As Texas Sen. Ted Cruz kept yammering on about "New York values" yesterday—"they're not Iowa values, and they're not New Hampshire values"—I wondered whose values, precisely, he was concerned about. The old Polish women I used to see shuffling down the streets of Greenpoint to Catholic mass each weekday morning? The Hasidic Jews who shut down all of South Williamsburg come sundown Friday to honor the Sabbath? The twentysomething working two jobs to get by who still finds the time to volunteer teaching kids cooking skills?
The Hispanic moms warily pushing strollers past the endless dollar stores and Dunkin' Donuts of Bushwick's Broadway? The black teens riding the JMZ back and forth endlessly across the East River on weekends, hoping their subway-car acrobatics will earn them a few bucks? The gay Lutheran pastor who's turned his church's basement into a place where longtime neighborhood residents and hipster transplants can come together in community? The Korean immigrant who put her life savings into opening her own restaurant?
New York City is a huge and diverse place—and that's not even getting started on the rest of the state. Anyone who thinks the folks of, say, Watertown, New York—where my cousins live on an army base—have more in common with rich Manhattan liberals than rural Iowans is sorely mistaken.
By acting as if New York state, New York city, or even Manhattan are some sort of monoculture, Sen. Cruz discounts the experiences and existence of millions of New Yorkers who look nothing like the liberal, elitist stereotype that he offers and whose lives would be far from alien to the bulk of "real" America.
At the GOP debate Thursday night, Donald Trump's response to Cruz's clichéd vision of "New York values" was an appeal to emotionalism about 9/11. On the day the towers came down, New York City residents came together—despite the tragedy, despite the "smell of death" in the air—to handle the situation "more beautifully, more humanely" than "any place on Earth," said Trump.
That might be based in reality, if hyperbolic. But it's not the behavior of New Yorkers in extraordinary times that make their value systems. It's the daily work and struggle to get by in what—even for the rich, and especially for those who aren't—can be one of the most challenging places in the country to live and flourish. If there is anything even approaching a value shared by the vast majority of New York City residents, it's got to be perseverance. And that seems like a pretty all-American principle to me.