Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Today is the Wisconsin primary...

...and if you don't know Milwaukee as well as I do (and no one who has never lived there has been there as much as me), here are two pieces from 2014 that are still valid about Milwaukee and, by extension, Wisconsin.

The first, "Democratic, Republican voters worlds apart in divided Wisconsin: Entire communities vote red or blue as metro Milwaukee grows more politically segregated with nearly every election cycle," is from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Money quote:

Metropolitan Milwaukee is the most polarized part of a polarized state in a polarized nation.

It's true, but it wasn't always that way. Since I met my wife back in 1984 Wisconsin has become more and more like . . . Mississippi.

The second piece is from the New Republic, "The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker: A journey through the poisonous, racially divided world that produced a Republican star." A taste (my emphasis):

Thanks to a quirk of twentieth-century history, the region encompasses a heavily Democratic and African American urban center, and suburbs that are far more uniformly white and Republican than those in any other Northern city, with a moat of resentment running between the two zones. As a result, the area has given rise to some of the most worrisome trends in American political life in supercharged form: profound racial inequality, extreme political segregation, a parallel-universe news media. 

Not long after a substantial African American community took shape, Milwaukee’s industrial base began to collapse and its manufacturing jobs disappeared. This left almost no time for the city to develop a black middle class or a leadership elite. Within short order, Milwaukee had some of the most glaring racial disparities in the country. Today, it has the second-highest black poverty rate in the United States, and the unemployment rate is nearly four times higher for blacks than for whites. The city had never been exactly welcoming to African Americans—its tight-knit enclaves of Germans, Jews, and Poles had fiercely resisted housing and school integration. But the decline of the black ghetto so soon after many of its residents had arrived made it easier for white Milwaukeeans to write off the entire African American community, or to blame it for the city’s troubles. White flight, like the Great Migration, came late to Milwaukee, but it came fast and fueled with resentment. Between 1960 and 2010, the population of the three formerly rural counties around Milwaukee County (Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington, or the “WOW” counties, for short) nearly tripled, to 608,000.

During this period, the WOW counties continued to expand. But unlike suburbs elsewhere, they had not grown more diverse. Today, less than 2 percent of the WOW counties’ population is African American and less than 5 percent is Hispanic. According to studies by the Brookings Institution and Brown University, the Milwaukee metro area is one of the top two most racially segregated regions in the country. The WOW counties were voting Republican at levels unseen in other Northern suburbs; one needed to look as far as the white suburbs around Atlanta and Birmingham for similar numbers. The partisan gulf between Milwaukee and its suburbs in presidential elections has now grown wider than in any of the nation’s 50 largest cities, except for New Orleans, according to the Journal Sentinel series.

It is as if the Milwaukee area were in a kind of time warp. Like the suburbanites of the ’70s and ’80s elsewhere in the United States, the residents of the WOW counties are full of anxiety and contempt for the place they abandoned. “We’re still in the disco era here,” says Democratic political consultant Paul Maslin. This has affected the politics of the state in myriad ways. The nationwide trend of exploring alternatives to prison hasn’t reached Wisconsin—it has the highest rate of black male incarceration of any state in the country. 

It's depressing. There was actually a time when I would have moved to Milwaukee, but no more. In many ways it's a true backwater. I don't know if it's because the Cream City is stuck between Minneapolis and Chicago or what, but it's been in decline almost since the time I was born. In 1960 Milwaukee's population topped out at over 740,000; by 2010 it was under 600,000.

Everyone says Cruz and Sanders will win today, but then the map turns to states more favorable to Trump and Clinton. I'll be glad when the focus is off Wisconsin.

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