Letter from Charlottesville

Can Left and Right Realize, in Time, the Existential Need to Unite?

I’ve been traveling in America, that poor beleaguered superpower, for the last week or so. This is a postcard for you from the war.

I left Brooklyn, New York, a week ago. On January 10, 2024, James Madison High School, up the road from where we are staying, had been commandeered by New York City’s Mayor Eric Adams. The kids who were supposed to have been learning math and English and science, were forced to stay home — once again — for “remote learning”, as their classrooms were occupied by people who had come into our nation unlawfully. The school, the kids were told the day before it happened, was to be used as a “temporary overnight respite center.”

‘“To ensure a smooth transition for families temporarily sheltering overnight in the building, our school building will be closed on Wednesday, January 10 and school will be in session remotely for all students,” Principal Jodie Cohen said in a statement to families.” ‘ Unprotected: A Campus ... Grossman, Miriam Best Price: $2.08 Buy New $11.47 (as of 10:13 UTC - Details)

Irate parents held a rally at the school. A mom called the closure and takeover “unacceptable.” The woman, who did not use — feared to use? — her real name, said that she was “very angry.” She made the case that the city “put our children last” and were instead “prioritizing the migrants.” State Assemblyman Michael Novakhov, whose district this is, told NBC that the decision to move kids out, and illegal migrants in, was “just really wrong. The school is not a right place for migrants, for anyone except the kids.”

New York City has taken in 170,000 illegal immigrants — or what NBC inaccurately calls “asylum-seekers” — in the last two years. 70,000 are still in the care of the city, and New York expects to spend $4.7 billion to provide shelter, food and services to “asylum-seekers” in fiscal year 2024. (The reason “asylum-seekers” is an inaccurate term for the migrant influx is that there are narrow legal grounds for seeking asylum or refugee status — you must prove that you are fleeing torture or will be imprisoned for political reasons if you return to your home country, for instance. Requesting asylum status is a legal process that takes years. The people who are here now, overwhelmingly, having walked across the border and been shipped via bus and plane to US cities, are here without the legal recognition of seeking asylum.)

Who are the families whose kids have been displaced, and who are dealing with the disorienting and unsafe-feeling realization that their home rooms, their science labs, their bathrooms and playgrounds, were inhabited by thousands of strange adults, displacing the students and deprioritizing their education? The ‘asylum-seekers’ have not replaced the teens at Dalton, the famous private school on the Upper East Side. No, the American kids whose education was disrupted, because of people who chose to break the law to enter our country, are exactly the kids whose education receives so much lip service: brown and black kids, from one of the poorer neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

I see some of these children in the morning when I walk Loki to the corner, and step into the nearest bodega to buy my coffee. They are quiet. They stand patiently in line, wearing their heavy backpacks, waiting to pay for inexpensive drinks and processed snacks.

I worry about them. I worry that for some, perhaps, the food they will get at school for lunch won’t be nutritious enough to sustain them throughout the school day. For many low-income kids, the hot meal at school is the main nutrition they receive daily. Those kids who depend on daily hot lunch at school, are the kids who likely went hungry when unlawful migrants’ needs commandeered their educations.

These are the American kids who are trying to get an education — at the mercy of psychologizing and diagnosing and prescribing third parties trying to medicate them, at the mercy of grooming NGO’s putting unbelievably pornographic materials in their health classes, at the mercy of erasures of history and civics altogether, and in the face of the dumbing-down of English literature classes, and the fragmenting of math and science, confronting the stripping away of art and theatre and music education; these innocent American children, who are doing, with their families, their best.

These are the American kids who got kicked out of their school and were given the message by their own city, that as scholars they were interruptible, their working moms and dads’ time and energy were equally disposable, and that as citizens (the parents) and as future leaders (the kids), they were all — equally — less than unimportant.

*****

In Florida — West Palm Beach — I stayed in a chic, renovated airbnb, lush with tropical landscaping, in an historic district, built up of bungalows from the 1910s and 1920s. To my right, a major new luxury shopping, office and apartments development was rising quickly; Starbuck’s and LA Fitness; and Pura Vida — chic expensive green drinks, taken in white-paneled interiors, with cascading plants and raw wood shelving everywhere.

To my left, though, not half a mile away from the elegant shopping, a food pantry was open, in what looked like an industrial building in a field. Hundreds of immigrants stood in line to receive food.

The houses in the bungalow district, that had once been working people’s cottages, now sold for a million dollars each, or more. On China Kissinger, Henry Best Price: $2.90 Buy New $8.99 (as of 10:13 UTC - Details)

When I took Ubers, the drivers told me about the collapses of their home countries — the ruination of the rule of law, the rise of crime, with criminals facing impunity from judges and from the incarceration system; the corruption of elites via bribes. They described the established power now of gangs and cartels, and the strip-mining of natural resources by multinational conglomerates. They said that the employment rate in their home countries was now only ten per cent, that no one can open a small business, that everyone who could get out and come to the US, was doing so. “Who can blame them?” said my driver. From his perspective, he had a point.

I realized sadly that our open borders so close by to so many troubled countries, created conditions that were ruining those countries along with our own, as there was now no incentive to make conditions there better; and a resources drain was underway, leaving shells of nations in its wake, even as our own nation was being destabilized. I also realized that the conditions of lawlessness and the easy rise of gangs and cartels, in the vacuum of policing and criminal justice systems, in the Caribbean and Latin America, foreshadowed what was happening to our own nation. “Defund the Police!” The craziest slogan ever, unless you want exactly this: chaos and crisis, which is also a rich condition for subverting and hollowing out a nation, as other countries have learned so well to their sorrow.

Ten years ago when I travelled in America, we had problems, of course. But I saw a middle class and a working class, having productive lives, replete with pride and even prosperity at times; lives beyond suffering and mere survival. I saw kids being educated in public schools.

Now I could not see any of that any more. I saw in America, a nation so much more like the banana republics I had visited, in which working and poor people scarcely survive, and their kids have no hope of upward mobility; and the rich hide in gated communities. And the gangs rule all.

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