, the news is dominated by urban crime and other catastrophes in America’s cities. Several large cities, and notably every major city on the West Coast, are deeply unsafe, and this should be a source of national shame. There’s a constant flurry of eye-popping news in this regard, yet it’s nearly always followed by a chorus of Democratic politicians and leftist urbanites telling you not to believe your lying eyes.

We recently learned that some band of supergeniuses tried to break into the SUV ferrying President Biden’s granddaughter around, causing her Secret Service detail to open fire on the streets of D.C. Naomi Biden wasn’t in the car at the time, but the idea that in the nation’s capital, the president’s own relatives aren’t safe from violent criminals should be pretty terrifying to ordinary citizens. Moreover, there have been 866 carjackings in the nation’s capital this year, a 103 percent increase over last year, and last year’s number was a massive increase over pre-pandemic carjacking numbers. D.C. now instructs drivers to never roll down their windows or stop to help anyone on the road, and the carjackings are prominently related to a spike in juvenile crime in a city where 70 percent of all high schoolers are reportedly chronically absent. Overall, violent crime is up roughly 40 percent this year in the nation’s capital.

A homeless encampment started a fire under an overpass in L.A., which was also being used for wooden pallet storage as part of an inexplicable state program renting out public spaces for storage. The fire was so intense that it melted the metal rails on the overpass, and now a mile-long section of the 10 freeway, which sees 300,000 cars travel on it every day, is closed indefinitely until they can figure out whether the road needs to be demolished and rebuilt. The L.A. Times headline has described the situation as a “traffic nightmare,” which relative to a normal day in Los Angeles must be truly horrific.

California governor Gavin Newsom also gave a press conference in San Francisco — though the place was hardly recognizable. In advance of a visit from Chinese premier Xi Jinping, the notoriously filthy and dangerous city had been swept clean of the city’s many homeless encampments, and cops were posted everywhere keeping order.

At the press conference, Newsom said of the newly clean city, “I know folks say, ‘Oh, they’re just cleaning up this place because all these fancy leaders are coming into town.’ That’s true because it’s true.”

To be clear, they will clean the city for a foreign leader who is a genocidal thug, but not for local businesses and taxpayers. After being in downtown San Francisco after the clean-up, Mike Solana asks: “Do you know how radicalizing it is to finally know for sure the government is capable of ending crime overnight, it just… chooses not to?”

And in Portland, The Wall Street Journal ran an article on the effects of Measure 110, three years later. In 2020, a year where much of the voting public took leave of its senses, Oregon passed a voter initiative that decriminalized all hard drugs. Yes, you read that right — I still regularly encounter people who hadn’t heard, or sometimes refuse to believe, that possessing heroin or fentanyl gets you nothing more than a traffic ticket in the state.

As you might imagine, things have not gone well: “Some 6,000 tickets have been issued for drug possession since decriminalization went into effect in 2021, but just 92 people have called and completed assessments needed to connect them to services.” The effects of this are quite obvious in Portland, the metro area where half the state’s population lives, which is now basically nothing but a series of tableaux from a zombie movie: Maggot-covered bodies are found in tents (you’ve been warned), people are attacked by rogue pitbulls while their “owners” overdose on fentanyl, the local press runs credulous stories such as “Are smashed windows effective protests? Businesses weigh in,” and addicts that look like extras from “Mad Max” use public drinking fountains as bidets while people pretend not to notice. The end result is that Portland, which was one of the fastest-growing cities in America for decades, lost about 3 percent of its population between 2020 and 2022.

I didn’t exactly have to hunt high and low for events demonstrating cities are on the verge of total civic collapse. The Wall Street Journal article on drug legalization ran over the weekend, and everything else mentioned above was in the news on just Monday. For a while now, I’ve been scratching my head looking for answers about how this state of affairs is being allowed to persist. As Solana already noted, this isn’t a situation where things are necessarily out of control. This is willful, knowing negligence. If city officials stood by and allowed people to build a bomb and detonate it under a freeway overpass, people would demand they be held accountable — how is that any different than standing by and letting homeless people build fires next to a giant pile of wooden pallets underneath critical infrastructure?

Now you would think that fixing our cities would be a major topic of national conversation, and perhaps in some corners it is. But progress is definitely being halted by widespread denial. After the L.A. overpass fire, both the L.A. mayor and Newsom showed up at a press conference where they surely inspired confidence when the good citizens of California were told that images of the fire they were seeing “may not correspond with reality.” I don’t quite know what the implication here is? Are we supposed to believe Russian hackers are spreading disinformation about… a freeway overpass fire?

Then there are the residents of the cities themselves. I travel a fair bit, and between living in D.C. for many years before retreating to suburban safety, as well as being an Oregonian who’s done a lot of reporting on Portland’s civic decay, I’ve encountered my share of people in real life who insist the problems are greatly exaggerated. At which point, I tell them that when, say, the mayor of Portland is revealed to have been sleeping with a teenage boy and survives two recall attempts or that when the current mayor of the city, who’s already a feckless disaster, almost loses a primary election to a candidate that’s literally Antifa — they should consider something is rotten in Stumptown. I’ve had to have that exact conversation with people.

I was reminded of this by a Reddit thread that I, coincidentally, just happened to see on Monday about why people on social media have taken to referring to “S-n Fr-ncisco” on social media. The general consensus is that people don’t want to write out the name because it will unleash a torrent of vitriol about how the city sucks.

Now, San Francisco is a beautiful place, but it’s not up for debate whether the city sucks. The last time I was in downtown San Francisco in the fall of 2017, a deranged homeless person walked into the restaurant where I was eating and tried to take my food right off the table in front of me, and that wasn’t even the most disturbing encounter I had. Perhaps the best metaphor for the state of the city is how in 2015, a three-story lamp post in the city fell over and hit a car, narrowly missing the driver. It was later determined that the post had corroded because so many people had been urinating on it. And the city has apparently gotten much worse in the last few years, if you can believe it.

Anyhow, Reddit has long since become a place that makes me long for the halcyon days of unmoderated YouTube comment sections, but the responses to the idea that San Francisco and other cities are being unfairly denigrated were instructively typical. The fact is that, for so many people, politics will not let the real world intrude: “I’m from Philly and was in rural conservative Virginia at a barbecue. A woman asked me with all genuine sincerity ‘isnt philly really dangerous?’ I choked back a bunch of reality-crushing insults about rural white people and just tried to be polite and tell her the truth: Every city has good and bad parts. But it’s sad to see the conservative indoctrination targeting specific cities.”

Conservative indoctrination? Huh? Yes, rural America is not without its problems, but I live in Virginia and I’ve spent plenty of time in Philadelphia. Let me tell you, I’ve spent entire days in the slums of Manilla, and it was far safer than having to walk a short distance through North Philly after dark. The number of homicides in Philly about doubled between 2015 and 2022. Somebody is indoctrinated here, and it’s not rural Americans’ fault for noticing Philly has real problems and those saying it doesn’t might be a wee bit out of touch.

But how delusional are these people? This delusional: “There 100% is [a coordinated effort to denigrate cities online]. In the NYC subreddits we get brigaded with anti migrant posts. For me it’s hard to believe that people like Abbot and Desantis would organize multi million dollar programs to bus asylum seekers to nyc and wouldn’t bother to hire a PR firm to go on Reddit to make sure people are talking about it.”

I hate to disabuse these people of their ridiculous paranoia, but believe me when I say that conservatives wish anyone on the right were that clever or Machiavellian about running PR campaigns. Regardless, the Democratic mayor of New York is the one saying the “migrant crisis will destroy New York City.” And the rest of rational America is pointing out that our cities are devolving into violent cesspools for free because it’s the truth.

What’s happening in cities doesn’t have to be a partisan issue. Conservatives might rightly complain that progressive politicians have embraced dumb policies, but I don’t think the average Democratic voter is so bound by ideology that they’re invested in defending the de facto legalization of fentanyl and letting homeless camps proliferate in city centers. (In fact, as The Wall Street Journal notes, Oregonians are gearing up to vote on recriminalizing hard drugs next year, and polls show the measure is likely to pass.)

As the old political adage goes, often one who gets labeled “conservative” is little more than a liberal who’s been mugged by reality. Unfortunately, the first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one, and there remains an influential faction of urban progressives, which sadly includes a number of prominent officeholders and leftist DAs, who are clearly in denial. The only way out of this mess might be to get more aggressive about confronting the urban liberals who repeatedly get mugged — and keep insisting nothing’s wrong.

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