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In Prospect

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In Prospect

Spring 2017
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The mentally ill have it rough in America. For decades now, deinstitutionalization and other well-intended but disastrous policies that sought to empower the mentally ill have left many of the most seriously sick untreated—and that too often means that they wind up homeless or, after committing some criminal act in a brain-fogged state, thrown behind bars, transforming our jails and prisons into de facto mental wards. Gotham mayor Bill de Blasio’s nearly $1 billion ThriveNYC initiative wants to improve conditions for the mentally ill, but as Stephen Eide shows in “Failure to Thrive,”the program is utterly misguided. Not only does it rely on a vague definition of mental health and fret excessively about “stigma,” says Eide—as if that’s the biggest problem someone suffering visual and auditory hallucinations has to deal with; it also blurs crucial distinctions between serious and mild forms of mental illness. The upshot: ThriveNYC extends services to too many New Yorkers who don’t really need help while providing insufficient aid to those who desperately do need it. There’s a better way, Eide maintains, and his important essay limns it.

Howard Husock’s “Dreams of My Uncle” narrates the story of his schizophrenic great-uncle, Wolfe Levine, who spent most of his 92 years in Ohio mental hospitals. Yet as sad as Levine’s life was, Husock asks, are we treating the seriously mentally ill any better today? Is a life on the streets or in harsh prisons more humane than life in an asylum, for all its recognized deficiencies (and abuses)? Husock thinks not.

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, aimed at vanquishing discrimination against the disabled and making them fully equal as American citizens, was, like our mental illness policies, noble in intention—and awful in unintended consequences. In “The ADA Litigation Monster.” Mark Pulliam describes how the law has given rise to mindless mandates, nonstop litigation, scams, and prosperity-killing compliance costs. Now the ADA has set its sights on e-commerce, with the University of California already withdrawing its free online courses because disabled advocates have complained that the content isn’t closed-captioned. Expect lots more of the same. Pulliam’s essay, drawing on research by the Manhattan Institute and others who’ve studied the ADA’s ill effects closely, calls for a return to common sense.

During his successful presidential run, Donald Trump vigorously defended the police and pledged to restore order in American cities, where violent crime has exploded in recent months, as cops—under fire from the elite press and activists for a purported hostility to minorities—have backed off in many troubled neighborhoods. Heather Mac Donald’s “How Trump Can Help the Cops” offers a step-by-step plan to turn things around. First, and most important, Mac Donald argues, the new administration must rewrite the false Obama-era narrative about the criminal-justice system as irredeemably racist. (For Myron Magnet’s withering take on the Obama racial legacy, see “What Ever Happened to the Civil Rights Movement?”) Data-driven proactive policing, not bigoted intimidation, drove America’s 50 percent violent-crime decline, Mac Donald explains—and the primary beneficiaries were the residents of poor minority areas, where crime was highest and fell the most. Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, should also remember that battling crime is predominantly a local concern, and get federal lawyers to stop micromanaging so many police departments.

No American novelist has focused so much on a single city as Philip Roth has on Newark, where he grew up and continues to have a presence (he recently donated his 4,000-book personal collection to the Newark Library). Steven Malanga’s “Philip Roth’s Newark” notes how the city (where Malanga himself hails from) has shown up in more than half of Roth’s novels and in his two autobiographies, as well as in some of his shorter essays and interviews. As Malanga details, the author’s Newark writings chronicle the city’s tragic fate, in which a flourishing blue-collar immigrant environment that propelled strivers like Roth into the American mainstream collapsed into dysfunction, entrenched poverty, and social pathology—making it “the worst American city,” as one critic calls it. Roth’s vivid work shows how literature can capture the truth of urban life, in all its varieties.

—Brian C. Anderson

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