At midnight at the start of the new year, if you listened hard, you could almost hear the teeth of an entire nation grinding, or at least of those watching coverage from New York as Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioNYPD union sues city over vaccine mandate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Biden makes his pitch as tax questions mount Hochul gets early boost as NY gubernatorial race takes shape MORE danced in a nearly empty Times Square. Millions watched as he dipped his wife in a romantic flourish to Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York.” At least Nero made his own music. The scene drew angry rebukes. Andy Cohen said it made him feel sick. “I did not need to see that at the start of 2021. Do something with this city! Honestly, get it together!”
In fairness to de Blasio, it probably seemed harmless. Who would object to a guy dancing with his wife? But sometimes a predictable photo turns into a cursed image. Just ask 1988 presidential candidate Michael Dukakis after he took a spin in an army tank. The image captured what many considered as his faux commitment to a strong defense. He and his campaign failed to think of how driving around looking like Mickey Mouse on a battle tank would only drive home the criticism of his defense policies.
For de Blasio, dancing in a nearly empty Times Square came across not as amorous but as delirious in a city in lockdown with a collapsing economy and soaring crime rates. For many, it reinforced the crisis both parties now face. We have become a nation that seems untethered from all reality. In one of the most liberal cities on earth, de Blasio cannot break 40 percent in popularity. But he, like many others, plays to the extreme wings of his party. As crime raged, he pushed to reduce the police budget by $1 billion and eliminated the plain clothes division. New York has had a 50 increase in homicides and almost a 100 percent increase in shootings.
He also closed public schools despite overwhelming scientific evidence of little risk for coronavirus exposure, notably for elementary students. He finally caved to the pressure from parents and experts, admitting there was little risk in having the schools reopen. He supported the closing of restaurants, sending many to insolvency, despite the fact that they contribute to less than 2 percent of confirmed infections.
With New York losing money, de Blasio said the federal government could bail out City Hall and local businesses by simply printing more money, a statement both fiscally and politically delusional. As many highly taxed residents continue to move out of New York, de Blasio voices his “tax the hell out of the wealthy” policy. He recently declared that the purpose of public schools is the redistribution of income.
The eerie image of de Blasio dancing in a dead Times Square captures what could await us in 2021. Even if the pandemic is curtailed with the vaccines, cities like New York have been devastated by the lockdowns. There is no way that the federal government can bail out every business and landlord in one city, let alone the entire country.
At the same time, last year ended much as it had gone on for months. In Portland and Philadelphia, federal buildings were attacked by rioters and looters. In Washington, both parties deadlocked and, regardless of what happens in the Georgia Senate runoffs, that division will likely continue. Joe Biden and others have called for massive new spending in a country with $27 trillion in debt. Yet our lawmakers in Washington continue a kind of ghostly dance, oblivious to the costs and hazards ahead.
Meanwhile, reporters are unlikely to return to the standards of objectivity and independence after years of open bias against Donald Trump. Some journalism professors now reject the very concept of objectivity in favor of open advocacy. Columbia University journalism dean Steve Coll has denounced what he says is freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment now being “weaponized” to protect disinformation. Many reporters are invested in the next administration, including downplaying or ignoring those scandalous allegations against Hunter Biden and Eric Swalwell. Networks actively tailor their coverage to offer their viewers “safe spaces” without opposing facts or stories.
It is not just politicians and the press who have not changed. The reason 2021 will not be much different than 2020 is because we as a nation have not changed. We are still divided right down the middle, and the space between is filled with blind rage. Democrats have called for blacklists, disbarments, and other actions against those “complicit” in the Trump years, while over 70 percent of Republicans believe the presidential election was rigged and that Biden did not lawfully win.
Many among us sadly do not want any of this to change. Rage seems to be addictive. It becomes a license to hate. While few will admit it, the Trump years were a release from decency and civility. We have become a nation of conflict junkies. Even worse, we all live in artificial spaces which are a dangerous delusion because we face this economic crisis, international conflicts, and rising violence in our cities. That is why de Blasio dancing in New York could prove the ultimate embodiment not of 2020 but of 2021. Unless the middle can come out stronger, we all will be dancing with de Blasio in a dead space where the country once thrived.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley.