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Queens versus Manhattan: The Battle for America

Courtesy Conde Nast Store

New York City prides itself as being at the crossroads of the universe, the island at the center of the world. But when people say “New York City,” exactly what do they mean? For example, New York State government people like to tout the success and increased tourism in New York State. When so doing, they tend to mean increased tourism to New York City. Actually they tend to mean increased tourism to Manhattan and not to the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, or Staten Island. And they tend to mean not simply Manhattan. They mean midtown around Times Square and Lower Manhattan where the city began under the Dutch extending from the Battery up to Wall Street. Beyond that, they may also mean Niagara Falls (we seem to have forgiven Canada for the burning of the White House!) and Woodbury Commons, a historic shopping center.

People from the outer boroughs know they are not from the city meaning Manhattan often called New York. Remember the fierce fights when the 212 area code became restricted (see The Area Code Universe and Your Sense of Place). Now the people in the outer boroughs who lost the cachet of the 212 area code would immediately be identified as people who did not rate. Your whole identity could be summed up in a three digit number.

Our stories expressed this divide between the outer boroughs and the city.

Saturday Night Fever tells the story of Tony Manero, a 19 year old Italian American from Brooklyn facing a bleak future after highs school. Fellow dancer Stephanie Mangano dreams of the world beyond Brooklyn and plans to move to Manhattan to fulfill her dreams.

Working Girl updates the Cinderella story. Tess McGill is a 30 year could-be-Scottish-but-more-likely Irish American from Staten Island who works in Manhattan in a dead end job and dreams of better things through self-improvement. Her Irish American boyfriend has no such dreams and ends up marrying a local Italian American girl in what was then a mixed marriage. In the meantime, Tess succeeds in Manhattan and marries up because the force is with her.

The iconic image from Working Girl is the ferry ride to Manhattan (and not the one to Staten Island). Before her is Oz, a magical land. She successfully crosses the waters to this wonderland. She does so to the sound of Carly Simon singing “Bless the new Jerusalem.” Boston may have been the original city on a hill in America and Iowa has the field of dreams, but it is Manhattan that is the New Jerusalem. As part of her journey in this 1988 movie release, she gazes at the World Trade Towers not knowing that in 13 years they will be targeted and collapse.

Tess McGill ends up living the happily-ever-after dream in Manhattan while Tony Manero remains in Brooklyn and does not.

And then there is Queens. In the current issue of City & State NewYork, Ben Adler wrote “The Belligerent Style in American Politics: How New Yorkers Hijacked the Republican Party.” The article is about two TV characters from Queens, Archie Bunker and Donald Trump. The creation of the Bunker character did not work exactly as planned. Norman Lear expected the blustering bigot whose rantings were stupid and outdated to be the joke. He thought viewers would laugh at Archie. While many did, something else unexpected happened. Viewers laughed with Archie instead. They identified with his frustrations against the world around him and cheered the person who voiced what they thought but did not say.

Adler writes:

“All in the Family” proved that a portly, angry old white man from Queens could effectively articulate the anxiety about a changing society among social conservatives across the country, winning their affection in the process.

He notes that at the time, it never occurred to anyone that there could be a rich and famous real-life Archie Bunker who could go into politics and succeed. He concludes:

…Trump’s distinctly New York brand of right-wing politics not only attracted Republican voters: It has become the dominant paradigm of the contemporary Republican Party. Call it the Belligerent Style in American Politics.

Adler characterizes this attitude as the triumph of the outer boroughs (and white suburbs of former residents of the outer boroughs who moved out especially to Long Island). He depicts these people as nonideological but viscerally reactionary and perpetually enraged, longing for a bygone era and the strongman who promises to restore it. Maybe it is appropriate that Queens have a third-world airport given this desire for a strongman.

There is a certain irony in the focus of these sentiments on Donald Trump. There is probably no person in America who wanted more to cross the river from Queens to Manhattan and be accepted by the Manhattan elite. There is no one who more wants the New York Times to sing his praises than the boy from Queens who now occupies the White House. Manhattan is where he built. Manhattan is where he stamped his name on buildings galore. He was a longterm Democrat, a supporter of and contributor to the Clintons. He did everything he could to be visible. And he succeeded. The only thing he could not do was be accepted. Being a narcissistic serial failure who could not tell the truth did not help his cause. He had no future in the Democratic Party or among the elitists. So he tried elsewhere.

The Belligerent Style is now dominant. Rarely does one encounter it on CNN or MSNBC…although Cuomo from Queens sometimes edges into it. The Belligerent Style thrives on Fox. If you want pugnacious, Fox is your network. If you want “in your face,” Fox is your network. If you want a younger Archie Bunker who speaks better, Fox is your network. And since Republicans, like the Chinese, get their news from only one source, the state-authorized propaganda network, if you want to reach Republicans, Fox is your network.

Adler identifies the luminaries who have made Fox the political powerhouse that it is. “The belligerent style is embodied in its purest form by its talking heads, such as (Sean) Hannity and Jeanine Pirro [does her Lebanese descent mean she is a person of color?].” I remember her 32-seconds of silence when she misplaced a page of speech in her abortive Senate campaign. Her once-promising political career came crashing to an end. She seems to be making up for not speaking then. Adler calls her “a Trump attack dog.” Is that legal? One can call a man an attack dog, but is it still permissible to call a woman that? We need a ruling from the Thought Police.

As for Hannity, Adler describes “his on-air presence as reminiscent of an irate driver honking his horn on the Long Island Expressway.” Indeed, it would be foolish to ignore the importance of the physicality of the cable talk show hosts. Hannity is a forceful presence who sometimes seems to be leaping through the screen into your living room. When he calls upon viewers to “buckle up” before delivering his monologue, he means it. Strap yourself down, there’s a storm coming. Regardless of what his actual words are, it is clear that the refined talking head hosts on the other networks do not have that street-fighter presence. The same comparison may be said for the two candidates in 2016: one had a forceful stage presence who stalked his prey in the second presidential debate, the other was a well-behaved good little girl who did not resist. Remember JFK. Remember the first Clinton. We are not ethereal beings floating in the spiritual cosmos; we are real-live flesh and blood people. Democrats excite people based on their hyphen and identity, not because of their presence. The only person who attempts to communicate on this basis is Michael Avenatti.

Adler adds a comment about Southerners that may be partially obsolete by now. The news cycle can be faster than a magazine can keep up with. He addresses the issue of how the New York Belligerent Style plays in Peoria, that is, nationally, especially in the South.

Interviews with Trump supporters across the country – including for example, devout rural Southerners – routinely come back to the idea that’s he a jerk, but a jerk may be the only one tough enough to keep out undesirables and slay political correctness.

Adler cites a Washington Post report of a Southern Baptist saying “We need abrasive right now.” He notes the Suffolk County Republican Party Chairman echoing those sentiments when he said:

Trump speaks our language. He thinks the way we think. He talks the way we talk. He is breaking the political correctness of America.

Southerners now know that they are not immune from ridicule by the jerk. Despite everything he says about the Woodward, despite everything his network says about the Woodward book, the Southerners like everyone else know that the book is true, they know that it is accurate. They may think the anonymous author(s) of the New York Times op-ed piece should come forward, but they do not doubt its truth. Even his followers know he is an impulsive jerk prone to hissy fit tweets. What they did not know is how little he thinks of Southerners. Now they know. What will they do?

Note – Democrat elitists have yet to fully grasp the price Democrats pay for political correctness. Republicans are more concerned about the politically correct assault on America than they are about Russia’s violation of it. Perhaps the elitists do know and simply do not care, confident that the demographic deluge will sweep them into power…if it does not devour them first! The Democrats are still in the “Robert E. Lee” stage where hyphen identity trumps national identity. That shortcoming provides the Queens Belligerent Style unending opportunities to attack the Manhattan Deep State Elitists.