De­mo­niz­ing di­ver­sity

Trump at­tacks cities be­cause they show lib­er­al­ism works.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - Will Wilkin­son

Pres­i­dent Trump is a big-city guy. He made his for­tune in cities and keeps his fam­ily in a Man­hat­tan tower. But when Trump talks about cities, he presents a fear­some car­i­ca­ture that bears lit­tle re­sem­blance to the real ur­ban land­scape. “Our in­ner cities are a dis­as­ter,” he de­clared in a cam­paign de­bate. “You get shot walk­ing to the store. They have no ed­u­ca­tion. They have no jobs.” Be­fore his in­au­gu­ra­tion, in a spat with At­lanta’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Congress, he tweeted: “Con­gress­man John Lewis should spend more time on fix­ing and help­ing his dis­trict, which is in hor­ri­ble shape and fall­ing apart (not to men­tion crime in­fested).” He makes Chicago sound like an an­ar­chic failed state. “If Chicago doesn’t fix the hor­ri­ble ‘car­nage’ go­ing on, 228 shoot­ings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 2016), I will send in the Feds!” he warned. His ex­ec­u­tive or­der on pub­lic safety claimed that sanc­tu­ary cities, which har­bor un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants, “have caused im­mea­sur­able harm to the Amer­i­can peo­ple and to the very fab­ric of our Repub­lic.”

With this talk, Trump is playing to his base, which over­whelm­ingly is not in cities. Party af­fil­i­a­tion in­creas­ingly re­flects the gulf be­tween big, di­verse met­ros and whiter, less densely pop­u­lated lo­cales. For decades, like-minded peo­ple have been clus­ter­ing ge­o­graph­i­cally — a phe­nom­e­non au­thor Bill Bishop dubbed “the Big Sort” — push­ing cities to the left and the rest of the coun­try to the right. In­deed, the big­ger, denser and more di­verse the city, the bet­ter Hil­lary Clin­ton did in Novem­ber. But Trump pre­vailed ev­ery­where else — in small cities, sub­urbs, ex­urbs and be­yond. The whiter and more spread out the pop­u­la­tion, the bet­ter he did.

He con­nected with th­ese vot­ers by trac­ing their eco­nomic de­cline and their fad­ing cul­tural ca­chet to the same cause: trai­tor­ous “coastal elites” who sold their jobs to the Chi­nese while al­low­ing Amer­ica’s cities to be­come dystopian Ba­bels, rife with dark­skinned dan­ger — Mex­i­can rapists, Mus­lim ter­ror­ists, “in­ner cities” plagued by black vi­o­lence. He in­ti­mated that the chaos would spread to their ex­urbs and ham­lets if he wasn’t elected to stop it.

Trump’s fear­mon­ger­ing turned out to be savvy elec­toral col­lege pol­i­tics (even if it left him down nearly 3 mil­lion in the pop­u­lar vote). But it wasn’t just a sin­is­ter trick to get him over 270. He per­sists in his ef­forts to slur cities as ra­dioac­tive war zones be­cause the fact that Amer­ica’s di­verse big cities are thriv­ing rel­a­tive to the whiter, less pop­u­lous parts of the coun­try sug­gests that the lib­eral ex­per­i­ment works — peo­ple of di­verse ori­gins and faiths pros­per to­gether in free and open so­ci­eties. To ad­vance his agenda, with its pro­tec­tion­ism and cul­tural na­tion­al­ism, Trump needs to spread the no­tion that the poly­glot me­trop­o­lis is a dan­ger­ous fail­ure.

The pres­i­dent has filled his ad­min­is­tra­tion with ad­vis­ers who op­pose the lib­eral plu­ral­ism prac­ticed prof­itably each day in Amer­ica’s cities. “The cen­ter core of what we be­lieve,” Steve Bannon, the pres­i­dent’s trusted chief strate­gist, has said, is “that we’re a na­tion with an econ­omy, not an econ­omy just in some global mar­ket­place with open borders, but we are a na­tion with a cul­ture and a rea­son for be­ing.” This is not just an ar­gu­ment for na­tion­al­ism over glob­al­ism. Bannon has staked out a po­si­tion in a more fun­da­men­tal de­bate over the mer­its of mul­ti­cul­tural iden­tity. Whose in­ter­ests are in­cluded when we put “Amer­ica first”?

When Trump con­nects immigration to Mex­i­can car­tel crime, he’s putting a men­ac­ing for­eign face on white anx­i­ety about the coun­try’s shift­ing de­mo­graphic pro­file, which is push­ing tra­di­tional white, Judeo-Chris­tian cul­ture out of the cen­ter of Amer­i­can na­tional iden­tity. “The cease­less im­por­ta­tion of Third World for­eign­ers with no tra­di­tion of, taste for, or ex­pe­ri­ence in lib­erty,” wrote Michael An­ton, now a White House na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, is “the mark of a party, a so­ci­ety, a coun­try, a peo­ple, a civ­i­liza­tion that wants to die.” Bannon has com­plained that too many U.S. tech com­pany chief ex­ec­u­tives are from Asia.

The Cen­sus Bureau projects that whites will cease to be a ma­jor­ity in 30 years. Sup­pose you think the United States — maybe even all Western civ­i­liza­tion — will fall if the U.S. pop­u­la­tion ever be­comes as di­verse as Den­ver’s. You are go­ing to want to re­duce the for­eign-born pop­u­la­tion as quickly as pos­si­ble, and by any means nec­es­sary. You’ll de­port the de­portable with bru­tal alacrity, squeeze le­gal immigration to a trickle, bar those with “in­com­pat­i­ble” re­li­gions.

But to prop up po­lit­i­cal de­mand for this sort of eth­nic-cleans­ing pro­gram — what else can you call it? — it’s cru­cial to get enough of the pub­lic to be­lieve that Amer­ica’s di­ver­sity is a dan­ger­ous mis­take. If most white peo­ple come to think that Amer­ica’s mas­sive, mul­ti­cul­tural cities are de­cent places to live, what hope is there for the repub­lic? For Chris­ten­dom?

The big cities of the United States are, in fact, very de­cent places to live. To be sure, many met­ros have se­ri­ous prob­lems. Housing is in­creas­ingly un­af­ford­able, and the gap be­tween the rich and poor is on the rise. Nev­er­the­less, the Amer­i­can me­trop­o­lis is more peace­ful and pros­per­ous than it’s been in decades.

Con­trary to the nar­ra­tive that Trump and his ad­vis­ers pro­mote, our cities show that di­ver­sity can im­prove pub­lic safety. A new study of ur­ban crime rates by a team of crim­i­nol­o­gists found that “immigration is con­sis­tently linked to de­creases in vi­o­lent (e.g., mur­der) and prop­erty (e.g., bur­glary) crime” in the pe­riod from 1970 to 2010. What’s more, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis of FBI crime data, coun­ties la­beled as “sanc­tu­ary” ju­ris­dic­tions by fed­eral immigration author­i­ties have lower crime rates than com­pa­ra­ble non-sanc­tu­ary coun­ties. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s claim that sanc­tu­ary cities “have caused im­mea­sur­able harm” is sim­ply base­less. Even cities that have seen a re­cent rise in vi­o­lent crime are much safer to­day than they were in the early 1990s, when the for­eign-born pop­u­la­tion was much smaller.

Yes, cities have their share of fail­ing schools. But they also have some of the best schools in the coun­try and are hot­beds of re­form and in­no­va­tion. Ac­cord­ing to re­cent rank­ings by, the top 28 el­e­men­tary and mid­dle schools in New York state are in New York City; Ohio’s top four schools are in Cincin­nati, Cleve­land, Youngstown and Colum­bus; and the best school in Penn­syl­va­nia is in Philadel­phia. “The cul­ture of com­pe­ti­tion and in­no­va­tion, long in short sup­ply in pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, is tak­ing root most firmly in the cities,” ac­cord­ing to the Man­hat­tan In­sti­tute re­searchers who run the site.

And it gets things ex­actly back­ward to think of un­em­ploy­ment as a prob­lem cen­tered in cities.

Pack­ing peo­ple close to­gether cre­ates ef­fi­cien­cies of prox­im­ity and clus­ters of ex­per­tise that spur the in­no­va­tion that drives growth. Au­to­ma­tion has killed off many lowand medium-skill man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs, but tech­nol­ogy has in­creased the pro­duc­tiv­ity, and thus the pay, of highly ed­u­cated work­ers, and the ed­u­ca­tion pre­mium is high­est in dense, pop­u­lous cities. The best-ed­u­cated Amer­i­cans, there­fore, grav­i­tate to­ward the most pro­duc­tive big cities — which then be­come even big­ger, bet­ter ed­u­cated and richer.

Mean­while, smaller cities and out­ly­ing re­gions with an out­dated mix of in­dus­try and a less-ed­u­cated pop­u­lace fall fur­ther be­hind, dis­placed rather than boosted by tech­nol­ogy, stuck with fewer good jobs and lower av­er­age wages. The economist En­rico Moretti calls this re­gional sepa­ra­tion in ed­u­ca­tion and pro­duc­tiv­ity “the Great Di­ver­gence.”

Thanks to the Great Di­ver­gence, Amer­ica’s most di­verse, densely pop­u­lated and well-ed­u­cated cities are gen­er­at­ing an in­creas­ing share of the coun­try’s eco­nomic out­put. In 2001, the 50 wealth­i­est U.S. metro re­gions pro­duced about 27 per­cent more per per­son than the coun­try as a whole. To­day, they pro­duce 34 per­cent more, and there’s no end to the di­ver­gence in sight.

Taken to­gether, the Great Di­ver­gence and the Big Sort im­ply that Repub­li­can re­gions are pro­duc­ing less and less of our na­tion’s wealth. Ac­cord­ing to Mark Muro and Si­fan Liu of the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, Clin­ton beat Trump in al­most ev­ery county re­spon­si­ble for more than a pa­per-thin slice of Amer­ica’s eco­nomic pie. Trump took 2,584 coun­ties that to­gether ac­count for 36 per­cent of the na­tion’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct. Clin­ton won just 472 coun­ties — less than 20 per­cent of Trump’s take — but those coun­ties ac­count for 64 per­cent of GDP.

The rel­a­tive eco­nomic de­cline of Repub­li­can ter­ri­tory was cru­cial to Trump’s pop­ulist ap­peal. Trump gained most on Rom­ney’s 2012 vote share in places where fewer whites had col­lege de­grees, where more peo­ple were un­der­wa­ter on their mort­gages, where the pop­u­la­tion was in poorer phys­i­cal health, and where mor­tal­ity rates from alcohol, drugs and sui­cide were higher.

But Trump’s nar­ra­tive about the causes of this dis­tress are false, and his “eco­nomic na­tion­al­ist” agenda is a clas­sic pop­ulist bai­tand-switch. Trump won a big­ger vote share in places with smaller for­eign-born pop­u­la­tions. The res­i­dents of those places are, there­fore, least likely to en­counter a Mus­lim refugee, ex­pe­ri­ence im­mi­grant crime or com­pete with for­eign-born work­ers. Sim­i­larly, as UCLA po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Raul Hi­no­josa Ojeda has shown, places where Trump was es­pe­cially pop­u­lar in the pri­maries are places that face lit­tle im­port com­pe­ti­tion from China or Mex­ico. Trump’s pro­tec­tion­ist trade and immigration poli­cies will do the least in the places that like them the most.

Yet the Great Di­ver­gence sug­gests a dif­fer­ent sense in which the mul­ti­cul­tural city did bring about the malaise of the coun­try­side. The loss of man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs, and the in­creas­ing con­cen­tra­tion of the best-pay­ing jobs in big cities, has been largely due to the in­no­va­tion big cities dis­pro­por­tion­ately pro­duce. Im­mi­grants are a cen­tral part of that story.

But this is just to re­peat that more and more of Amer­ica’s dy­namism and growth flow from the open city. It’s difficult to pre­dict who will bear the down­side bur­den of dis­rup­tive in­no­va­tion — it could be Rust Belt au­towork­ers one day and ed­u­cated, ur­ban mem­bers of the elite main­stream me­dia the next — which is why dy­namic economies need ro­bust safety nets to pro­tect cit­i­zens from the risks of eco­nomic dis­lo­ca­tion. The denizens of Trump coun­try have borne too much of the dis­rup­tion and too lit­tle of the ben­e­fit from in­no­va­tion. But the re­dis­tri­bu­tion-lov­ing mul­ti­cul­tural ur­ban ma­jor­ity can’t be blamed for the in­ad­e­quacy of the safety net when the party of ru­ral whites has fought for decades to roll it back. Low-den­sity Amer­ica didn’t vote to be knocked on its heels by cap­i­tal­ist cre­ative de­struc­tion, but it has voted time and again against soft­en­ing the blow.

Po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists say that coun­tries where the mid­dle class does not cul­tur­ally iden­tify with the work­ing and lower classes tend to spend less on re­dis­tribu­tive so­cial pro­grams. We’re more gen­er­ous, as a rule, when we rec­og­nize our­selves in those who need help. You might ar­gue that this just goes to show that di­ver­sity strains sol­i­dar­ity. Or you might ar­gue that, be­cause we need sol­i­dar­ity, we must learn to rec­og­nize Amer­ica in other ac­cents, other com­plex­ions, other kitchen aro­mas.

Hon­duran cooks in Chicago, Ira­nian engi­neers in Seat­tle, Chi­nese car­di­ol­o­gists in At­lanta, their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren, all of them, are bedrock mem­bers of the Amer­i­can com­mu­nity. There is no “us” that ex­cludes them. There is no Amer­i­can na­tional iden­tity apart from the dy­namic hy­brid cul­ture we have al­ways been cre­at­ing to­gether. Amer­ica’s big cities ac­cept this and grow health­ier and more pro­duc­tive by the day, while the rest of the coun­try does not ac­cept this, and strug­gles.

In a mul­ti­cul­tural coun­try like ours, an in­clu­sive na­tional iden­tity makes sol­i­dar­ity pos­si­ble. An exclusive, nos­tal­gic na­tional iden­tity acts like a can­cer in the body politic, eat­ing away at the bonds of affin­ity and co­op­er­a­tion that hold our in­ter­ests to­gether.

Bannon is right. A coun­try is more than an econ­omy. The United States is a na­tion with a cul­ture and a pur­pose. That’s why Amer­i­cans of ev­ery her­itage and hue will fight to keep our cities sanc­tu­ar­ies of the Amer­i­can idea — of open­ness, tol­er­ance and trade — un­til our coun­try has been made safe for free­dom again.


New Chicago po­lice of­fi­cers at­tend their grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony Wed­nes­day. Pres­i­dent Trump has re­peat­edly crit­i­cized law en­force­ment in the Windy City, mak­ing Chicago sound like an an­ar­chic failed state.

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