If you’re looking for something to believe in today, believe in New York City

If you're looking for something to believe in today, believe in New York City
Sport your New York values proudly. Photo by Tim Donnelly/Brokelyn.

New York City awoke in a sob of rain this morning. People shuffled listlessly to work in a somnambulant daze, filing into subway cars that were eerily quiet, a stunned pall some said they hadn’t seen since the terror attack 15 years ago. It’s hard to find any bright spots in the results of last night’s election, the one that so dramatically and violently flipped over the expectations of the kind of country so many of us thought we lived in to reveal the writhing, wormy, potato-bug infested underbelly that was much larger than anyone thought.

It’s hard to find something to believe in, knowing that an openly racist, misogynistic, sexual criminal who’s bankrupted more businesses than pairs of jeans I’ve ever owned and spent the past 18 months proving how ill-prepared he was for the job somehow actually got away with it, and resoundingly enough that there is no hope any humility would dull his edge.

So, I present this to you: Believe in New York City. It’s a bubble, but we live in this bubble for a reason. Among the stunned faces of your neighbors, coworkers and strangers on the street, you will find solace and the kind of tolerant society you had hoped we lived in until last night. Go outside the bubble more often, but don’t fear it.

New York City, unsurprisingly, went heavily for Clinton yesterday: 79 percent of voters in Brooklyn were with her, and so were 80 percent of people in Manhattan, 75.5 percent in Queens and nearly 90 percent of the Bronx (guess what happened on Staten Island). Bucking nationwide trends, New York City came out harder for Hillary than Obama in 2012 — she got 90,000 more votes in Brooklyn than Obama did four years ago, according to Politico. In Manhattan, 40,000 more people voted for her than for Obama in 2012.

And we came out happily, heartily, and with swagger. People at my polling place waited for an hour, but they came prepared with books and coffee. Yesterday was the all-time top day for polling fashion, as New York voters showed off pantsuits and Nasty Woman t-shirts. I don’t think I passed a single person on the streets in Prospect Heights yesterday who wasn’t wearing an “I Voted” sticker. I saw someone still wearing hers today, perhaps a silent act of defiance. I lost my somewhere in the bar last night around 2am.

Among all the bizarre things that happened in this election season, you may have forgotten one of the most absurd. Way back in the halcyon days of the Republican primary, “New York values” became an issue. Ted Cruz leveled the phrase like a cudgel against Donald Trump to undermine his rural appeal (forcing New Yorkers into the uncomfortable position of being on the same side of an issue as Trump, however fleetingly). As if New York values were a bad thing, as if they were something to be feared and mocked, taught against in churches and ethics classes. For Cruz, the phrase meant an obsession with money and greed and other mealy-mouthed issues with urbanism his sniveling gash of a mouth couldn’t quite define.

New Yorkers, forever ignored in most campaigns (even when the two major candidates hold their election night parties in Manhattan) found a rallying cry and a political plank to unite on. What, exactly, are New York values ? They’re inclusivity and diversity, the subway train full of people speaking five different languages where the push and jostle of the crowd is tolerated because otherwise the whole city would break down. You can hold the most racist, homophobic beliefs in New York City, but still you must have a patina of tolerance because you have no choice but to sit next to those people on the bus, to accept their service at the bagel shop. Let’s hope this is strong enough to survive a Trump presidency (I believe it is).

WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show took the idea of New York values and ran with it, holding call-in sessions on the topic and creating red and white pledge drive buttons announcing with pride: fuck yeah we have New York values. I wore mine to vote yesterday, I moved it to my raincoat to wear still today.

Lehrer asked his callers to tell him what their best New York value was; one woman defined it so perfectly I’ve repeated it in conversations several times since when explaining why New York, for all its rats and flaws, works so well. The ultimate New York value, she said, is the ability to roll your eyes at anything and go about your business. That is brilliant. New Yorkers are too busy with their own lives to care what you’re wearing, who you’re dating, what kind of immersive circus burlesque on a submarine in the Gowanus Canal you’re performing in. We can be judgemental, but as long as it doesn’t affect you directly, just carry on. It’s that old adage that the anything goes so long as you’re not blocking the subway stairs or walking too slow down the sidewalk.

The main problem with this election, why it turned into such a white-hot skillet of surprise that was smashed upside our heads late last night, was because we all live in our own bubbles. Social media only gets us further into those bubbles, drilling their support beams deeper in the earth. We streamline preferred sources of info and hide our friends from high school who share fake memes with bad fonts about why Hillary should be in prison (for what exactly, I am still not sure).

The bubble is bad for understanding how the country was so aggrieved after eight years of job growth, economic recovery and relative peace under Obama that they’d turn their backs on his legacy so quickly. Eight years ago, I was in this bizarro world, living in red-state South Carolina where the legions of golf-playing old white men couldn’t understand a country that wanted Obama as its president.

The bubble is good. The bubble is inclusive, the bubble is diverse, the bubble is sexually fluid and likes to wear a dress or paint its nails every now and then. The bubble contains people from every country in the world and the cuisines to match. The bubble has a 4am last call and an after-hours spot that will still serve you. Don’t be smug about the bubble, but let’s show other parts of the country what it’s like inside. If you live in New York City, you can feel less helpless about the country but hopeful that at least we’re doing it right here. If you live elsewhere and are feeling isolated, New York has your back.

There is a reason we live in New York, why we put up with the rent and the constant fear of bedbugs and the occasional $15 cocktail. We live busy, interesting lives, our days packed with pumping life and money and fodder into the economy the rest of the country likes to suckle off while still deriding “New York values.” No one has time to dwell on a made-up fear of that a terrorist could sneak into the country disguised as a Syrian child, or to bother worrying about which bathroom people use.

Simply, New York has already moved past a lot of the issues the rest of the country is hung up on. The city created a whole municipal ID program specifically to help legitimize undocumented immigrants, a trans-inclusive bathroom policy was issued with about as much fanfare as a change in HVAC permitting rules. When someone tried to plant a bomb in Chelsea a few months ago, New York efficiently laughed it off with a derisive sneer before going about their Saturday night: Nice try buddy, but it takes a lot more to shake us. To quote a famous tweet: Don’t mess with us. We’re nuts.

We have poverty, a housing crisis, and tensions between the police and minority communities that may never subside. Wall Street is still apparently a cesspool of horrors. New York may gentrify us all out before too long, but at least we’re trying something. We can’t seem to stop killing bikers and pedestrians with cars, but for all its flaws we have one of the best and most expansive public transit systems in the world.

Four years ago this week, we saw the best of New York during the worst of it. Hurricane Sandy tore through the city, flooding neighborhoods and destroying homes. The next few days, the city rose up in response. The blood bank I went to was too full to take more donors. Occupy Sandy took over churches across the city and became teeming hubs of donations and organization taking food and supplies out to Staten Island and Breezy Point. People biked down to the Rockaways, picked up shovels and said “what can I do to help?” Lower Manhattan became a commune of free electricity, medical care, haircuts and meals. We crowdfunded Sunny’s bar back from the brink of extinction. The good work we do here can go on in the wake of the election. New York values don’t change.

Before things went south yesterday, one of the viral highlights of the day was a video of people furiously booing Trump when he showed up to his polling place in Manhattan. One standout person chanted about how boring he thought Trump was, a cutting remark that likely pierced even Trump’s bad suit and tribble hair.

Trump may be from New York, but he is not someone who represents New York values.

I lost some faith in America yesterday. But I believe in New York City. We treat people with respect here, honor diversity and prioritize inclusiveness. Let’s hope we can roll our eyes at our soon-to-be president and keep going about our business.

I believe in New York.

A photo posted by Amber Chandler (@ambermchandler) on

Follow Tim, who hopes this helps a little, @timdonnelly.

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