The election of Donald Trump has upended American politics. In “Trump and the American Divide,” Victor Davis Hanson—one of the few public intellectuals who recognized that the Republican populist had a chance of beating Hillary Clinton in the presidential race—interprets the shock outcome as a manifestation of the intensifying conflict between urban and rural America. The animosity between city and country is not new, Hanson observes: it dates back to the fratricidal violence between cosmopolitan ancient Athens and its landlocked rival, Sparta. But the 2016 election put a contemporary spin on that age-old rivalry, with Trump tapping into the angst of material-economy small-town and rural workers slammed by globalization, the 2008 financial crisis, and low-wage immigration, and mostly ignored, when not sneered at, by coastal elites thriving in the immaterial economy of symbols and ideas. “That a New York billionaire almost alone grasped how red-state America truly thought, talked, and acted, and adjusted his message and style accordingly, will remain one of the astonishing ironies of American political history,” writes Hanson.
Silicon Valley elites have done better than anyone in the twenty-first century, becoming fabulously wealthy by creating world-spanning new technologies that have transformed—and, in some cases, destroyed—entire industries. In “The Disrupters,” Gregory Ferenstein reports on the tech titans’ broad vision of the political and economic future, which includes wide-ranging job replacement by superpowered artificial intelligence and the setting up of a guaranteed income for all those who’ll soon be unemployed. Utopia, or dystopia?
That the GOP holds Congress as well as the presidency creates an opportunity to enact crucial reforms as the Trump era opens. At the head of the list: rolling back and binding the power of federal bureaucracies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Internal Revenue Service. Collectively known as the administrative state, these and other agencies have grown exponentially in recent decades, with calamitous consequences for our freedoms, as they impose policies over the heads of lawmakers and increasingly act as prosecutor, judge, and jury against citizens and firms. Philip Hamburger’s “How Government Agencies Usurp Our Rights” gives the historical background to the administrative behemoth’s rise; Adam J. White’s “Break the Bureaucracy!” shows how Trump and Congress can restore it to its proper size and role.
New York’s airports are a mess—ever-shabbier, chaotic, absurdly high-priced, and anticonsumer. Blame another unaccountable agency, says John Tierney in “Making New York’s Airports Great Again”: the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs local ports and bridges as part of its regional portfolio. The airports generate massive revenues, but instead of using that money to improve air travelers’ experience, the Port Authority redirects it to unprofitable parts of its empire, from dodgy real-estate projects to poorly managed commuter rail; meantime, the airports deteriorate. There’s a better way, argues Tierney: turn over their management to the private sector, as is the norm across the globe.
Over five mayoral terms, Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg brought New York back from near-disaster and helped make it America’s safest, most prosperous, big city. Three years of leftist mayor Bill de Blasio have left Gotham with rising welfare rolls, worsening homelessness, and escalating costs, but the city thankfully remains healthy overall; the mayor’s political agenda has so far been more about symbolism than new policies. That may change in a second term, however. In “Saving New York from de Blasio,” Henry Olsen shows how a new coalition can be forged to preserve the Giuliani-Bloomberg achievements for a different time.
There’s much more in this issue, including Pascal Bruckner’s “Barbarians and the Civilized,” which exemplifies its own argument that the West’s spirit of critical examination is a crucial defense against Islamist fanaticism—something our guilty conscience can sometimes lose sight of; Stephen Eide offers a lament for the American party system; and Steven Malanga and Nicole Gelinas tackle municipal fraud and government addiction to debt, respectively.
—Brian C. Anderson