September 4, 2023

Cities of Blinding Lights
We can’t simply write them off

By: Brian Almon

Brian Almon

I think it’s fair to say that most conservatives have a rural, or at least suburban, bias. “Get out of the cities,” says Jack Posobiec. We find virtue in rural culture, while dismissing cities as cesspools of corruption and crime. Cities foster dependency on the government while rural and suburban folk know how to take care of themselves. It’s no wonder then that conservatives often assume that cities no longer matter in the long run.

This is a mistake.

In the wake of the 2020 election, many conservatives latched on to a narrative reminiscent of Pauline Kael: How could Joe Biden have possibly won so many millions of votes? We all saw the rallies, the parades, the signs for Donald Trump. How could he have possibly lost? He should have won California, much less Georgia and Arizona. Massive fraud is the only possible explanation. Right?

Late last month I visited the city of Chicago for a conference. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it. While cities can be nice places to visit once in a great while, I would rather see the country. In fact, on my epic summer road trip ten years ago I studiously avoided cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and Boston in favor of smaller towns and rural attractions.

Chicago exceeded my expectations. It was fairly clean, well maintained, and seemed safe enough. Obviously I only experienced a small part of a massive city, but that part was pleasant. As I stood on the balcony of my AirBnB rental on the 18th floor of a 60-story tower, I had some thoughts.

From that balcony I could see five or six other skyscrapers, each as tall or taller than my own. I could see in the windows of some of them – I saw men and women eating dinner, watching TV, living their lives in the panopticon of a megacity. I realized that there was probably more people on one city block in downtown Chicago than in my entire hometown. The population of the Chicago metropolitan area is nearly 10 million, five times more than the entire state of Idaho. The city itself is home to more than 3 million.

How did Joe Biden get 85 million votes? Because there are millions of people in the cities who don’t care about politics, and the Democrats figured out a way to extract ballots from those people.

Human beings generally have a hard time with large numbers. For example, it is difficult to conceptualize a billion dollars, much less the trillions our government wastes every year. Or, as Douglas Adams said, “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

In the same manner, it is easy for us to forget how many people live in big cities. At some point the number becomes uncountable. 10 million people live in the Chicago metro area, and another 20 million in and around New York City. That’s nearly 10% of the population of the entire nation right there.

“Get out of the cities” might be good advice, for the safety and prosperity of your family, but pretending that cities don’t matter in the political arena is a recipe for disaster. Tens of millions of city-dwellers vote according to their interests, which increasingly diverge from those in suburban and rural areas. Whereas country folk tend to want government to be small and distant, city folk rely on a a complex machine with many moving parts. Consider what it takes to keep a city of Chicago’s size running:

  • Keeping thousands of miles of surface streets clear and safe
  • Maintaining a transit system that includes more than two thousand buses and an intricate subway network
  • Providing electricity, plumbing, sewer, and internet access to the untold number of buildings in the city
  • Making sure the trash gets picked up every day
  • Supporting a police force to keep order in such a large and diverse city

And much more. We can, of course, debate how much of this should be handled by government and how much could be better served by the private sector, but that is academic for now. This is how cities exist today, in the real world, and these are the factors that influence how millions of people live every day. Simply handing out pocket Constitutions will not convince them to vote conservative if they truly believe you’re a danger to their quality of life.

How can conservatives appeal to both the country mice and the city mice? No matter what higher principles bind us, residents of the country, the suburbs, and the cities all have different interests and needs.

If you took Chicago out of Illinois, you would have a red state. Yet the population of that one metro area is so large, and so blue, that it completely overpowers the rest of the population. Illinois has been a Democrat stronghold for generations because the Democrats have controlled Chicago for generations.

Could the same thing happen here, if Boise grows too large? Right now, Boise citizens have a choice between a socialist and a moderate for mayor. Their decision in November could by a portent of the future for our state. What if the other cities of the Treasure Valley — Eagle, Meridian, Nampa, Caldwell — turn blue too?

Is there something inherently left-wing about cities? Or is the conservative tendency to write them off turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy? These are questions we must confront lest Boise and Idaho go the way of Chicago and Illinois.

Note: A descendant of American pioneers, Brian writes about the importance of culture and about current events in the context of history.  His work can be found on Substack, here.

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