Trump, Cruz and New York Values

SellwynThumbby Selwyn Duke1/19/16
New York City values are going through the roof. And it’s not just real estate. A prime story the last many days has been the GOP debate dust-up between Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz. After the senator impugned “New York values” in an effort to call into question the businessman’s conservative bona fides, Trump responded with an impassioned defense of New Yorkers’ character. Trump won the exchange on style with rhetorical effectiveness, but, frankly, Cruz was right on substance.

This is not a commentary on whether Trump exemplifies NY values. In fact, I love most of what The Donald is saying; furthermore, while I have great respect for Cruz, the fact that no other candidate Thursday night could join Trump in supporting a halt to Muslim immigration — a common-sense measure — calls their qualifications for the presidency into question. But this isn’t a commentary on that, either, or on NY values, although I will touch on them. This article is about something far deeper.

All of us generalize. And most of us bristle at generalizations we don’t’ like — whether true or not. It’s then that we, waxing emotional, may complain about the “folly of generalization.”

Now, it may come as a shock to the critics of mine who suppose I live in West Virginia and eat chicken-fried steak, but I was born in NY and grew up in NYC — the Bronx, to be precise. And believe me, there are NY values (along with an ever decreasing number of NY virtues). Moreover, as Cruz said, most people know what they are. Trump certainly does; after all, he referenced his NY values in a 1999 interview. And while radio host and Trump supporter Michael Savage, another man I greatly respect, took exception to Cruz’ remarks, I remember when he complained on air that Vermont was ruined and became Sandersized when too many New Yorkers moved there.

What are NY values? Well, state residents elected a governor who said in 2014 that pro-life, pro-Second Amendment conservatives “have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are’”; and the Big Apple elevated to mayor Bolshevik Bill, a Marxist who honeymooned in Cuba and once raised money for the Sandinistas. You figure it out.

My real concern here, however, is not how people value New Yorkers or Cruz or Trump, but how they value generalization itself. For our refusal to properly generalize is one of the characteristic faults of our time — and a dangerous one at that.

Here’s a good example: if it’s wrong to generalize about New Yorkers because, in principle, it’s wrong to generalize, how can we then generalize about terrorists or Muslims? Doesn’t it make it harder to justify a halt to Muslim immigration if generalization is taken off the table? So some may get offended and say “Not all New Yorkers are liberals,” but this is reminiscent of liberals opposing common-sense profiling and saying “Not all Muslims are terrorists” (or “Not all terrorists are Muslim”). In point of fact, the percentage of Muslims who are terrorists is lower than the percentage of New Yorkers who are liberal, but this is irrelevant. The fact that virtually all the terrorists bedeviling us are Muslim is significant and indicates the importance of honest examination of Islamic values — which, like NY values, certainly exist.

The reality is that “not all _____ are _____” is not a valid argument against generalization, only reflective of a misunderstanding of it. If I say “Men are taller than women,” it’s silly to respond “But not all men are taller than all women!” After all, I didn’t say “all” and wasn’t implying the absence of individual variation; rather, I was referring to men and women as groups. And just as we must judge every individual as an individual and not paint everyone with the same brush, we must judge an individual group as an individual group and not paint every one with the same brush.

In fact, the only reason we can even identify groups as “groups” is that there are differences among them. And barring the rare cases in which groups are differentiated solely by location (as when dividing a class of boys into two groups placed at different tables), those differences are often neither arbitrary nor insignificant. Is location the only thing differentiating Afghans from Americans? Is location the only thing differentiating New Yorkers from Alabamans? Just as there’ll be very different government if you replace the 320 million Americans in the US with 320 million Muslims, there’ll be very different state government if you replace the 4.8 million Alabamans in Alabama with average New Yorkers.

In fairness, most NY counties without big population centers are red. “Aha,” you say, “what about those rural values in the Empire State?!” Yes, there can be sub-groups within groups, and there is a general ideological divide between the woods and the hoods. But the point is that speaking of “rural values” is a generalization, too — and a correct one.

Why does this matter? Question: who’s in closer touch with reality, someone who only understands individual variation or someone who also understands group variation? In fact, the latter is necessary for survival. Just as being able to judge individual character (as when choosing a babysitter) is important, so is being able to judge group character (related to this is being able to properly judge what faults are found mostly in a given group, even if they’re exhibited by only a minority in the group). This is especially true given that understanding group character aids in assessing individual character.

This is not synonymous with prejudice. It rather is part of profiling, which, to paraphrase Dr. Walter Williams, is a method by which we can make determinations based on scant information when the cost of obtaining more information is too high. For example, since an Israeli airport-security agent can’t spend a month living with and becoming acquainted with every traveler, he must make judgments based on group associations; thus, knowing not all Muslims are terrorists but virtually all Mideast terrorists are Muslim, he’ll scrutinize a Muslim flier more closely.

We all make such generalization/profiling-based judgments. A stranded woman motorist may refuse to roll down her window and accept aid from a young man with greasy hair who’s peppered with tattoos and body-piercings; of course, he could conceivably be well-meaning, but this is a situation where she really does have to judge the book by its cover. Likewise, she may refuse to lower her window for any man, knowing that while most men aren’t rapists, most all rapists are men. I’m not hiring a member of the Communist Party USA as a babysitter no matter how pleasant the person appears. And not all dogs bite, but it’s still a good policy to not pet strange dogs.

Doctors also must consider group characteristics, to do their patients justice. For example, understanding that Pima Indians have the world’s highest diabetes rate and that black men’s prostate-cancer rate is twice white men’s can serve as indicators for screening. And only women are routinely examined for breast cancer even though men occasionally develop the disease.

Of course, no good person wants generalization to descend into prejudice, a fault man so often exhibits. But to consequently dismiss generalization, and thus throw out of the baby with the bathwater, is much like dispensing with medical diagnostics merely because witch doctors have existed. Moreover, note that since “prejudice” is defined as “an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason,” such an uninformed, unfavorable opinion of generalization is a prejudice itself. And it’s a prejudice that can get you killed.

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9 Responses to Trump, Cruz and New York Values

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Rush had some interesting words to say on this entire subject yesterday, noting in particular that it was inevitable that the honeymoon between Trump and Cruz would not last. And he says this whole dynamic is fascinating to watch, and I quite agree.

    You have blustering Trump, trashing people with the single-minded regularity of Obama and his ilk, as a caller to Rush’s show pointed out yesterday. In my mind we find out not only if Trump’s stance on immigration is important enough for conservatives to sacrifice one of their own (and there are damn few prominent conservatives remaining) but we also will find out whether or not Trump’s own strategy (kicking the puppy, if you will) will backfire on him.

    For his part, Cruz continues to be the little engine that could. Anyone with half a brain understands that “New York Values” (Leftism) is the bane of our culture, whether talking about the attitudes that exist in big cities such as New York or out in the boondocks on the crunchy-con organic farms.

    I’m not sure that Selwyn has skewered this subject with the intellectual discussion of “generalizations.” Let’s get specific: If Trump is elected president it will be because he is seen as an acceptable alternative to Hillary, garnering a coalition of liberals (Trump is, after all, a died-in-the-wool New York liberal) and conservatives (for whom immigration is such an overriding issue — and it is — that they will hold their nose at Trump’s liberalism).

    For Cruz to win, a rational, consistent, traditional American ideology must be sold as the winning formula, finding purchase through the little engine that could even in the wind of Trump’s demagoguery and bluster. Nice guys tend to finish last, so Cruz fans (including myself) should steel themselves for some disappointment.

    But if Obama is to be refuted his ideology must be made an issue on the campaign trail, including corrupt “New York values.” And if thin-skinned and conceited New Yorkers bristle at being called out on their horrible Leftist values, it is a chance that anyone running on traditional American values must take. He must believe in his heart of hearts that many of the people who go-along-to-get-along in regards to Leftism don’t really like it and are willing to listen to other ideas.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    The article makes a very basic observation about the ability to exercise common sense based on observation, which is important in our understanding the world.

    What is statistics if not generalizing about particular things?

    Over the years, people have sometimes chided me for “generalizing” about countries. My reply has always been, “how else can a person talk about such a millions people? We are not talking about individuals.”

    As to New York Values, I think at least a hint of these are displayed in my story “Voodoo Cab”.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      The article makes a very basic observation about the ability to exercise common sense based on observation, which is important in our understanding the world.

      What is statistics if not generalizing about particular things?

      I think it’s one of those instances where you can say that you can hit a baseball even if you don’t know the precise attributes of gravity and friction. I find a discussion on the nature of generalizations to be sort of a cul-de-sac of thought. Selwyn does not typically take off on flights of intellectualism.

      Reading what he wrote, I’m thinking what in the world that has to do with the price of tea in China? The issue is the liberalism of New Yorkers and if it is political poison to take issue with large elements of the voters.

      Certainly Establishment Republicans believe that it is political poison to refute liberalism. They believe the path to victory is “embracing” liberal values. Why anyone then should vote for them instead of Democrats is the main question…a question they ignore and a question that is key to their losing election after election…and losing their base even as we speak.

      The conceit of New Yorkers is that “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” And no doubt the nature of the competition — the best of the best tend to come to New York — makes this somewhat true. But there is no reason that New York has to be a propagator of Leftist values. And if New Yorkers bristle at the notion that the values they reflexively hold are destructive then their bravado is, at best, merely a conceit. They should change their tune to “If you can group think here, you can group think anywhere.”

      I’ve always been enamored by the enormity of New York City. It is a wonder. And yet it is becoming a cesspool of destructive Leftism. There’s no reason you can’t have a thriving financial, arts, manufacturing, and white-collar-pencil-pusher megatropolis and yet be against abortion, against illegal immigration, against Communism, and against the nanny state.

      New Yorkers are not at this moment an element to be praised in regards to their politics. Their hard work and talent? Sure. You betcha. But they have drunk the Kool-aid and they need to change brands.

  3. Bell Phillips says:

    I hate to post only to say “me too”, but this article is like Mr. Duke just probed my brain and took down some notes. (Please stop before you write down something embarrassing you find in there.)

  4. Timothy Lane says:

    Generalization is very useful, but one must always remember what I call the First Law of Generalization: There are always exceptions. Failure to allow for this can lead to turning generalizations (which are reasonable and often necessary) into stereotypes (which are generally harmful).

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      How’s this for a generalization?

      The definition of heaven is;

      1. The French are the chefs
      2. The Italians are the lovers
      3. The British are the police
      4. The Germans are the mechanics
      5. And the Swiss make everything run on time.

      The definition of hell is;

      1. The British are the chefs
      2. The Swiss are the lovers
      3. The French are the mechanics
      4. The Italians make everything run on time
      5. The Germans are the police

      From personal experience, I know of some very pronounced deviations from these stereotypes, but I think they are still pretty close to the truth.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Dame Petula, in her “My Name is Petula” live routine, liked to make use of certain national stereotypes — including pointing out that the French think she represents “everything differently Anglo-Saxon — like lousy cooking and warm beer”.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    A great, conversational, man-on-the-street essay by George Neumayr that is reminiscent of one of Mr. Kung’s excursion pieces. I encourage one and all to get out there and report from the trenches. This made for interesting reading.

    Curious George’s Red Trump Hat

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I will be voting for Cruz. But Cruz is going to lose and Trump will win the nomination, at which point I will support Trump for the simple reason that he is a hell of a lot better than Hillary. Trump is wrong on some issues; Hillary is wrong on all issues.

      My hope is that Trump will select Cruz as his running mate. Together they would be a devastating duo against Hillary. Should that happen, which seems improbable at the moment given their recent squabbling, Trump will poach disgruntled white Democrats and even some middle-class minority Democrats (like the bellhop I mentioned above) from Hillary while Cruz would inspire conservatives, many of whom sat on their hands in 2012 out of feelings of ambivalence toward Romney, to show up at the polls.

      Sounds like this guy is channeling my thoughts. Let’s hope he gets his wish.

      I love the photo of him hovering in the background while the Today Show airs. It reminds me of “Where’s Waldo”.

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