When Democrats Are The Problem
(And when they’re not)
Earlier this month, the New York Times put out a 14 minute video entitled “Blue States, You’re The Problem”; exploring the failings of Democrats to make sufficient progressive strides even in states where they have a monopoly on power. The video’s title alone was enough to send the Times’ predominantly liberal readership into a frenzy (at least if Twitter’s any indicator). But watch the full video for yourself and what you find is a damning, and largely indisputable, expose of Democrats failure in states like Washington, California and Illinois to tackle wealth inequality, regressive taxation and soaring house prices.
It hardly needs to be stated at this point that electing Democrats is not the be all and end all of achieving progress. Far from it. Democrats currently have control over the Presidency, House and Senate and yet America’s simultaneous crises of wealth inequality, political unrest and democratic decay, among others, far from getting better are getting actively worse in many cases. Washington remains as grid-locked as ever and Democrats — facing down an increasingly likely “red wave” next year — are running out of time to be a truly transformative force at this time of critical importance.
Still, ‘it’s not our fault!’, exclaim Democrats; continuing to push blame onto the Republican Party despite holding, themselves, a political trifecta. The aforementioned New York Times video leaves the ‘it’s not our fault!’ argument further exposed. In over a dozen states across America, Democrats have a lock on power — either controlling both the legislator and the executive, or having a veto-proof majority in all the state’s legislative bodies. For the most part though, these states are far from being progressive bastions, and instead often offer the most shameful examples of inequality in America. Alarmingly, this often isn’t because of a few ‘bad apples’ within the party (a la Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin in D.C.), but instead is due to a widespread disinterest — or even active opposition — among Democratic politicians and voters towards doing the right thing.
The NIMBYism (‘Not In My Back Yard’) phenomenon exemplifies this; Democrats will almost unanimously vocalise their support for more affordable housing….just not when it’s near them; recoiling at any even remote threat to their sheltered, suburban utopia. The same elites across California who have delivered Democratic victories at the local and national level for decades, have simultaneously been voting down the construction of low-income public housing again and again. As such. the state that has become the face of progressivism in America is also home to the country’s most grotesque inequality; home to 12% of the USA’s total population and yet also to over half the country’s unsheltered population.
The same people who posted black squares on Instagram after George Floyd’s death and professed their support for Black Lives Matter, are the same people who have needlessly continued and exacerbated their state’s already eye-watering levels of racial inequality
Moreover, the burden of Californians insistence on single family zoning over low-income, high density public housing has fallen disproportionately on people of colour; with Black people making up 40% of the state’s homeless population (compared to just 6.5% of the overall population). The uncomfortable truth is that this situation has been caused by people who overwhelmingly identify as Democratic and liberal. The same people who posted black squares on Instagram after George Floyd’s death and professed their support for Black Lives Matter, are the same people who have needlessly continued and exacerbated their state’s already eye-watering levels of racial inequality.
Depressingly, this problem isn’t just confined to housing, or to California. As the Times video points out, blue states are often cesspits of inequality and unfairness; whether it be Washington state having the most regressive taxation policy in the entire country or states like Connecticut and Illinois having staggeringly segregated access to high quality schooling. Many of these problems can be linked back to particular Democratic politicians — between the infamous IDC and Andrew Cuomo (who tried to cut Medicaid funding in a pandemic)—New York has a particularly unfortunate record of bad Democratic politicians. But, just as often it’s the problem of rank and file Democratic voters: like those in Palo Alto California, who in one instance, voted down a proposal to create 60-unit affordable housing for the elderly in favour of maintaining low density housing. In this same city, Democrats outnumber Republicans by a margin of nearly 5–1.
The good news, however, is that steps (albeit, often tentative) are being made by Democrats to undo the damage they have helped inflict. Biden’s Build Back Better plan would make it harder to restrict the construction of affordable housing, as would a bill recently passed by California Governor Gavin Newsom; who just recently enjoyed a landslide election victory. Meanwhile, the incoming Democratic comptroller of New York City Brad Lander has several promising plans to address the city’s housing crisis; including the creation of a city-run land bank that could buy hotels on the brink of closure and transform them into housing for the homeless. (Though, it should be noted such a proposal would need mayoral approval and current mayor Bill de Blasio has been resistant, and incoming mayor Eric Adams has not traditionally been friendly to progressive proposals).
Of course, these examples only begin to scratch the surface of America’s deep systemic rot — and Democrats role within that. But it’s also true that electing the right Democrats, and putting enough pressure on them can lead to meaningful, substantive change. Nihilism and pessimism may be tempting in this political climate, but just as we are perpetually surrounded by examples of our systems failing, so too can we find examples of where people power, tireless activism and electoral victories are making better things a reality.
An essential read to learn more about modern day segregation in American housing: https://bookshop.org/books/the-color-of-law-a-forgotten-history-of-how-our-government-segregated-america/9781631494536