The Republican sweep of the midterm elections and the final approval of the Detroit plan to exit bankruptcy have common roots. It is no accident that the people celebrating the Republican victory were the same as those celebrating approval by Judge Steven Rhodes of the Detroit Plan of Adjustment. They represent the last grasps of a dying power structure to consolidate control in a changing world.
It is now widely understood the new Republican majority was the result of an old white voting bloc, shored up by redistricting, voter suppression, and voter disgust fostered by billions in negative campaign ads. Many of these ads were designed to play on the fears of whites feeling the loss of power and privilege. Republican fear-mongering, combined with lackluster Democratic vision, were a clear recipe for Republican victory.
Most people simply did not vote. Those who did were older, whiter and more conservative than those who voted in 2012. More than 65 percent of them were over 45 years-old. Seventy-five percent were white.
Most also live in suburbs. Their disdain for cities and the people who live in them is clear. Gov. Rick Snyder’s win was no exception. His supporters like to claim his re- election is an endorsement of his policies. But by whom?
Snyder lost in every city where he has imposed an emergency manager. He lost by huge margins. In most voting precincts in Pontiac, for example, he was in the low double-digits for votes. More than 93 percent of the people voted against him in Detroit.
The reality that the vast majority of the people most directly affected by Snyder and his policies reject him is precisely why suburbanites embrace him. They are delighted to see Detroit brought “back into line.”
In fact, the pain of the people caused by Republican policies and the bankruptcy plan is invisible to most suburbanites. Corporate media reporting keeps it hidden. Detroit News editor Nolan Finley, commenting on the conclusion of the bankruptcy, said Detroit was “held mostly harmless from its own mismanagement, incompetence and corruption. … Instead of facing its mistakes, those who loaned it money over the years, for reasons good and questionable, paid the price for 60 years of denial and neglect.”
This kind of statement fosters the racist fantasies of white suburbanites. It is untrue. Finley distorts the causes of this bankruptcy as much as he ignores the consequences.
Many in the city think it was orchestrated by republicans and accelerated by the intentional withholding of revenue sharing dollars and other monies. It was not the result of corruption. The only corrupt actions talked about in the trial were those of banks that even Judge Rhodes suggested should face criminal charges. Banks not only got dollars on questionable debts, but properties and revenue sources.
As investigative reporter Curt Guyette made clear, the vast majority of the burden of this bankruptcy is on pensioners. In a recent article, Guyette explained, “The real story of Detroit’s bankruptcy is the unprecedented hit retires are taking.” He says, of the $7 billion that will be trimmed in bankruptcy, “it appears as if nearly 80 percent is being taken from retirees.”
Already, people who worked all their lives with the belief that they would be secure in the elder years are facing choices between water bills, food, medical care and shelter.
The growing divide between progressive, imaginative, diverse and inventive urban centers and older white, wealthier suburbs is shaping the battles over the direction of this country. This is precisely why Detroit’s bankruptcy is so important.
It was never really about finances, but about finding ways to destroy the political power and identity of cities. It is the city, and people in them, who are posing a more human, thoughtful, responsible and caring future for everyone. And that is why they are under attack.