woke americans
© NY Times
America's cities are rotting. The Democrat-run cities in particular. And all of them are going wrong in the same way, suffused with the same problems of violence, drugs and homelessness.

In the nation's capital, the homelessness problem is visible from the moment you enter the city. Arriving into DC used to be a great pleasure, with the visitor immediately thrown into the centre of the grand capital. Today the lawns outside Union station that greet the traveller are covered with tents. It is just the first of the homeless encampments which visitors are now confronted with throughout the city. Almost every green space in DC is now covered with tents, a constant reminder that America seems to be rotting from the centre outwards.

Though DC may be the most painful example, the ground zero of this experiment in urban degeneration has been San Francisco.

There was a time when San Francisco could be counted among the most beautiful cities in the world - blessed by its position on the bay and its glorious weather. But as Michael Shellenberger chronicled last year in his book San Fransicko, the city was run into the ground by a succession of appalling policies. Left-wing policies, in particular, destroyed this nirvana.

For instance, homeless people were already attracted to San Francisco for the weather. But over time the city ended up subsidising and then supporting them. It became a dragnet, attracting people from other states. The Left didn't know what to do, other than keep giving more provisions to homeless people. Today, the city has a maximum General Assistance cash welfare monthly benefit of $588 per person, as compared with $183 in New York City. San Francisco now spends around 6 per cent of its annual budget on homeless people.

Of course, all of this breeds on and leads to other problems. Drug legalisation was meant to solve numerous issues in San Francisco. In fact it has exacerbated them. Marijuana use was initially permitted for "medical reasons". Then doctors could be found to "prescribe" it for any and every ailment. Then it was legalised. Today the city is covered with adverts for delivery services that can bring marijuana straight to your door. As though ever-easier access to the drug was what the city needed.

The stench of the drug is everywhere, as it is in other American cities. The Left regards this as an issue of "rights". But they ignore the fact that it clearly exacerbates the mental health problems on painful display across America's streets. They also ignore the fact that people smoking the drug are effectively incapable of carrying out a normal day's labour in almost any profession.

So the drug abuse and the homelessness end up encouraging each other. And the result is cities which feel more and more unsafe - where people can be seen shooting up hard drugs in broad daylight and where honest taxpayers end up wondering why on earth they are subsidising this descent into squalor.

Occasionally, there is an attempt to do something about these problems. But the political answers seem blocked off. Gavin Newsom is the former mayor of San Francisco who managed to help wreck that city before moving onto the larger canvas of the state of California and rolling out the same policies. Last year he suffered the indignity of a "recall" election. But he comfortably won the resulting battle against conservative challenger Larry Elder. All that Newsom, and the Democrats who campaigned for him (including Barack Obama), had to do was to say that Elder was a sort of black Trump in order to get Newsom comfortably back into power.

True, there have been other recalls that have worked. The attorney-general in San Francisco was recently recalled and booted out of office. But the problem is that Democrat-run cities and states are Democrat out of habit. Even when the party's representatives have wrecked the places with their policies, the same motivations still seem to be there. The Democrats say that they just need to push harder with their policies. The rich just need to pay more, they say. This is just one of the reasons why 1 per cent of Californians left the state last year.

The American Left could modify its disastrous policies if it had some political pressure to do so. But it doesn't. The party is horribly captured by the radical Left, much like the Republican Party is still horribly caught by Donald Trump and his legacy. And it does not help that the top of the party is so very far removed from what is happening at the bottom end of it.

Joe Biden is approaching 80 and in no position to pivot his party in a more centrist direction. The Democrats are still pretending that he will run at the next election without bothering to wonder whether the free world should really be led by people approaching their 90s. Nancy Pelosi (now Speaker of the House) is 82 and has spent decades as the congresswoman for San Francisco. During her decades in Congress she has managed to acquire a personal wealth stretching into hundreds of millions of dollars. Apparently, through stock trading. But like so many other politicians, she has become rich at the same time as presiding over an area that has got immeasurably poorer and where life is constantly worse for the citizenry.

What is it about the vice-like grip that the octogenarians have on the Democratic Party? One explanation is that they are the last people able to hold the party back from the radical Left wave which is undoubtedly coming. People like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez currently talk as though they are the king-makers of the Democratic Party. And in many ways they are. The radical young congresswoman was this week asked whether she would support Biden being the Democrat nominee for president again next time. In an interview with CNN, she said: "Should he run again, I think that I, you know, I think ... we'll take a look at it."

It was a quite amazingly demeaning and imperious way for a young congresswoman to talk about the head of her party and a sitting president. But AOC and the other radicals know that the impetus and momentum is on their side. They know that Biden and Pelosi will be tempted to totter towards them. They have no intention of moving towards them.

For the young radicals in the Democratic Party are not like their older colleagues. The spirit of co-operation that some older Democrats - including Biden - can occasionally still draw on is anathema to them. The young Democrats - like some of their Republican counterparts of the same generation - have grown up treating politics like warfare. It is not enough to beat your opponents. You must destroy them. It is not enough to win this cycle. You must win for all time.

Just one of the victims of that is the spirit of self-criticism. You cannot admit to any policy being a mistake if you know that your opposite numbers are awaiting just such a concession - hoping to use it to annihilate their political enemies. And so Democrats cannot admit to - or rectify - the things that have gone wrong on their watch.

Instead of rethinking their drug policies, they double down on them. Instead of rethinking the subsidies and other policies which have led to the homelessness, they claim that the problem doesn't get enough money thrown at it. And even as curfews for young people are put in place in cities like Chicago to try to stop the spikes in gang violence, they try to pretend that it wasn't their policies that led to this but "institutional racism".

America is suffused with problems. But if the whole place is not going to end up one giant homeless encampment, the Left will have to recognise where it has gone wrong and address this. Sadly, it is still waiting for the politicians who could.