I grew up in New York in the 1960s, when it was clean and safe and prosperous – an unquestioned symbol of America’s economic power, the West’s cultural splendor, and the modern world’s technological triumph. Within a few years, however, owing to a massive sociocultural revolution and craven, incompetent politicians who bent their knees to the forces of anarchy, New York became the garbage-strewn, graffiti-covered, crime-ridden, and cash-strapped dystopia seen in the films Death Wish (1974) and Taxi Driver (1976).
To his credit, three-term mayor Ed Koch (1978-89) balanced the city’s budget and sparked a building boom; but he did little to eradicate crime. Then, in 1989, Rudy Giuliani, a prosecutor of epic accomplishments, ran for the top job against David Dinkins, a Democratic Party hack. The New York Times called Giuliani a fascist and backed Dinkins to the hilt. Dinkins was black. Wouldn’t it be great for America’s largest city to finally have a black mayor? And so Dinkins was elected with 50.4% of the vote to Giuliani’s 47.8. As a frequent Times contributor, I knew its editors leaned left, but I couldn’t imagine they’d lie about the opposition. (Ha!) So I voted for Dinkins.
Of course, he proved to be one of the worst mayors ever. On his watch, New York sank even lower – low enough that in the 1993 rematch, Giuliani bested him, 50.9% to 48.0%. A turnaround, yes. But it’s striking to be reminded just how slight the vote shift was and alarming to imagine what would’ve happened to New York if not for that handful of voters – including myself – who changed sides. In any event, Giuliani took the helm. And within a remarkably short time, employing tough, common-sense measures, he had New York back on top. Everywhere you turned, you could see it: the panhandlers disappeared from Times Square, the graffiti from the subway, the squeegee men from the streets near the Midtown Tunnel entrance, the prostitutes from lower Lexington Avenue. And crime figures dropped like a rock.
I think about Giuliani often. Why? Because his story is the most memorable example in my personal experience of a dramatic change in government stewardship resulting from a major shift in the electorate actually making a palpable difference in everyday life. It’s a story that gives hope, especially in these times when we’re more aware than ever of the extent to which we’re governed by unelected rogues who don’t have our best interests at heart. But the story of New York’s rescue by Giuliani also provides a sobering reminder that even the most remarkable socioeconomic turnarounds are only temporary. The only way that the patently incompetent, ideology-drenched Bill de Blasio was able to be elected in 2013 was that New Yorkers, having had it too good for too long, had forgotten just how far the city had fallen and how astonishing it had been to see it come back to life. Also, since all too many of the voters who pulled the lever for de Blasio hadn’t even lived in New York before or during the Giuliani years, they lacked the historical understanding to make the right choice.
To be sure, the Giuliani story isn’t unique. Donald Trump’s four years in the White House – following the most unexpected presidential election tally in history – yielded a string of impressive accomplishments and, after a long post-Reagan slide, marked a stirring return to an America of, by, and for Americans. The difference between Giuliani’s mayoralty and Trump’s presidency is that treasonous machinations by Democrats and the legacy media limited Trump’s ability to fulfill his promises and ended up denying him a second term to finish the job. There are other, more recent examples of the vox populi actually making a difference. When Anheuser Busch made the self-promoting freak Dylan Mulvaney a spokesperson for Bud Light, the nationwide revulsion was immediate, and the brand’s massive drop in sales was immensely enjoyable. Equally gratifying are the laws being passed around the country in response to grass-roots parental outrage over Critical Race Theory and gender ideology in the classroom – topics that otherwise would never have caught the attention of state legislators.
In my own backyard in Scandinavia, there’s another development that brings to mind the Giuliani story. For years, Swedes have pointed to their acquiescence in mass Islamic immigration as a sign of their superior virtue – and have smeared their neighbors across the Öresund as deplorables for rejecting passivity and, instead, striving to keep Denmark Danish. A few years ago, Swedish blogger Jon Sjunnesson lamented that his compatriots were “meek as sheep,” afflicted by a “silent conformism” that compelled them to accept their nation’s obviously destructive immigration policies. No more. The disastrous consequences of those policies, and the relative success of Denmark’s, have caused more and more Swedes to snap out of their vainglorious delusions and to vote for the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats (SD) – a party that not long ago was almost universally viewed as the second coming of the Third Reich and fenced off from power by a cordon sanitaire. In a speech on May 6, SD leader Jimmie Åkelsson proudly and defiantly used the most un-Swedish phrase imaginable, “Sweden first”; the next day, he said in a TV debate that Sweden urgently needs “an extremely strict asylum and immigration policy.” Such Trumpian language, which a few years ago would have struck most Swedes as an obscene American import, has made SD the third largest of the eight parties in the national parliament – and it’s still on the rise.
Last September’s elections put a conservative bloc in power; Swedish politicians in almost every party now support somewhat weaker versions of the kind of approaches they once savaged SD for promoting. And on April 25, as Rita Karlsen has reported, Sweden’s prime minister and migration minister did something that a few years ago would’ve caused nationwide outrage: they went to Copenhagen to pick up a few tips on immigration and integration policies from their Danish counterparts. The Swedish migration minister, Maria Malmer Stenergard, recently admitted: “When I entered politics as a 13-year-old, I dreamed of a world without borders. But the migration crisis in 2015 changed my country.” What stirred her out of her childish dreams? Perhaps it was the colossal rise in the number of Swedes who consider crime a big issue – from four percent in 2014 to more than forty percent last year. Perhaps it was the female members of Sweden’s self-described “first feminist government” who meekly covered their heads on a 2017 visit to Iran. Perhaps it was the unsettling news that Sweden’s third-largest city, Malmö, as I wrote here in January, “has been majority non-Swedish since 2015.” Perhaps it was the fact that many of the Ukrainian refugees whom Sweden took in last year were so terrified by Muslim predators that they returned home, preferring missiles to muggers, rockets to rapists. Or perhaps it was last spring’s “Koran riots,” in which young Muslims, on a terrifying scale, threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police officers and set cars and dumpsters and buildings on fire – all because they were outraged by the anti-Islam comments of a visiting Danish activist named Rasmus Paludan.
No, it’s not as if everybody in Sweden has suddenly woken up. In a speech on May 1, Magdalena Andersson, head of the Social Democrats, promised to fight crime by spending 700 million kronor to fund summer activities for Muslim gang members. That includes free lunches, because the Swedish left’s latest theory about Muslim crime, apparently, is that it’s caused by hunger. (It’s pretty much identical to the claim by Democratic politicians in the U.S. that the looters who plunder designer duds and pricey watches from fancy emporia in New York, San Francisco, and L.A. are doing so because they’re desperately in need of a meal.)
Yes, it’s magnificently dumb. And yes, the Swedes who have come around on the immigration question have certainly taken their sweet time doing so, and most of them are still really only halfway there, and there are still a lot more who have yet to take off their rose-colored glasses. But then again, we New Yorkers, back in the 1990s, took much too long to recognize that in the contest between Dinkins and Giuliani we were faced with a ridiculously obvious choice between an utter mediocrity and a potential miracle worker. So, better late than never – especially since, as history seems to testify, meaningful and lasting change of the positive sort rarely does come right away. But of course the question in Sweden – as in what’s left of the post-de Blasio Big Apple – is, quite simply, this: is it too late to reverse the decline?