Trumpism’s Urban Roots

It’s tempting, though inaccurate, to look to articles like this weekend’s Washington Post piece following Jim Cooley, a downwardly-mobile former trucker on disability who packs an AR-15 to the local Georgia Wal-Mart while his wife uses Facebook to alert the local sheriff that his intentions are benign and unworthy of forcible response (illustrated thusly, a bit on the nose),

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Photo Jabin Botsford, Washington Post

and conclude that Trumpism is a tide that laps the edges of metropolitan areas, but properly belongs to some here-be-dragons space off the map.

While this perception is largely based on the use of “non-college educated” as a shoddy statistical proxy for “working class” and ignores the higher-than-average incomes of Trump supporters, as well as their ample (if, perhaps, electorally insufficient) presence in American suburbs, it’s also worth noting that the key professional basis for Trump’s claims to the presidency (whatever their merit may be) is his career as a real estate developer. And, it’s difficult to avoid the fact that that career would be nothing without the regime of tax abatements and incentives that have characterized post-industrial urban governance in New York City and elsewhere.

Charles Bagli has that story in the New York Times. The long and short? Trump’s New York properties were built using tax abatement programs that lowered costs to Trump during development and shielded buyers of luxury condos from the full tax rate, allowing Trump to charge (and receive) higher prices to make more immediate profits. As Bagli writes, Trump’s Grand Hyatt hotel, which opened in 1980,

set the pattern for Mr. Trump’s New York career: He used his father’s, and, later, his own, extensive political connections, and relied on a huge amount of assistance from the government and taxpayers in the form of tax breaks, grants and incentives to benefit the 15 buildings at the core of his Manhattan real estate empire.

Since then, Mr. Trump has reaped at least $885 million in tax breaks, grants and other subsidies for luxury apartments, hotels and office buildings in New York, according to city tax, housing and finance records.

As a product of public subsidies that have created luxury for a privileged elite, starved the public sector, and stinted on obligations to provide affordable and integrated housing, while cloaking themselves in the rhetoric of competitive enterprise, Trump’s empire reflects the trajectory of urban America, uncomfortable though it may be to recognize.

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Perlstein on Chicago School Grifters

This piece by Rick Perlstein at Jacobin is a fantastic exegesis of the dense and incestuous network of non-profits, for-profits, and mayoral appointees that have spent the last two decades preparing to essentially privatize Chicago’s public schools. I had known that Illinois’ austerian Republican Governor Bruce Rauner gave current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel his start in investment banking between Congress and City Hall. I hadn’t known that Rauner was a member of an education committee of the Chicago Commerce Club which, ignoring reports by local universities that charter schools did not outperform neighborhood public schools, demanded the expansion of charters in a 2009 policy brief. It was after this report came out that, Perlstein writes,

a set of interlocking institutions quite more self-interested, ideologically stubborn, and sclerotic than the educational establishment it sought to “disrupt” had come into being to do just what the iron law of bureaucracy predicted they would do: grow, grow, grow.

You can read the rest. Make sure your kids are out of earshot.

Infrastructure

From James Surowiecki at The New Yorker

Infrastructure was once at the heart of American public policy. Works such as the Los Angeles Aqueduct, Hoover Dam, and the Interstate Highway System transformed the economy. Today, we spend significantly less, as a share of G.D.P., on infrastructure than we did fifty years ago—less, even, than fifteen years ago. As the economist Larry Summers has pointed out, once you adjust for depreciation, the U.S. makes no net investment in public infrastructure. Yet polls show that infrastructure spending is popular with a majority of voters across the income spectrum. Historically, it enjoyed bipartisan support from politicians, too. If it’s so popular, why doesn’t it happen?

The answer (surprise) is politics, significantly, though not exclusively, of the conservative anti-government variety. But Surowiecki also points out that there have been veto points added in to the process for environmental protection and community empowerment goals. This is historically important, because, as numerous works in urban history point out, large-scale infrastructure projects have often been carried out in profoundly undemocratic and environmentally cavalier ways.

Perhaps more than reviving a tradition of infrastructure spending, we need to cultivate practices of democratic infrastructure development. So, while I’m in general agreement that, since bridge collapse or lead poisoning now threaten me more than ISIS does,

The U.S. needs to approach infrastructure the way it does national defense: come up with a long-term strategy, make sure it gets the money it needs, and hold the government accountable for making that strategy work. Infrastructure is the ultimate public good. It would be nice if ours was actually good for the public,

I don’t know if national defense is the best metaphor.

Flint Water Protests hit Lansing

The Flint Water Crisis reflects a progression of what I’ve written about, more theoretically than empirically, in my American Studies article on urban democracy in the age of austerity and money politics. Michigan’s emergency manager law, which represents a difference of degree rather than kind among state actions to limit urban home rule and public democracy, has enabled bottom-line decision-making that risked the health of Flint residents to save relatively trivial amounts of money in the city’s water service. These decisions were made in the absence of locally accountable elected officials, but Flint residents are not going to let the story end there. Protests have hit the state capitol in Lansing, demanding the resignation of Governor Rick Snyder, the champion of the state’s emergency manager law.

The Daily Show has jumped on this in a way that highlights the fundamental cruelty of the cost-cutting decision, though it doesn’t address the emergency management element of the story.

It’s worth mentioning that the emergency manager who made the decision to switch Flint’s water supply from Detroit’s Lake Huron water to the Flint River has been recently named the emergency manager of the Detroit Public Schools.

One Way to Not Comply With Fair Housing Laws….

Via Brentin Mock at Citylab: 

In the early 2000s, Palmdale and Lancaster began spending “significant resources” to pay for investigators and sheriff’s deputies for the sole purpose of aggressively monitoring families in the Section 8 voucher program, reads the Justice Department’s complaint. As a result, hundreds of black families had investigators randomly show up at their doors, often with a posse of armed sheriffs, to search their homes and interrogate them about their housing status.

Mock quotes this from the Justice Department’s press release, available here:

[The Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles] and [the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department] used their resources to effectuate the cities’ [Palmdale and Lancaster] mutual discriminatory goals and to carry out their own discriminatory motives by disproportionately subjecting African-American voucher holders in the cities to more intrusive and intimidating compliance checks and referring those households for termination from the voucher program at greater rates than white voucher holders living in the cities, or any voucher holders living elsewhere in the county of Los Angeles.

Read Mock’s whole account. If you guessed that public authorities in Lancaster and Palmdale would be chastened by this finding, guess again. A growing literature is addressing the history of American public housing and its privatized successor programs, notably Larry Vale’s Purging the Poorest, which evaluates the shift away from modernist mass-scale public housing in Atlanta and Chicago. Despite the well-known problems with public housing, the shift toward vouchers and market-rent subsidy programs exposes the poor and particularly the poor of color to a double-edged sword–by accepting the incentive offered by Section 8 and other market-oriented housing programs to move out of urban areas and embrace the opportunity to raise families in middle-class communities (which comes with a hefty dose of cultural paternalism), those families land in neighborhoods where their presence becomes a symbol of decline and an object of hostility.

Stadium Financing Skewered by John Oliver

Since I will otherwise come off as a John Oliver fanboy, I will point out that he misuses the term “begs the question” twice in this clip.

Otherwise, it’s brilliant, and even features John’s best Coach Eric Taylor impersonation.

Some more serious stuff by me on stadiums and cities here and here, and of course the blog Field of Schemes is the leading source.