With its April 19 Republican primary approaching, eyes (and campaign trails) are beginning to turn to New York, where candidates hope to win a portion of the 95 delegates up for grabs. Naturally, alongside the countless photos of John Kasich stuffing his face in the Bronx, Ted Cruz rolling matzo with Jewish children in Brooklyn, and Donald Trump’s self-named skyscraper in Manhattan, the phrase “New York values” has been buzzing through the news lately.
People are still crying the blues over Cruz’s January comment about the Donald’s New York values and listing this remark as the reason New Yorkers cannot reasonably vote for the Texas senator. But I have news― as a New Yorker born and raised in Staten Island, and as the descendant of at least six other generations of New Yorkers, I am not offended by what Ted Cruz has said about Donald Trump and his New York values, and neither should you be.
Let’s start at the beginning of this ongoing debacle over Ted Cruz’s feelings towards New York. In January, Cruz remarked that Donald Trump “embodied New York values.” During a debate, Cruz explained the statement by referencing a 1999 Meet the Press interview with Donald Trump, which speculated on what his positions would be were he to run for President. In the interview, Trump directly linked his then decidedly-liberal (now, not quite so decidedly-conservative) positions on gay marriage and partial-birth abortions to being raised and working in New York City. He even states: “Those aren’t Iowa values, but this is what we believe in New York.” Cruz referenced this in the debate, highlighting not only Trump’s inconsistent positioning on issues but, more importantly, his own admittance that a liberal city like New York has influenced his values.
Cruz went on to note that there are honest, hard-working people in New York, but explained that “everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal, pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, focused on money and the media.” The confrontation between the two candidates then devolved into Trump’s declaration that the statement was insulting to the people of New York City because it ignored the city’s unity in the days and months following the attacks on September 11, 2001. “New York Values” has since become a rallying cry for anti-Cruz campaigns.
There are a few problems with this, the first of which is that New York City (and the state as a whole) is, in fact, very liberal. It would be ludicrous to believe that Ted Cruz would insult the values of the conservative voters who exist yet are a numerical minority in the state. He was, however, criticizing the liberal values of the place Trump has cited as an influence on his political positions.
Cruz was criticizing liberal New York politicians like Hillary Clinton, Charles Rangel, Elliot Spitzer, and current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, each of whom has received donations from Trump. Aside from these more prominent names, Trump has also given money to several other New York Democrats (including the incredibly corrupt Sheldon Silver) as well as a few corrupt Republicans. During a February debate, Trump brushed off concerns about his donation history stating “I’ve had an amazing relationship with politicians — with politicians both Democrat, Republican, because I was a businessman.” Gee, I can’t for the life of me figure out why Cruz associates New York politics with money and corruption. When Cruz criticizes Donald Trump’s New York values, he is criticizing his belief that friendly business relationships can excuse donating to liberal campaigns that have made New York the left-leaning place that it is.
If we’d like to discuss what New York values actually are, I suppose we could ask Governor Cuomo himself. Recall that in January 2014, Governor Cuomo (the same guy Trump has donated to) remarked that “…extreme conservatives, who are right-to-life, pro-assault weapon, antigay … have no place in the state of New York. Because that is not who New Yorkers are.” This sentiment is precisely what Ted Cruz is talking about and what I, as a conservative New Yorker who has been made to feel unwelcome because of my political beliefs, am disturbed by.
Countering Cruz, Trump has repeatedly invoked the idea of values seen in the city after 9/11 as demonstrative of New York’s identity. Without a doubt, the unity and solidarity shared by a city facing insurmountable loss is an example of the best elements of humanity coming together after an event so astonishingly inhumane. And without a doubt, the legacy of those values will always make me proud to be a New Yorker. But when you have a governor whose message is unwelcoming and divisive when there are people with your values who call New York home, and when the mayor of your city uses hateful, divisive rhetoric to cast apart those same people who came together 15 years ago, it becomes difficult to see those post-9/11 values as the defining identity of a modern New York.
New York today is precisely the place that Ted Cruz describes, where liberal ideology that preaches tolerance and unity casts out with vitriol those who disagree, calling them, as Governor Cuomo has said of Cruz’s remarks, “anti-American,” and divisive and “antithetical to who we are.” Perhaps the idea that New York is not the same place it once was is antithetical to our better angels, but it is certainly the truth when we look at the political state of New York and its largest city.
Moreover, it disturbs me that the September 11th attacks are being invoked for no other purpose than to curry favor with the electorate. From Trump’s remarks on the attacks during that January debate, to John Kasich’s New York values-themed commercial featuring the 9/11 Tribute in Light, to Trump’s recent Instagram post featuring video from post-9/11 recovery and the phrase “New York values are American values,” the use of tragedy for political messaging is heavy-handed and, frankly, insulting. This past Saturday, Donald Trump and his wife Melania visited the 9/11 Museum and Memorial in Manhattan for the first time since its opening. What could have been a simple gesture of goodwill and remembrance unfortunately became yet another instance of politicians capitalizing on tragedies for political gain. His Twitter account tweeted a photo of the couple at the museum tagged “#NewYorkValues.”
Let me be clear: I will be the first person to invoke 9/11 for politics when it comes to national security, in the interest of hoping that no other American city has to face what New York did. But, when the sole reason for invoking this tragedy is to criticize another candidate’s accurate depiction of modern city values in order to get elected, it becomes a base appeal to humans’ emotions. A tragedy that killed 2,753 people in New York, with a death toll that rises to this day, is worth so much more than a cheap political message. We are equating lives that were ended too soon and families’ sufferings with a desire to get elected, and it is simply pathetic, or as the Donald might say, “Sad!”
Ted Cruz’s comments about New York values do not come from a place of disrespect for New Yorkers or even, in perhaps the most bizarre exegesis of political rhetoric ever, a place of anti-Semitism as Geraldo Rivera recently accused. Rather, they come from a perceptive understanding of what the political situation is actually like in New York, particularly in New York City. They also come from an understanding that Donald Trump has contributed to this situation and has been influenced by it. I would think that conservative New Yorkers would be able to see through other candidates’ empty, pandering rhetoric on the matter and look to a candidate who recognizes that New York has largely been unwelcoming to non-leftists. As a New York conservative, I am looking for a candidate like Ted Cruz who recognizes the problems I see in my city and state, and knows that the solution to those problems is not the guy who has been a part of New York’s liberal identity for years.