When the New York City Council gets its way, and Manhattan’s Columbus Avenue becomes Indigenous Boulevard, no more 1-year-olds will die of fentanyl poisoning at drug-front day-care centers in The Bronx.
Because everybody knows that the most critical problem facing a city suffering rising crime, daunting budget projections and a federal border breakdown is that the nation’s founders were men of their times.
Thus the municipal legislature — traditionally a haven for hacks but more recently attractive to radical activists — is scheming to set things straight: It’s fixing to cancel all official notice of America’s first citizens, never mind their role in founding the nation Abraham Lincoln termed “the last best hope of earth.”
(But what did that dead white guy know, anyway? Right?)
So bye-bye monuments; farewell Columbus Circle (Chris was an ur-offender, if not a founder) — and, indeed, sayonara to the understanding that greatness usually co-exists with imperfection.
And when Washington Square Park becomes Che Guevara Plaza, 80-year-old grandmothers will no longer be shot dead in the street by cold-blooded gangbangers.
This is, of course, a mind-bendingly stupid approach to municipal governance — but it has real utility for council members. To wit:
- It helps the radicals among them impose versions of the past that support otherwise ludicrous policies — such as cash reparations for slavery. That’s also on the council’s to-do list, and it represents a particularly egregious historical distortion given New York’s actual role in the antebellum abolition movement and the Civil War itself.
- It allows the body’s dimwits and lay-abouts to pretend they are earning their six-figure salaries.
- It provides cover for previous legislative misdeeds, such as the council’s post-Eric Garner/George Floyd hobbling of NYPD efforts to bring order to the city’s increasingly chaotic public spaces.
- And it also diverts attention from council members’ unrealistic, highly ideological — indeed, often child-like — approach to public policy. Which, in turn, can serve to camouflage darker motives.
Let’s be frank: There’s no obvious good reason to change the name of, say, Brooklyn’s Thomas Jefferson High School if most of its students can’t read at grade level anyway.
But you can bet Mike Mulgrew and the United Federal of Teachers — a prime source of council campaign dollars — won’t object. Not if it keeps the heat off.
There’s nothing original in any of this, of course: Deflection is easier than the hard work involved in grown-up policy-making.
And there are few political points to be earned in telling constituents the truth — that all too often their problems reside in personal choices, and not the perceived misdeeds of men who have been dead for two centuries or longer.
For sure, past policies have contemporary consequences.
But the fact that Christopher Columbus, et al., unknowingly brought smallpox to the Americas; that George Washington owned slaves, or that America’s founders didn’t always live up to their professed ideals is of no significance to the family of that poor 1-year-old in The Bronx.
So yes, history matters. But when solutions are required, cancel culture is a cop-out.
Then again, copping out is what the New York City Council has always done best. Speaking of history.