Bret Stephens Bravely Speaks For The Forgotten Man Who’s In A Hurry To Catch COVID-19

Media/Entertainment

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens wants everyone to know that “real Americans"are tired of all of New York's oppressive COVID-19 lockdown rules.

America Shouldn\u2019t Have to Play by New York Rules: A National Lockdown is bad medicine and worse politics Twitter

Stephens kicks off his column by kicking New York when its down. He implies New Yorkers are so full of themselves they are forcing America to needlessly hide in their homes. This doesn't make any sense, and his New York-bashing argument is itself New York-centric. California was the first state in the nation to issue a stay-at-home order. California even closed its schools sooner than New York.

STEPHENS: Even now, it is stunning to contemplate the extent to which the country's Covid-19 crisis is a New York crisis — by which I mean the city itself along with its wider metropolitan area.

New York is currently located in the United States, and it doesn't take Theodore Dreiser to recognize 16,599 dead New Yorkers (11,419 in New York City) as an American tragedy. COVID-19 doesn't have a personal grudge against Broadway and bagels. The virus has killed people in every US state. New York's taken the brunt of it, but not for the trite reasons Stephens gives. He wrote -- and the Times printed voluntarily -- a paragraph where almost every statement was previously disproven, specifically in Henry Grabar's Slate article from April 17: “Nothing About New York's Outbreak Was Inevitable."


STEPHENS: New York has, by far, the highest population density in the U.S. among cities of 100,000 or more. Commuters crowd trains, office workers crowd elevators, diners crowd restaurants.

GRABAR: A cursory look at a map shows that New York City's coronavirus cases aren't correlated with neighborhood density at all. Staten Island, the city's least crowded borough, has the highest positive test rate of the five boroughs. Manhattan, the city's densest borough, has its lowest.

STEPHENS: No other American city has the same kind of jammed pedestrian life as New York — Times Square alone gets 40 million visitors a year — or as many residents packed into high-rises.

GRABAR: Nor are deaths correlated with public transit use. The epidemic began in the city's northern suburbs. The city's per capita fatalities are identical to those in neighboring Nassau County, home of Levittown, a typical suburban county with a household income twice that of New York City.

STEPHENS: The city even has a neighborhood called Corona, which, it turns out, has among the highest rates of coronavirus infections.

Grabar had nothing to say about this one. It's just fucking stupid.

STEPHENS: Consider a thought experiment in which metropolitan New York weren't just its own state, but its own country.

If New York was a separate country, it'd be America's sugar momma. Yet, Stephens believes "much of America has dwindling sympathy" with further lockdown measures that he considers “New York rules." He's wrong: Recent polls show most Americans support the social distancing restrictions because most Americans support not dying. Stephens also shares more misinformed opinions like he's Donald Trump spitballing COVID-19 miracle cures during a press briefing.

STEPHENS: Many of the worst Covid outbreaks outside New York (such as at Chicago's Cook County Jail or the Smithfield Foods processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D.) have specific causes that can be addressed without population-wide lockdowns.

This isn't as reckless as recommending bleach cocktails but it's still nonsense. The Times should at least employ columnists who are aware Michigan exists. The situation in New York grew dire, as Grabar points out, because the state waited too long to act not because it acted at all. Stephens doesn't mention the state of Washington once -- even though it's the epicenter of the outbreak and has been on lockdown for about the same time as New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn't bullied other governors into needlessly joining New York in its misery.

STEPHENS: I write this from New York, so it's an argument against my personal interest. But I don't see why people living in a Nashville suburb should not be allowed to return to their jobs because people like me choose to live, travel and work in urban sardine cans.

Only 14 percent of New Yorkers are transplants from another state. Thirty-seven percent are foreign born, because New York is a major port. Stephens is a New York City resident but arguably has had more opportunities to move if he wished than his doorman. I also doubt that he lives in a “sardine can." His residence is probably more Manhattan than Taxi Driver. The idea that New Yorkers are miserable and they torture themselves by never leaving reminds me of a scene from My Dinner with Andre.

Andre Gregory - New York is a Prison www.youtube.com


"New York is the new model for the new concentration camp. Where the camp has been built by the inmates themselves, and the inmates are the guards and they have this pride in this thing they've built.

They've built their own prison, so they exist in a state of schizophrenia. They're both guards and prisoners and as a result, they no longer have, having been lobotomized, the capacity to leave the prison they've made, or to even see it as a prison."

New Yorkers are a not a different species. They are Americans enduring the same trauma as other Americans. Stephens claims America should “get back to life" and leave New York to its fate.

STEPHENS: We New Yorkers prefer our own company, anyway.

I haven't been a New Yorker for a while, but I wouldn't think much of the company I kept if it included Bret Stephens.

[New York Times/ Slate]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).

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