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The Center Doesn’t Hold Here

How do you make sense of New York?

There’s lots of intelligence, talent, and ambition here. There’s also a lot of insanity. When Barack Obama won his first presidential election people in my neighborhood partied in the streets all night. The world had evidently been made new. When Donald Trump won there were public meetings in churches in which well-intentioned, high-functioning people shared their fears—this is not an exaggeration—that vans would soon start arriving and carting people off to camps.

What’s going on? And why does the rest of the country have to be subjected to the fantasies of people in places like this? Many New Yorkers are kind, honest, wise, perceptive, public-spirited, amusing, and what not else. But without civilized order that comes out of spiritual order none of that goes anywhere. It dissipates and vanishes. What’s left is a mass of people trying to make their way in a world without civilization and without any idea of what civilization might be. What passes for public life becomes a mass of impulses, desires, hatreds, excuses, maneuvers, frauds, power-grabs, misdirections, and delusions that oscillate between conflict and temporary equilibrium. The latter usually involves payoffs—it helps that New York is a financial center—and unifying illusions, such as the fantasy that, because Trump is Hitler, New Yorkers have to stick together.

The...

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