Exactly what does Ted Cruz mean when he sneers about “New York values” as a reason to reject Donald Trump? Disparaging New York has long been a favorite trope for reactionary loudmouths, always with an ugly undertone of bigotry against racial, ethnic, religious and, more recently, sexual minorities.
Demagogues denigrating New York come and go with boring predictability — and the nation’s greatest city will continue to thrive long after the Texas senator is merely an unpleasant memory. But in the meantime, his cheap insult tells us much more about him than about his target.
For someone who went to the very best schools — and flaunted his academic elitism until that no longer served his ambition — Cruz is remarkably narrow in his outlook, or at least he pretends to be. While he reeks of phoniness, perhaps he truly is so small-minded that he cannot comprehend just how large New York really is, in every way.
Despite the city’s well-deserved liberal reputation, its tolerance for the broadest possible variety of opinions, faiths and lifestyles is its deepest strength. Conservatives are welcome in New York, birthplace of the Conservative Party and home of the National Review, its late founder William F. Buckley Jr., and so many who followed in his wake. They could have gone anywhere, but they took Manhattan — just as David Koch and scores of other influential right-wingers do today.
Those right-wing New Yorkers include significant supporters and donors to the Cruz campaign, although one can hope they will reconsider that choice now. Either way, his remark suggests that Cruz is one of those oh-so-clever people who assume that everyone else is stupid. He seems to believe that nobody will notice how eagerly he sucks up to New Yorkers who can benefit him, even as he seeks to inflame prejudice against their hometown.
Of course, slurring the original city of immigrants has always served as a thin scrim for traditional anti-Semitism, which is what Cruz evoked with his remark about “money and media” at the Republican debate on Thursday evening.
He must think nobody noticed that his wife works for Goldman Sachs — or that he took a big fat loan from that very Jewish-sounding Wall Street outfit when he first ran for the Senate.
In Trump’s response, he spoke angrily and eloquently of 9/11 — a moment when most of the nation rallied around the city, with admiration for the resilience and solidarity displayed by its people. Later, New Yorkers learned how shallow that support could be, notably among Republicans in Congress who resisted approving the aid they always expect when their own districts confronted disaster, and even sought to deny assistance to suffering first responders. At worst, support for New York turned into an excuse for hatred of Muslims and immigrants.
But the aftermath of 9/11 represented a perfect expression of real New York values: tolerance and charity across all boundaries of ethnicity, religion, lifestyle, class and occupation; decency and justice toward those who have the least, suffered the most and sacrificed for all; cooperation and collaboration in the face of tragedy; and the kind of knowing toughness that is sometimes mistaken for cynicism. Only a rube thinks that New York is about money and media alone; it is much, much bigger than that. New York values have always been the most enduring American values.
Now along comes Ted Cruz, who wants to grub New York money and then insult New Yorkers. Since he’s such a tough guy — blustering on about assault weapons and carpet-bombing innocent people far away — he should try running his mouth about New York on the streets of Queens or Brooklyn, and see how that works out. (But no guns allowed, punk.)
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