Simply stated while more and more Americans concentrate in urban areas, right wing propaganda pushed by corporate media portrays America’s cities as crime ridden hell holes run by incompetent politicians and inhabited by slothful citizens who live off the dole, spawning generation after generation of citizens dependent on government. Right wing politicians at the state and federal level have used these perceptions to push laws that make it difficult at best for cities to even run let alone succeed. That is the crux of my rant.
While most news sources and opinion leaders are rightly hammering about the tragedy in Flint and how easily it could have been avoided, as far as I know no one has spoken of one of the underlying reasons that goes totally unspoken and ignored. Simply stated, America hates its cities. Americans through its politicians day after day and year after year creates hurdles and barriers to keep cities from operating in a manner that could optimize life for its citizens.
This should hardly be a surprise to anyone. Since the day a European first set foot in the new world, owning land and being beholden to no one has been what is now called the American Dream. Being a self-sustained family unit growing your own food, making your own clothes, living on a large acreage in a home built with your own hands. Land is at the basis of much of the American Dream. “A man’s home is his castle” and all that, but the bottom line was that every person was expected to strive for that little chunk of land that is their own.
Wars and famines in Europe in particular and elsewhere to a degree sent droves of refugees to our shores in the 19th century. Many of these folks were considered less desirable. Often for their own protection as well as the need for some familiar setting, these folk often congregated together. The congregating places became the cities. As most know living conditions in the cities were often that of hell holes. Thanks to social activists living conditions were gradually raised. Open sewers and dirty water eventually became indoor plumbing. Electricity was deployed. Cities slowly became more livable. Businesses and jobs moved into the cities where labor was cheap and plentiful.
The pastoral American Dream gave way to a reality of life in or near a city. The Great Migration of rural southern blacks to jobs in northern cities was the next phase. At this point race became a factor in how cities were treated. Following WW2 transportation and government policies around land and housing led to a movement to the suburbs by whites. Segregationist governmental policies led to white suburbs with good jobs surrounding an increasingly poor and jobless inner core city.
Mostly this was ignored by our media except for uprisings borne out of frustrations in the inner cities. While the pastoral American Dream remained as the ideal, reality was that most of America became increasingly tied to cities either in the city itself or as part of the burgeoning suburbs. As of the 2010 census slightly over 80% of Americans are listed as urban dwellers. Thus the vast majority of our population is tied to cities.
Over the decades as African-Americans became majorities in urban areas, they took the reins of government. During that same time period it seems that restrictions on what cities were allowed to do became much more restrictive, mandates on what a city must do for its citizens became broader without accompanying tax increases and the tax base deteriorated as industry and wages left town.
Post WW2 as inner cities began to deteriorate, the federal government made at least an attempt to help solve the problems through a program known as revenue sharing. Money was returned to cities based on population for them to use as they saw fit. Unfortunately this revenue stream was cut by the Reagan administration. Funds from this program were for the most part not replaced. Thus programs and improvements went by the wayside and cities really began to struggle to simply provide basic services amid lower revenues and another new wrinkle from the Reagan Administration. unfunded mandates. Prior to Reagan, new rules in areas such as environmental standards would come with some money from the federal government to implement programs. Under Reagan no money was attached to mandates which left cities scrambling to readjust monies to meet the mandates. The money often came from social programs.
As cities were lost revenue and faced new outlays a new anti-tax movement began to take hold in this country thanks in great part to corporate media constantly driving the propaganda that government doesn’t work. It is hard to beat propaganda pushed on nearly all TV and radio stations day in and day out. Cities were often used as examples of government failure where jobless people lived off government checks and sat around doing nothing all day while schools failed and local governments dithered. Pictures on TV cemented that view.
Cities unfairly became the right wing’s and the media’s example of out of control government spending that fostered dependency and sloth. Stories made it seem that incompetence and greed abounded. Forget that the financial binds that most cities were driven to were impossible to solve. TV and radio pushed the meme that cities were wastes of tax dollars and were incapable of solving their own problems. Add into the mix the toxic mortgage backed bonds that many cities used to park some of their funds in hopes of making some interest while waiting to use the money. City after city saw their money disappear while they were stuck with sales charges connected to buying the toxic bonds. This only added to the story of incompetent governments running cities.
All of this along with a racist lore that “others” were incapable of self-government. One more toxic item to add into the mix was the move to starve government at all levels of revenue along with the related push to privatize or profitize goods and services that were once the province of government. At the local level this meant hiring janitorial services for building maintenance rather than employing their own people and it meant hiring garbage pick up services. This also meant that parks went up for sale, buildings were sold for pennies on the dollar, water services were privatized. In Illinois and Indiana toll roads were privatized; in Chicago parking meters were sold to a private concern for a one time shot of money at pennies on the dollar.
With all this as a background, Michigan enacted a series of “emergency management” laws that stripped elected city officials in cities that the governor decided could not run themselves. As has been noted over and over the only cities so designated have been majority African American. And under an emergency management situation with no real check on their powers, the decision was made to change Flint’s water system.
More and more Americans live in a fantasy world where every man has a castle to protect with a cache of weapons. Bad people are consigned to a deservedly lousy existence in the teeming cities where sin, drugs, disease and desperation are rampant. But those who live there deserve what they get because they have somehow offended God and are being punished. Government doesn’t work and only fosters the wretched conditions in the cities. The only hope is dispense with government and empower strong and wise men to run the affairs of the cities without being encumbered by trivial rules.
Reality is that most of America lives in or near cities. Trends seem to show that renting will be the norm and home ownership will suffer a downward trend. What i happening in the inner cities will move to the suburbs as jobs flow overseas or become more and more concentrated as giant corporations continue to merge and consolidate.
America needs visionary leadership that will begin to address these problems now. These problems will not go away, nor can they be legislated or wished out of existence.
Iowa has these problems. There is nothing that makes Iowa cities immune from shrinking revenues and huge burdens. The state legislature continues to enact legislation that makes it harder and harder for cities to maintain libraries, parks, cemeteries, fire services, police and other services. Profitizers are already licking their chops and getting ready to buy up Iowa’s municipal water systems and sewer systems. Experience shows that once something is profitized it is hard to unprofitize. Beware Iowa and watch your legislature closely.