The New York City Democratic primaries are now over, and though the final results won’t be known for a few weeks, most observers feel confident that current Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is set to be the city’s next mayor. Initial tallies show Adams stitching together a coalition of voters in Black and Latino neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan and across the outer boroughs.
There will be many explanations for why Adams powered his way through, but a familiar narrative is already starting to circulate: Adams embraced what might be dubbed the New York version of “Real America,” and the political left, along with the media, was too out of touch and too focused on Twitter virtue signaling to catch him.
Adams himself pushed this theory during his Election Night speech.
But Adams was not alone. You could see versions of this gripe popping up repeatedly.
The Nate Cohn one is fun because it’s just a link to an article from 2019—they’ve been making this point for that long.
You will have seen these takes a million times over. The left is in a bubble, it equates Twitter discourse with what’s happening in the real world, it can’t accept the idea that “normal” people don’t like radical ideas like “defund the police,” etc etc etc. Twitter isn’t real life!
The point would perhaps land with a bit more bite if Adams’ apparent victory had shocked the New York left. But guess what? It didn’t! Adams has been leading in just about every poll for weeks. And far from ignoring issues like crime that were central to Adams’ campaign, the media coverage of the race has focused on little else in the past few months. Every televised mayoral debate was dominated by lengthy discussions about crime and policing. The articles ahead of the election that mused about the left’s potential doom are too numerous to count. You can chalk Adams’ leading position up to various factors—Alex Yablon’s analysis of the role homeownership plays in voting patterns, even across supposedly fixed class and racial lines, was especially intriguing—but you can’t say that it surprised anybody. In the actual real world, nobody thought “Twitter”—or at least the lefty echo chamber caricature that these critics are portraying as all of Twitter—was real life.
It’s also not a shocker that the left found itself on the ropes in 2021. The various sectors of the New York left failed abysmally to settle on a single candidate to unite against the moderates in the race, like Andrew Yang and Adams. Two of the three viable progressive candidates, Scott Stringer and Dianne Morales, had their campaigns completely derailed, and the last person standing, Maya Wiley, had barely two weeks to coalesce support around her campaign. This was a race that groups like the Democratic Socialists of America consciously chose not to fight. Even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appeared likely to stay out of the race entirely until its final weeks. Would a truly energized left campaign centered around a single candidate from the outset have changed the final results? Who knows. But it’s silly to treat the race like one where the left was operating at 100 percent—and even with all of the aforementioned mess, Wiley is sitting in second place in the initial tally.
What’s more, left and left-leaning forces appear to be on their way to winning some significant victories in New York City. Antonio Reynoso, the Bernie Sanders-endorsed candidate for Brooklyn borough president, has a healthy lead. So does comptroller candidate Brad Lander. In Manhattan, reactionary millionaire Tali Farhadi Weinstein could be blocked from becoming the county’s next district attorney. None of these match the prize of the mayoralty, of course, but they matter a lot—as we’ve seen in 2021, comptrollers and borough presidents often become candidates for mayor, and sometimes they win.
Even Adams’ victory is complicated.
But the “Twitter is not real life” crowd doesn’t really want to hear about that (or about the victory of Black socialist abolitionist India Walton in the Buffalo mayor’s race, which they will undoubtedly dismiss as a low-turnout fluke). What they are really trying to do, at the end of the day, is chide the left for existing and for trying to implement its policy goals.
The left absolutely has work to do in wooing more of the hardcore Black and Latino Democrats who backed Adams (and Andrew Cuomo, and Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton). And it is undoubtedly true that the concept of defunding the police has not been greeted with overwhelming mainstream applause. But again, that is not a surprise! Americans have been taught to worship the police for at least a hundred years. They are the domestic equivalent of the troops, and the propaganda around them is just as intense. The political and media establishments are never more comfortable than when pushing “tough on crime” narratives, no matter how distorted (you could practically feel the palpable relief from the local news moderators in the debates as they fell right back into their law-and-order comfort zones).
The idea that we need police to keep us safe is possibly the most deeply embedded concept we have in this country. The post-George Floyd uprising had a seismic impact, but guess what? It might take more than 12 months for one of the most radical ideas imaginable to gain traction with a mainstream crowd.
This is not to talk the idea of defunding or abolishing the police down. I believe strongly that it’s the right thing to do, and brilliant people have been figuring out how it would work for decades. But it’s a revolutionary idea, and revolutionary ideas take time. Moving against an establishment as entrenched as the New York Democratic Party also takes time. What “Twitter is not real life” people want is for the defund movement to shut up, to give up the work, to stop being proud of what it stands for. They want the broader left to do the same—to vacate the stage, to agree that leftists have no business participating in politics or in democracy overall. That, in the end, is the only thing that will satisfy them.