New York’s Stylish Slide Into Despotism

The Return of the Roaring Twenties

Recently, a New York event organizer who fashions his events in the style of Prohibition Era speakeasies sent out an e-mail blast in which he expressed concern about the supposed risk posed by “the unvaccinated,” who apparently no longer merit consideration as human beings worthy of compassion; we’ve become in the minds of people like him just a filthy amalgam of contagion and stigma. After promoting vaccine-segregated events and advertising on-site, rapid COVID testing as an attraction of an upcoming New Year’s Eve party (Segregation and COVID testing… Do these people know how to party or what?), he exhorted his subscribers to get vaccinated. He concluded that he believes that we are entering what he hopes will be the new Roaring Twenties (complete with segregation!).

Apparently the irony of promoting blind obedience to government while celebrating an era that basked in civil disobedience and undermining the government at every turn was lost on this professed lover of the Prohibition Era. He and the attendees of these events spent years role-playing at being dangerous and subversive, but now that they actually have the opportunity to break the rules and resist government, they submit without hesitation. Not only do they lack the slightest backbone in their own relationships with government, they get off on policing everyone else into obedience as well. They are not, as they have styled themselves in their own delusional minds, the hip Cagney-esque mobster with a heart of gold making gin in the bathtub or the wild flapper dancing the charleston on the roof with a skirt short enough to scandalize the matronly landlady below; they are the scandalized landlady who will snitch to the police the first chance she gets or the sanctimonious politician who is building his profitable career on compelled temperance.

Their appreciation of the era is completely superficial. They think putting on a fedora or carrying a hip flask captures the spirit of Prohibition when in fact the essence of Prohibition was disobedience and resistance. Indeed, we may be entering a new Roaring Twenties, but it will not consist of government-sanctioned parties with rapid COVID tests; as in the original, the era will be defined by the underground activities of the daring resisters who are willing to flout the rules and thumb their noses at government. As the saying goes, “good girls [and boys] don’t make history.” They are not the heroes of this story. History will not relive their tales of obedience and compliance except as cautionary tales of sociological curiosity. There is nothing sexy about empty conformity. These conformists will ultimately fade into obscurity like the other good boys and girls before them because no one wants to relive a story about people lining up to take a medical test at a party in which safety, not fun, is the main objective; but people will love to follow the story of the scrappy outcasts of society who defied the law and faced an assortment of risks to create their own modern-day speakeasies.

Rebels and Posers

Despite lusting after subversive non-conformity, these mere re-enactors are content to live in the shadows of their rebel icons, resigned to merely creating the palest imitation of the lives of truly adventurous people from the past instead of having the courage to live their own adventures today. With their obsession for safety, these people can only infuse their lives with the adventure they still crave by living vicariously through others more daring than themselves.

That is why when finally faced with the opportunity to rage against the machine, these imposters got behind the machine and helped push it along instead. Lacking the moral courage to stand for their supposed convictions, they sublimate their own desire to be deviant into movies and make-believe. From the punk enthusiast with a shaved head and ripped pants to the John Waters fan who identifies with the Drapes in Crybaby–many of these people who lust after subversive non-conformity and style themselves after countercultural icons are ironically, laughably, pathetically devoted to fitting in.

When it comes to the dichotomy of maestro versus tribal character types, they are tribal people through and through. In essence, the tribal personality is the conformist who is conventional, strives to fit in with others, and is great at tasks requiring unity and standardization. The maestro is the aloof non-conformist who is comfortably on their own wavelength, who is not afraid to think outside the box, and prefers to work independently. According to a popular career guidance book, the vast majority of the population are tribal types, and maestros comprise a tiny minority.

It is easy to see this dichotomy illustrated in the pandemic. We see it amply demonstrated in mask compliance, with tribal individuals basing the strictness of their mask-wearing, not on any supposed concern about germ prevention— but solely based on what others around them are doing. They are stringent about mask wearing when around others who also appear to be strict in their compliance. But when around others who defy the custom, they let their masks slip down to their chins or even take it off altogether because they know the risk of social ostracism is low. For most people, the mask serves as a social tool rather than a tool of supposed hygiene.

Tribal people’s sense of values is relative and changes based on their social environments. All the societal evils that have taken place in the United States (and elsewhere) have occurred by the hands of an establishment with the consent and complicity of masses of otherwise good, tribal-minded people who lacked the independence and courage to be deviant. If it looks like the majority are going along with something, even something in retrospect that would clearly be deemed wrong or evil, the tribal person will go along with it as well by rationalizing their guilt and responsibility away. These rationalizations, collectively, become mass delusions that are later used to excuse the complicity in the wrong-doing. “We did not now any better,” or “it was a different time,” they will say. Hogwash. They knew exactly what they were doing, but they lacked the courage to stand apart from the crowd. For every mass atrocity that was committed, there was a strident minority that not only knew better but tried to hold the majority to task for its actions. These minorities were historically and are currently dismissed, ignored, laughed at, socially ostracized, or even penalized.

Progressive ideology teaches that we are better than previous generations, that we have learned our lessons from past mistakes, and that we will not repeat those mistakes. This is a load of crock, and the past two years have shown that humans are no more evolved now than they were at any previous period, that they are more willing than ever to persecute others for their differences and to subjugate people into conformity. If nothing else, the pandemic revealed that most people today have no deep understanding of why various past persecutions were wrong, and if persecution today does not look exactly like a persecution of yesterday they cannot recognize it for what it is. Their understanding of persecution as a moral wrong is a reductionist list of rote memorization rather than an innate value borne of an underlying moral philosophy.

Today’s technocratic establishment seeks to persecute those who disagree with it, manipulate, and experiment on the masses, and butcher children. When the dust finally settles and the evil is recognized for what it is, today’s complicit masses will have to reckon with their own role in all of this. These tribal-minded people, these supposed lovers of rebellion and subversion, are going to rationalize their culpability and cowardice away. They always do. They will say that they were operating on the best information they had at the time, that no one could have known, that even the experts were fooled, that they simply followed the leaders and experts.

We cannot let them get away with these lies. This essay stands as a testament to the resistance and acknowledges that the truth was evident from the beginning for anyone who chose to see it. Many people, myself include, were critical at the outset as we realized the narrative did not make rational sense, and others gave the establishment the benefit of the doubt at the beginning but kept an open enough mind to question the inconsistencies rather than belittle the people who pointed them out. There is no excuse but cowardice and conformity for not being critical. When we skeptics and critics tried to express our doubts and criticisms, the tribal-minded purposefully silenced us in every way they could— censoring us, banning our accounts, shaming us, deplatforming us, shutting down our events, and generally trying to keep us isolated from each other and the majority so that our subversiveness would not spread. Democratic thinking, not a virus, is what they are truly trying to stop from spreading. Their complicity was not an innocent mistake as they will try to make us believe, but a willful effort to persecute the rebel opposition.

New York’s Superficial Democracy

The tribal tendency towards superficiality is not limited to parties and play; it is a defining feature of New York’s City’s political establishment. After all, a vote in a New York City general election is nothing but a completely symbolic act. We all know that the Democratic candidate will win. They are practically appointed, which is probably why last month the media was able to declare Eric Adams the winner of the mayoral race early in the night with only a sliver of the precincts counted.

Personally, I have been unable to keep up the charade of voting in New York City these last couple of elections, and neither apparently can most other people in this city. In a city of almost nine million people, Adams won the election with just 753,801 votes. Why do we even pretend anymore that the election represents some kind of mandate and that the politicians have any relationship at all to the will of the people?

A few weeks ago, Gothamist reported on the low voter turnout and quoted a political science professor who explained that voter participation was low because the race was not competitive and voters feel like their votes do not matter. And that is more or less where the analysis of the report ended, no further investigation or analysis of why voters feel disempowered or what to do about it. The fact that races are not competitive and people feel like their votes do not matter is not a problem to be solved to the establishment. What matters to them is merely the percentage of people who vote, the higher the better. Voter turnout is a symbolic representation of democratic participation without having to delve into whether that participation is even meaningful. Style over substance, as usual.

It is astounding that Gothamist would even begin to question the integrity of New York City democratic process without acknowledging that residents’ lives are currently being regulated to a severe degree with dictatorial rule-making that exists wholly outside the democratic process. Similarly, how can Gothamist dare to grade Mayor de Blasio on his campaign promise to “End a Tale of Two Cities” in New York without mentioning that his legacy will be defined by the very explicit segregation that he unilaterally ushered in to bar a sizeable portion of the population from employment, dining, fitness, recreation, and socializing, turning us into second-class citizens overnight on top of the de facto segregation that already existed? Can they really assess economic inequality under de Blasio without mentioning all the small businesses that closed in the past year or are struggling to survive due to his actions? How can they ignore all the jobs lost and all the people’s whose jobs are callously being threatened now in the midst of the holiday season? The answer is that progressives in New York City are political posers who only care about the veneer of justice and equality, not the reality of these supposed aspirations.

Emergency Powers and the Slide into Autocracy

The question the media should be asking is why would people feel it worthwhile to vote when their lives are being upended by government actions that take place fully outside of the democratic process? For two years, individuals’ lives have been shaped, micromanaged, and harmed by executive branch politicians using emergency powers to bypass the more limited scope of their constitutional powers and dispense with the legislative check on executive power. Overnight the democratic process became a mere side note; a sudden irrelevancy; a mere, symbolic nod to the country’s democratic origins. There is no point in participating in democratic rituals that have little bearing on how policy is actually made.

If the media truly cared about the state of our democracy, it would question and criticize the ongoing abuse of emergency powers in New York City and State. New York City has been operating under a continuous state of emergency for almost two years now. And while New York State ended its state of emergency after more than a year of having it in place, Governor Hochul just reinstituted a state of emergency this month.

Declared emergencies are the most expedient way for governments to seize power and the method by which many military dictatorships come into existence. A medical dictatorship is a new twist on an old classic. Emergency powers enable politicians to do things they otherwise do not have the power to do and to severely trample on the rights of the citizenry, as is happening in New York City with the mayor’s outrageous interference in the interactions between private individuals and private businesses to enforce his vaccine mandate.

Without the declaration of emergency, the mayor would be forced to get the city council to pass a bill to establish his program through legislation. The legislative process would provide notice to the citizenry and an opportunity to lobby their representatives to pass, change, or kill the bill. It would give disparate groups of people—whom the mayor’s office probably never considered—the ability to voice their differing needs and interests, thereby helping to shape the final outcome. The resulting bill, if passed at all, would be a compromise that reflects the varied interests of the populace. That is democracy—each person having some ability to express their interests in the political process and to thereby affect the resultant outcome.

The executive’s use of emergency powers, in bypassing this process, is inherently anti-democratic. Every journalist and every lover of democracy should be up in arms at the idea that a politician can at his own whim and for an indefinite length of time—years, as we are now experiencing—dispense with constitutional, political processes to to do things he would never have the power to do otherwise. These powers rob the citizens of their inherent right to participate in government policy-making.

There is no good excuse for exercising emergency powers for years on end. An emergency, by definition, is unexpected. Days or weeks of emergency powers may be justified in some instances to enable a swift response to the circumstances at hand. However, once the surprise and novelty wears off, the continued use of emergency powers becomes tyrannical. After a month or so, the conditions are sufficiently stabilized and information adequately obtained to empower the legislature to respond thereafter.

These last two years have shown us how easily emergency powers can be abused and how few checks there are on executive emergency powers. Segregationist mandates are the immediate, short-term crisis, but the long-term problem that is enabling all of this chicanery is the lack of meaningful limits on emergency powers. If the resistance wants to fight despotism in the long run, the place to start is to push for hard limits on executive emergency power.

Time and time again we are reminded that that we cannot rely on the legislature to act as a check on executive emergency powers. To preserve our democracy, we the people need to ensure that there is an automatic sunset clause in the instruments that grant these powers with no option to renew without the involvement of a true democratic process.

So if you are the type to mark the changing of years with resolutions, then resolve to rein in the government’s emergency powers. And until then, may the true rebels and free spirits continue to raise hell and subvert authority in these Noveaux Roaring Twenties!