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New York City’s Outer Boroughs, where racism has always been alive and well

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New York City, “The Big Apple,” is always thought of as a center of urban liberalism, but it’s never been as liberal as most people think. The City has elected lots of Republican Mayors over the years, including Fiorello LaGuardia, John Lindsay, the notorious Rudi Giuliani, and Michael Bloomberg.

The centers of Democratic strength in NYC are Manhattan and The Bronx. The other three boroughs—Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island—aren’t as liberal. Queens, don’t forget, was the home of Archie Bunker, that quintessential white guy who didn’t particularly care for Blacks or other minorities, and whose social views were, well, like Giuliani’s. In Queens, in 2016, the working class Howard Beach neighborhood gave Trump 84% of the vote. Brooklyn follows the pattern: the Brighton Beach neighborhood also gave him 84% of the vote, West Brighton 83%. Staten Island is reliably the reddest of NYC’s boroughs; its U.S. congressman is a Republican. The borough voted strongly for Trump; the populous Huguenot-Eltingville neighborhood are gave him 87%.

Donald Trump was born and raised in Queens. Rudi Giuliani, his TV lawyer, was born and raised in Brooklyn. I knew these boroughs fairly well. I was raised in the Bronx, but my parents moved eventually to Howard Beach, where I would visit them and meet their neighbors. I had very close relatives in Queens and Brooklyn whom we visited often, and an uncle of mine owned a business in Staten Island, where my cousins and I sometimes played.

It has been, of course, many decades since I lived in New York; things may be somewhat different today from when I was a kid (although the Trump votes in 2016 suggest that, if anything, the Outer Boroughs are more white and conservative.) Besides, both Trump and Giuliani are my age, and were shaped and succored by their experiences in New York in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. They are products of the Outer Boroughs.

Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island were populated largely by Jews and Protestants, including large numbers of Catholics, back in the day. (Trump was raised Protestant, although religion doesn’t seem to have been very important in his household. Giuliani was Catholic.) There was a surprising amount of racism among these two groups back then (and, of course, Trump’s father, Fred, was in the Ku Klux Klan). Both Jews and Protestants were prone to anti-Black prejudice (and to other forms of bigotry as well) to a degree that has been underreported. Both groups also were, to put it bluntly, New Yawkahs of a type often described as pushy, dismissive, arrogant, rude, aggressive and blunt.

Again, think of Archie Bunker. And then think of Trump and Giuliani. Peas from the same pod, right? And you can include other traits, as well: bullying, exaggerating, insulting, ambitious, unscrupulous in pursuit of business/financial goals, braggarts and xenophobic. Now, I don’t mean to put all New Yorkers down. I am a New Yorker (and Donald Trump and I were born on the exact same date), and I have always had a part of me that shares in these repulsive traits. I have fought against them all my life and largely overcome them, although not entirely.

But Trump and Giuliani have not. If anything, they’ve given into the darker side of their personalities and become more New Yawkah as they have gotten older. We see this virtually every time either of them opens his mouth in public. Lying is not particularly a New York thing, but the arrogance and pushiness than underlie it are, and so is the dismissiveness of others’ points of view, and of facts. Both men are extraordinarily aggressive. Most of us, I should think, are anxious to avoid confrontations, and seek to work out compromises with those with whom we have differences. Not Trump or Giuliani. Both love to fight. Both are unscrupulous and devious in the means they use to win. Both use people for their own ends, and neither cares very much who gets hurt, or how much damage is done, if they’re able to get their way.

This is the downside of New York, or at least of certain New Yorkers of a certain generation. It’s sad that it’s come to this: we’ve been blessed in this country to have for our presidents some amazing, wonderful New Yorkers: Teddy Roosevelt, his distant cousin FDR (whose mother always had a residence in Manhattan), and Grover Cleveland, a Democrat and one of our most underrated Presidents. (Martin van Buren, Chester Arthur and Millard Fillmore also were native New Yorkers.) At their best, New Yorkers are generous, optimistic, compassionate, kind and brave—we saw these qualities in the immediate aftermath of Sept 11. Unfortunately, in Donald Trump and Rudi Giuliani we have New Yorkers who are not the best, but who exhibit the worst of New York.

 

 

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