I have loved the Empire State building since I was a child. But have you ever thought about that name? “Empire State”? That’s how New Yorkers saw their state in the early 20th century. New York led the country that was going to lead the world. Parsing the exact definition of “Empire” intended in the name is a much longer topic than a blog post can cover. But that vision, of New York as a leader, went straight to the top. Al Smith, the president of the company that built the building was a former governor of New York.
This video documents how that vision has faded, and how far from national leadership the people and politicians of New York have fallen. I think I’ll have a lot more to say on this topic in future, but I wanted to briefly lay out the facts this week.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. So the 2016 election was weird. In a lot of ways. But one of the ways it was weirdest was not generally discussed. The three most important contestants were from the State of New York. Trump, for better and mostly worse, is 100% Queens New York. Hillary Clinton, fairly or not, spent two terms as a New York Senator. Bernie Sanders has lived in Vermont for 50 years, but if you’ve heard him speak you know he’s from Brooklyn.
If you add all this up, this is the most power New York has had on the political stage in 70 years. There was a time when this wouldn’t have been all that surprising. New York City is now in its third century as the biggest urban mass in the country. Historically it got a lot more bang for its buck. For 34 years out of the 1800s a New Yorker was Vice President, and for 20 years a New Yorker was President. In the first half of the 20th century New York was even more dominant, with a New Yorker as president for 22 out of those 50 years.
Now anybody who knows statistics can tell you that this is terrible data to build an argument with. The sample size is tiny. And there are dozens of really important factors here, from the politics of the time, to the characteristics of the people involved. But I still think comparing this to what has happened since FDR died in 1945 is significant.
Between FDR and Donald Trump there was a single solitary New York politician who made it to one of the country’s top two offices. And Nelson Rockefeller wasn’t elected, he was appointed to replace Gerald Ford after Nixon’s resignation. I can’t help but think this lack of New Yorkers at the top is significant.
So,the fact that US voters in 2016 had to pick between two New Yorkers really was significant. New Yorkers weren’t all that happy with the result. They chose Clinton over Trump 59% to 37%. This is surprising in one sense because Trump represents a throwback to an earlier form of power. He may not have come up through New York’s political system, but he was definitely a New Yorker, in ways that Clinton never will be. Trump is of course uniquely loathsome, but I think it’s fascinating That New Yorkers are no longer interested in a President from New York.
There are a lot of reasons behind New York’s loss of national power. It has something to do with the hollowing out of the State of New York at the hands of Wall Street, which I have discussed elsewhere. More happily, it has to do with the distribution of economic weight and population away from the North Eastern seaboard. But more than anything else, I think it has to do with a seismic shift in the nature of presidential and government power that has occurred in this country. As I laid out a couple years back, The true rulers of this country have changed profoundly.
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