A discussion between Richard Florida, Jonathan Haidt, and the late Benjamin Barber about how how “rebel cities” can resist ...
... the Trump administration and create a new form of “urban sovereignty.”
In February, I had the privilege of hosting a conversation with my NYU colleague Jonathan Haidt and the late Benjamin Barber for the kick-off event of the NYUSPS Schack Institute of Real Estate Urban Lab. The event was called “Empowering Cities Under the New Administration,” and I got to discuss a very hot topic these days: the challenges cities face in engaging with the Trump administration.
Before getting to that conversation, I want to add a note about Ben, who passed away on Monday after a long battle with cancer. Benjamin Barber was a luminary among political theorists, one who came to see cities as the spearhead of economic, social, and political progress. In his classic 1992 essay in The Atlantic, “Jihad versus McWorld,” Ben laid out the central tension of our time—how parochial hatreds and universalizing markets threatened the ideal of democracy. That tension lies behind the rise of populism and the divide between the places left behind by globalization and the cosmopolitan global city centers that benefited from it. As he wrote,
Democracy grows from the bottom up and cannot be imposed from the top down. Civil society has to be built from the inside out. The institutional superstructure comes last.
Ben’s vision for a new democratic ideal to follow the nation state looks a lot like the global city of today.
RICHARD FLORIDA: Ben, you have been writing about cities as a locus of opposition to Trump and Trumpism. After the election you wrote, “the resistance will be localized.” And you added, “The road to prosperity, no less than the road to global democracy, runs not through nations but through cities.” Tell us how you got to that position.
BENJAMIN BARBER: The argument I want to suggest we need to think about now with respect to cities, but I need to put into the context of how we are currently looking at the Trump administration and the resistance to it. There is a dyad you will see in front you today: Trump’s Washington, his illicit and cruel band of thugs—I’m sorry, but I think that is an accurate description—and then a magnificent and impressive civil movement, of which the women’s demonstration was a manifestation.
But [that framing] gives the impression that it is citizens on their own in the civil movement up against the powerful institutional forces that have been taken over by Donald Trump. I want to suggest that that draws a too pessimistic picture. There is an institutional and constitutional haven for resistance, defined by cities, which have resources, money, citizens, and the power to do something.
In other words, it’s not just us, the citizens of the United States who got outvoted in the electoral college. It is rather the most ancient political institutions of our world, and of the United States’s cities. All their institutional powers—their resources, their capacities, their lawyers—are in a position to mount an ongoing, systematic, institutional resistance to Trump and everything he stands for. It’s not just, “He acts, we protest,” It’s the confrontation of power with power—of national power with urban power.
FLORIDA: You have gone so far as to suggest that cities raise a lot of resources through taxing their population that are then shipped to Washington, D.C. and that blue cities, in particular, are the source of preponderance of resources that the federal government then takes and redistributes. I believe you said that perhaps cities should consider withholding, or somehow preempting those resources.