Urban Blues

On the surface, progressive “Blue America” has never appeared stronger. President Donald Trump’s leadership failures exposed by the pandemic and the recent disorders, is sinking him in the polls. His rival, Joe Biden, seems likely to concede his traditionally moderate stances to placate the Democrats’ youthful activist and identitarian wings. Radical “transformation” of the United States seems to some just months away.

Yet even as their political power waxes, the woke progressives are engaged in a process of blue-icide, undermining their own urban base of disadvantaged citizens and their own credibility. Such self-destructive tendencies existed even before COVID-19 and the George Floyd upheavals, in the form of crushingly high taxes, regulatory burdens, and dysfunctional schools. The failures of Trump may help progressives in 2020, but their emerging policy agenda seems destined to benefit the red states, conservatives, and, sadly, the far right, later in this decade.

Over the past several years New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago have lost population and San Francisco seems likely soon to join them. Meanwhile the suburbs, exurbs, and sprawling cities of the interior have continued to grow. Politically, almost all the major blue states—New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and even California—are expected to lose seats in the House in the next congressional elections, while the big Sunbelt states, notably Texas, Florida, and Arizona, will gain.

The departure of the urban middle class, with even millennials now joining the exodus, has left cities such as New York increasingly divided between a predominately white and Asian, overclass and a large, and often struggling, predominantly minority population. Without the restraints that traditionally come from a politically engaged middle-class constituency pushing for moderate and necessary reform, urban politics have evolved in directions unlikely to attract desperately needed investment and higher wage jobs in the inner city.

These demographic changes have left the fate of our bluest cities in the hands of radicals such as the increasingly potent Black Lives Matter movement. The blue state political and media establishment, and their allies in the corporate elite, have conceded enormous credibility to a group whose stance is explicitly radical.

Thoroughgoing police reform, the key reason for the Black Lives Matter movement’s growth, is clearly needed. But BLM’s politics go beyond even support for such widely unpopular measures as defunding, or even abolishing, the police and the prison system, and endorsing reparations. The group generally favors radical socialist economics to battle what its founders see as “racial capitalism. ”Besides favoring federal favoritism for Black institutions, it embraces single payer health care, huge tax increases, and other leftist positions that might not appeal to blue state oligarchs. It also condemns Israel as “genocidal.”

Blue state leaders have been slow to recognize—or perhaps slow to acknowledge—that BLM politics are more akin to the Black Panther Party of the 1960s than the Southern Christian Leadership Council. Academic Melina Abdullah, a prominent BLM spokesperson and co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter, is an open admirer of the Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan. She describes the protests not as a cry for reform but an “uprising” or “rebellion.” In late May, Abdullah explained: “We’ve been very deliberate in saying that the violence and pain and hurt that’s experienced on a daily basis by Black folks at the hands of a repressive system should also be visited upon, to a degree, to those who think that they can just retreat to white affluence.” Among the areas where rioters visited pain was LA’s traditionally Jewish Fairfax district, where stores were destroyed and synagogues were vandalized and spray-painted with slogans like “Fuck Israel.” A BLM leader in New York has endorsed the armed takeover of neighborhoods, something that has already occurred, with deadly results, in painfully white and hip Seattle.

Read the rest of this piece at Tablet Magazine.

Joel Kotkin is the author of the just-released book The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute — formerly the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin

Photo credit: Ochlo via Wikimedia under CC 4.0 License.

How the Virus is Pushing America Toward a Better Future

The peak globalization bubble has finally burst and America has a chance to reinvent itself and realign how things work here with the best parts of our national identity.

Pessimism is the mood of the day, with 80 percent of Americans saying the country is generally out of control. Even before civil unrest and pestilence, most Americans believed our country was in decline, Pew reported, with a shrinking middle class, increased indebtedness and growing polarization.

It’s a dark hour, but the United States has a way of coming back, after struggling with itself, stronger than ever. As it did in World War II and the Cold War, America retains enormous sokojikara, or “reserve power,” as Japan political scientist Fuji Kamiya described it decades ago.

That power can be harnessed now that “the era of peak globalization is over,” as John Gray succinctly put it in the New Statesman. The good news is that the pandemic has shattered the mythical global village, weakening both economic and political ties between countries, including within the European Union. The days of global kumbaya are gone, as more people recognize that “free trade” has benefited the already affluent in large part at the expense of most people. Now is the opportunity for America to rebuild a more resilient economy and society, one structured around the people here more than on global capital flows.

Critically, the pandemic may bolster our ties to our communities and families. However bumbling the governmental response, Americans in this crisis have engaged in personal charity, much in evidence throughout the pandemic. There remains a natural proclivity to engage the virus as close to home as possible, providing precisely the kind of local solution, which, as the medical journal The Lancet notes, is critical to meeting the challenges posed by the pandemic. The sense of social responsibility has not disappeared. Despite attempts by some Trumpians to politicize the response, a vast majority of Americans, even Republicans, continue to wear masks and most Americans continue to socially distance.

Even faith, which has been suffering for years, could make a comeback. After all, the great pandemics of the Roman era, as William McNeil noted in his Plagues and Peoples, served as an enormous boon to Christianity, whose adherents devoted themselves to treating the afflicted while the pagans “fled from the sick and heartlessly abandoned them. Pestilence undermined pagan Rome, as historian Kyle Palmer has revealed, but it jumpstarted Christianity’s rise to dominance.

Today’s new “spiritual reawakening” may defy conventional forms, and become ever more a matter of personalized digital choice. As places of worship remain closed, virtual church attendance is booming, and according to Pew, a quarter of Americans say the pandemic has bolstered their faith, a finding also confirmed by Gallup. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the evangelical group Global Media Outreach has gone from reaching 350,000 people per day to upwards of 500,000 globally. A GMO leader told the Christian Post, “People are coming to us saying, ‘I need hope. Where can I find hope in the face of tragedy, anxiety, bankruptcy?’” He added, “When people are in pain, we offer encouragement and hope. They’re coming to us looking for answers.”

Having been stuck in lockdown for months, many of us have been reminded that, at the end, what really matters is family. We may only now being released from enforced contact with our closest relations, and even our roommates, and often painful separations from those who live farther away. “When society is facing a tremendous challenge or there’s a big uptick in suffering, people orient themselves in a less self-centered way and in a more family-centric way,” suggests Brad Wilcox, a professor of sociology and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

The pandemic has weakened some of the traditional advantages of our biggest cities. The culture of the “jet-setter”, the bien-pensant who run our big corporations, universities, media companies and consultancy, no longer have to cluster in a handful of cities.

The psychological impact of this shift will persist. Almost a half year after the pandemic started, airports are still mostly “ghost towns”, with some taken over by wildlife and the loss of 100 million jobs globally. Travel will likely come back but in smaller numbers, and without the legions of business travelers who now can trek globally without leaving their screens.

Rather than the airport lounge, the new focus of work, as Al Toffler predicted decades ago, will be the home. Our lunge into telecommuting has reaped surprising productivity gains. Many companies, including banks and leading tech firms, including Facebook, Salesforce and Twitter, now expect a large proportion of their workforce to continue to remotely after the pandemic. A University of Chicago study suggests this could grow to as much as one third of the workforce. In Silicon Valley, it notes, the number reaches near 50 percent.

With two out of three tech workers now willing to leave San Francisco, big tech can get bigger while spreading talent and wealth more widely. Workers in denser communities, notes a recent Apartmentalist survey, now are far more likely to move than their counterparts in less crowded areas. The preference for lower-density housing has been amplified by the pandemic, not only here but in Europe as well.

In the process the pattern of economic concentration in the core, the great signature of Gotham, faces a rapidly diminishing appeal as evidenced by the increasingly empty New York towers, failed projects in San Francisco and downtown Los Angeles. Our core cities still can have a bright future, but one also less dominant. Given the mandate of social distancing — with its impact on crowded offices, elevators, and trains — dense cities will have to adjust to dramatically scaled back capacity at everything from offices, restaurants and parks.

With the reduction of what one writer describes as “insane crowds” of tourists, city-dwellers can rediscover the pleasures of urban life. They can thrive, as HG Wells predicted well over a century ago, as “places of concourse and rendezvous” and defy his projection that the cites would be dominated by the affluent, and childless, as places of “luxurious extinction.”

After Trump’s likely and well-deserved tossing out, his nationalist policy will not go away. Before 2016, and before the pandemic, much of the American establishment, from Michael Bloomberg to Joe Biden, largely embraced Beijing’s regime; some like former Senator Max Baucus have even become paid apologists. But with COVID-19 and the ensuing recession, the repression of Hong Kong and the mass incarceration of Muslims, China’s reputation has suffered a precipitous fall.

Some aspects of Trumpism will likely survive his own reign. Prominent Democrats like Andrew Cuomo have joined Trump in denouncing our ruinous dependence on Chinese medical supplies and there’s growing bipartisan concern about dependence on Beijing for high-tech gear. For all of Trump’s needless ruffling of feathers, Europe, Australia, Canada and Japan have all joined us in an emerging de facto “united front” against China.

To maintain a majority, Democrats, suggests former Indiana Senator Evan Bayh will be forced to adopt a more economic nationalist approach, particularly in the Midwest. There is already an emerging alliance between populists in both parties—Bernie Sanders and Joshua Hawley, for example—that oppose returning to the globalist fantasies of the Bush and Obama years.

Whoever wins in November will inherit an economy plagued by high unemployment. The job losses have been larger than the entire employment of metro New York, Los Angeles and Chicago put together. Over half of families with children have lost income. The Congressional Budget office suggests the economy could take a decade to recover.

Even in the best of times, back in February, our economy was failing many Americans.. Corporate mea culpas about racism and solidarity with Black Lives Matter may blunt criticism, but do not address the fundamental problem of diminished expectations, particularly in minority and working-class communities suffering continued economic distress and hopelessness. Unlike in the past, traditional liberalism has stopped producing benefits to the mass of workers.

Educated professionals, able to work from home, have weathered the pandemic better than working class people whose jobs require a physical presence. But the lockdowns have revealed our mutual dependence on millions of essential workers, whose jobs are often performed at great at great personal risk, in producing food, basic necessities and medical equipment as well as staffing our hospitals and operating the critical logistics chain. It’s one thing to call them “heroes” but another one to extend to them opportunities to build careers, get adequate pay, and health care, and the opportunity to own a business or home.

What workers in these sectors need is more investment in domestic industries. The good news is that America’s potential, even with the erratic Trump at the helm, has been widely recognized by investors, who have returned to our stock market far more than our rivals. Taiwan Semiconductor, for example, recently announced plans to build a $12 billion plant in Arizona. Our new economic focus needs to seek “reshoring” of industry on a massive scale. Despite the much ballyhooed consumer benefits of low-cost imports, the vast majority of Americans seem willing to pay higher prices that could come from moving production from China.

We are not a racial state with roots in a common past, as can be said of China, Japan, France, or Germany.

Where countries like  China, Japan, France, and Germany can be described as states with roots in a common past, America, in its essence, is built on aspiration and a kind of reckless ambition. The American as described by the French-born 18th century traveler John Hector St. John remains a “new man”: innovative, independent, less bound by tradition or ancient prejudice. Even with racial and other barriers, no large country in history has been able to incorporate so many diverse peoples around a basic, if all too often violated, ideal.

We are either distinctly this kind of America, or simply a larger Europe without the charm and history. It is also hard to see how we can morph into a disciplined, homogeneous Confucian society, like Korea, China, or Taiwan, where people follow instructions with little question and accept the authority of the state.

Americans are different. They are not naturally obedient and have done best by taking chances. The real hero of this age is not the narcissist rich kid Trump, tech oligopolists or professional hysterics but entrepreneurs who are attempting to improve the material future by sending astronauts into space, working on electric and autonomous vehicles, developing new medical technologies and boring tunnels under our cities.

Such disruptive innovators, combined with the enormous physical expanse and wealth of our continental empire, represent secret sauce for America’s next resurgence. New companies historically take advantage of disruptions in part by accessing talent that would not have been available in better times. Many of what became great companies emerged in the Great Depression and subsequent deep recessions.

We can repeat this again. Our spirits may be down, our leadership inept and our confidence low, but we still possess that unique reserve power to confound doomsters both in the rest of the world and here at home.

This piece first appeared on The Daily Beast.

Joel Kotkin is the author of the just-released book The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute — formerly the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin

Photo credit: digitized image of “American Gothic”, a painting by Grant Wood, in collection of the Art Institute of Chicago via Wikimedia in Public Domain.

The Rebellion of America’s New Underclass

Like so many before them, our recent disorders have been rooted in issues of race. But in the longer run, the underlying causes of our growing civic breakdown go beyond the brutal police killing of George Floyd. Particularly in our core cities, our dysfunction is a result of our increasingly large, and increasingly multi-racial, class of neo-serfs.

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From tragedy to opportunity: We could live better when today’s mayhem ends

For most people in this locked-down, riot-scarred world, the future beckons unpleasantly. There is a growing sense that, economically, the 2020s may look more like the 1930s than some halcyon post-industrial future. “Dark days ahead,” suggests The Week. “This is what the end of the end of history looks like.”

Yet, beyond the depressing statistics, the deserted malls, the looted or abandoned Main Streets, lies the potential to use the pandemic to create the impetus for better, more sustainable and family-centric communities. This is not just some return — imagined from the security of the high punditry — to a “plainer,” more noble past but actual, meaningful improvements in our daily lives, made largely possible by technology.

Pestilence has long reshaped economies and communities. The plague took as many as one in three Europeans but also generated higher wages for the remaining workforce and provided new opportunities for enterprising peasants, who soon would morph into a nascent middle class. “In an age where social conditions were considered fixed,” suggested historian Barbara Tuchman, the new adjustments seemed “revolutionary.” Similarly, the disease-ridden depredations of the industrial city eventually led to new sanitation systems, the growth of public health systems, as well as a century-long exodus to less crowded, more family-friendly suburban communities.

Changing how we work and live — for the better

The growth of telecommuting and its surprising productivity gains have been turning corporate heads during the pandemic. Many companies, including banks and leading tech firms such as FacebookSalesforce and Twitter, now expect a large proportion of their workforce to work remotely, permanently. A University of Chicago study suggests this could grow to as much as one-third of the workforce. In Silicon Valley, it notes, the number reaches near 50 percent.

The shift to dispersed work — likely to be further accelerated by the ongoing riots and protests — opens up unique opportunities for parts of the country that have not enjoyed the benefits of tech growth. With two out of three tech workers now willing to leave San Francisco, Big Tech can get bigger while spreading talent and wealth more widely. Rather than steering high-wage employment places where earnings tend to disappear through inflated living costs and taxes, much of the workforce now will be able to live closer to where they can afford to live comfortably, raise a family and lift up local economies.

Some urban planners, notably in California, will try to stifle these developments, seeking to push large apartments and transit over suburban growth. But no degree of urban boosterism will erase the searing memories of the pandemic and the riots which have devastated the hearts of our largest cities, and which will impact location decisions for a generation.

Read the rest of this piece at The Hill


Joel Kotkin is the author of the just-released book The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute — formerly the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin

Pandemics and Pandemonium

Minneapolis and urban centers across America are burning, most directly in response to the brutal killing of a black man by a white Minnesota police officer. But the rage ignited by the death of George Floyd is symptomatic of a profound sense of alienation that has been building for years among millions of poor, working class urbanites. The already diminished prospects facing such people have only been worsened by the unforeseen onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic and the policies devised to combat it. Read more

Blue City Lockdowns Obscure COVID’s Root Causes

It will be months, likely years, before we understand how COVID-19 has reshaped our communities. Yet there is enough data, based on just the last three months, to get some notion of what areas and populations are most vulnerable.

The patterns are in many ways fairly clear. Media outlets, particularly those based in New York, seem to feel that the pain of the urban centers will be shared universally. The “science” as generally endorsed by our ruling Clerisy  dictates that we impose strong controls which, though perhaps necessary in New York and other places, have been disastrous in marginally unaffected rural and suburban areas.

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The New Geography of America, Post-Coronavirus

When there is a general change in conditions, it is as if the entire creation had changed, and the whole world altered
Ibn Khaldun, 14th Century Arab historian

For a generation, a procession of pundits, public relations aces and speculators have promoted the notion that our future lay in dense — and politically deep-blue — urban centers, largely on the coasts. Just a decade ago, in the midst of the financial crisis,  suburbia’s future seemed perilous Read more

The Coronavirus Means Millennials Are More Screwed Than Ever

In the nearly eight years since I first described millennials as “the screwed generation,” things have only worsened for those born between 1982 and 2000—and the coronavirus is now accelerating that slide.

In the midst of a pandemic, millennials are twice as likely to be uninsured as Boomers (PDF). Despite their superior educational credentials, millennials on average earn wages that are 20 percent less than what Baby Boomers made at the same age. Millennials are far less likely to own homes than Boomers were, and those millennials with homes are far more likely to have rich parents.

Seniors may suffer a much higher risk from the virus, but, from an economic point of view, it’s the millennials getting screwed the most. In a new report, Data for Progress found that a staggering 52 percent of people under the age of 45 have lost a job, been put on leave, or had their hours reduced due to the pandemic, compared with 26 percent of people over the age of 45.

Some recent research suggests that the pandemic may impact this generation in terms of such things as mental and physical health, leading to shortened lifespans. Before the pandemic, about 8 percent of American teens (members of Generation Z) reported trying to kill themselves each year and about 70 percent suffered from loneliness. In 2020, these numbers will likely be higher, suggests an excellent analysis in The Atlantic. The young generations are already more likely to report poor mental health, per the American Psychological Association, and suicides among people ages 10-24 soared 56 percent from 2007 to 2017.

This reflects the pessimism felt by millennials, both here and globally, about their futures, with most not expecting to do better than their parents. Their dismal prospects are reflected in the lowest marriage rates in history and loathness to start families. Battered now by pestilence and its aftermath, they could well become what one conservative writer referred to as a “resentful generation.”

Particularly vulnerable are the two-thirds of Americans between 25 and 32 who lack a four-year college degree. In the past, these workers would have been employed in factories or worked in a small businesses, or even started one. You do not need a PhD to operate a donut shop, a gym or a hair salon.

But now factory work has declined as companies have shifted their production to China and other parts of the developing world. The Main Street option was fading even before the COVID lockdown, as evidenced in falling rates of business formation, particularly among the young. The share of GDP represented by small firms has dropped from 50 to 45 percent since the 1990s. The share of young firms in all industries has fallen in the last 40 years. Increasingly more industries have become dominated by large, superstar firms  with access to Wall Street capital.

But even educated youth now suffer consistently lower wages, notes Pew, than their counterparts from previous generations. Many young people, including some college graduates, are employed in low-wage industries such as hospitality, retail and restaurants, fields now suffering the largest share of the job losses. Even those still working often have little ability to control working conditions, terms of employment, or gain guarantees for health coverage.

Read the rest of this piece at Daily Beast.


Joel Kotkin is the author of the just-released book The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute — formerly the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin

The Glory—and Risk—of Cities

The glory of cities is to serve as places of interaction between people and economies. Yet throughout history—from Roman times to the present—this advantage has also entailed exposure to deadly contagions. As Marc Riedl, a specialist in respiratory disease at UCLA, puts it: “Megacity life is an unprecedented insult to the immune system.” Today’s coronavirus pandemic reflects these patterns, concentrating, at least initially, in densely populated regions, such as Wuhan, Madrid, and around Milan. In the United States, the vast majority of cases to date are occurring in the densest, most globalized regions, such as Seattle, San Francisco, and, in particular, greater New York. Cases have been far less prevalent, so far, in the vast middle of the country—except for New Orleans and Detroit—and in rural areas, where people have less daily contact.

Yet density is not a death sentence. Taiwan and South Korea—which have denser cities—and Singapore, roughly the density of New York City, have largely avoided the worst of the outbreaks. In all three countries, health officials took decisive and early steps to control travel and identify those who might be susceptible to the disease. Some of this was based on experience from earlier contagions, such as SARS, and from a far more disciplined population and more effective, authoritative governance. From the beginning, notes MIT Technology Review, Singapore authorities worked to piece together the complex chain of transmission from one person to another. As of February, anyone entering a government or corporate building in Singapore had to provide contact details. South Korea also began aggressive testing early on and has administered at least a quarter-million tests.

By contrast, the U.S. and Europe have been slower to address the crisis, posing a significant threat to their cities. Europe’s fast-growing infection rate is, to some extent, the product of its weak border controls, one of the EU’s proudest accomplishments. Canada was also slow to act. It did not ban overseas travelers until mid-March; flights from China to Vancouver continued as late as March 15, reportedly without screening or testing.

As a result, we’re seeing in Europe and North America a shutdown of many urban essentials, including in dense and transit-dominated New York. To tell New Yorkers to avoid crowded subways—a legitimate concern—is also to take away one way that dense cities work. Mass-transit ridership, struggling throughout the country, has taken a huge hit during the crisis, leaving systems in perilous financial shape. In New York, despite efforts to keep the subway cars clean, ridership is down as much as 50 percent, as the lockdown has many commuters working from home. The massive transit subsidies in the federal stimulus could end up largely plugging holes from devastated budgets.

The pandemic raises issues that should have been confronted after earlier scares such as SARS, Ebola, and swine flu. Cities, historian William McNeill noted in his revealing Plagues and Peoples, have always struggled from being “unhealthy places.” To avoid the high rates of infectious disease in the tropics, the earliest cities generally were built in the dry areas of Mesopotamia, Egypt, northern India, and China, as well as in the Mediterranean basin. Even so, the great classical cities—Athens, Rome, and Alexandria—all suffered from periodic plagues that, in some cases, wiped out as much as half their population.

Trade, an essential element of cities, often triggered what McNeill described as “fateful encounters” with foreign pestilence. The rat-borne bubonic plague came to Europe on ships from the East, where the disease originated. It affected the cosmopolitan centers of Renaissance Italy—with their often crowded and filthy marketplaces—far more than the rural, backward reaches of Poland or other parts of central Europe. Those who could—like some contemporary wealthy New Yorkers fleeing to country homes—tried to avoid the contagion by holing up in rural redoubts, where the chances of infection, though not negligible, were generally less. Boccaccio’s Decameron relates 100 stories told by a coterie of elite Florentine youths who fled the 1348 outbreak of the Black Death.

Modernity brought its own health crises. Friedrich Engels speaks powerfully in The Condition of the Working Class in England of the squalid conditions endured by Britain’s mid-nineteenth-century urban poor. Mortality rates in London were three times higher than in the surrounding countryside, making the city dependent on constant demographic infusions from the hinterlands and Ireland. The urban proletariat suffered stunted lives, not only in terms of economics but also regarding their physical stature and longevity. Epidemics of infectious diseases such as cholera, typhoid, typhus, smallpox, and tuberculosis were widespread, and crowded conditions, alcoholism, and mass prostitution contributed to a public-health nightmare.

Such maladies also became commonplace in America. Pollution of air and water was rampant—observers speak of the Ohio River in Cincinnati turning red with “rivers of blood” from slaughtered pigs. Residents of industrial cities like Pittsburgh suffered high rates of lung infection. Smog in southern California in the past created an environment so toxic that young children often had to be warned not to play outside.

Read the rest of this piece at City Journal.

Joel Kotkin is the author of the just-released book The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute — formerly the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin

Photo credit: Loozrboy via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

One Nation, Under Lockdown, Divided by Pandemic

The last thing this polarized Republic needs is, well, more polarization, but that is what we are contracting from the pandemic. Americans, irrespective of region, broadly want the same things, such as safety, a return to normalcy, and an end to dependence on China for medical supplies, but they differ in the depth of their experiences with the pandemic.

Rather than rallying the nation, COVID-19 has amplified every fissure in this society from class to race, but perhaps most of all regarding geography. This reflects, in large part, the different experiences felt in various localities and the differences in how economies function from region to region.

On one hand there is the New York City urban area, which has suffered roughly 40 percent of fatalities, and bore the brunt of the crisis. Places outside New York with the most deaths have been central cities such as New Orleans and Detroit, where the vast majority of deaths have been endured by African Americans living in crowded, low income districts.

In past circumstances (after 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina), Americans responded with their customary generosity. New Yorkers, in particular, were seen as heroic, and for a short while Rudy Giuliani, hard as it is to believe now, was “America’s Mayor.” Not this time. Only a person just arrived from Mars would see New York Mayor Bill De Blasio as an inspiring figure, although his nemesis, Andrew Cuomo, has gained some national street cred.

The polarized reaction to the pandemic reflects already established patterns of partisan group-think, particularly in the dominant mainstream media. In early times a pandemic would inspire a surge of unity akin to 9/11 among Americans — even journalists. But the never-ending battle between bombastic narcissist Donald Trump and the equally self-indulgent media seemingly allows for no such genuflection to national interest.

Viral Geography

To the political divide, add a major geographic one. Huge parts of the country have been barely impacted by the virus but almost everywhere has been hit by the lockdowns and social distancing policies. Not surprisingly, extending lockdown orders seems far less compelling in places where the pandemic’s impact has, so far, been minimal.

This pattern of infection and fatalities almost completely parallels that of our political divides, with the generally GOP dominated countryside least impacted, the suburbs only somewhat so, and the big blue cities bearing the bulk of pain. By one estimate, states with Republican governors, mostly in the South, Intermountain West, and the Great Plains have suffered one-third the rate of fatalities seen in Democratic controlled states, which tend to be denser in their settlement patterns.

Read the rest of this piece at Daily Caller.

Joel Kotkin is the author of the just-released book The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute — formerly the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin

Photo credit: screenshot from COVID-19 CSSE Dashboard Johns Hopkins.