The Outstater: Are We All Baltimoreans Now?
Are We all Baltimore Now?
“Whew, Jesus. Oh, my God, you can smell the dead animals.” — Then-Mayor Catherine Pugh touring an east Baltimore neighborhood in September 2018
MY CITY, PERHAPS FOR THE FIRST TIME in its history, is facing serious problems with orderly trash disposal, not comparable with Baltimore as yet but nonetheless alarming to some of us. The trash contract negotiated by the mayor has broken down for certain neighborhoods. Garbage there is not being picked up on schedule.
One side, in the Baltimore model, assumes that individual citizens are incapable of thinking for themselves, in this case of contracting directly (privatizing) for essential services. Another side points to the smoothly functioning association-by-association trash collection in the suburbs as evidence to the contrary.
How do we sort it out? If you can think above the race-mongering din of Al Sharpton and MSNBC News for a few minutes, you can find answers.
First of all, though, you are saddened that an American city, democratically independent, has made itself into a hell hole. As it turns out, David Simon, writer of the 2002 television series “The Wire,” did not exaggerate Baltimore’s situation for theatrical effect. It is truly and thoroughly a tragic city.
Please know there is an explanation more profound than partisan politics. Baltimore received over $1.8 billion from Barack Obama’s stimulus law. In recent years, the Democrat-controlled U.S. House has been as sympathetic.
Before an explanation, some linguistic history: A favorite anthropological observation here is that the oldest recorded single word in all languages signifying those who, say, live in the village across the river or down the road, is not “enemies” or even “strangers.” It is “stinkers.”
We would like to think this is merely a matter of relative olfactory experience, as the living room of your own house might smell different from the den. Some cities, though, smell different in an identifiable, even ominous way. That smell, one most easily and immediately recognizable to the human nose, is raw sewage and decaying garbage.
The humorist P.J. O’Rourke made the observation in his 1988 classic “Holidays in Hell,” for which he traveled outside America to the world’s worst places. His conclusion:
“Western Civilization not only provides a bit of life, a pinch of liberty and the occasional pursuance of happiness, it’s also the only thing that’s ever tried to do any of that. Our civilization is the first in history to show even the slightest concern for average, undistinguished, none-too-commendable people like us.”
That is because in most of the world, the rulers, ensconced in places that are rat-free and nice-smelling, don’t have to worry about how the people downwind live. They are not bound by a common law to which both they and regular folk must adhere; that, or as is increasingly the case here, they do not bother to read the documents that so bind them.
Three decades later, sorry to say, holidays in hell now would be booking American cities, specifically those where municipal rulers have taught a generation to blame others for their problems, to be dependent subjects rather than free and responsible individuals of a productive community. If Baltimore were a country, Tucker Carlson reminds us, it would have the world’s fourth highest murder rate, only slightly lower than that of Venezuela.
The excuses of an Elijah Cummings, then, are as unconvincing as those of a Nicolás Maduro or any of the rulers on O’Rourke’s tour. It was Baltimore’s choice — a choice that, thanks to our Founding Fathers, an election or two can change. It is a choice, however, that many in the world were never free to make in the first place.
So which model will my city choose? As an American, I’m ashamed to say that I can’t be sure.