In 2016, white working-class voters in Pennsylvania and Michigan became disenchanted with the Democratic Party and voted red. In coming years, U.S. voters in the heart of big cities may be the next group to swing right. U.S. metropolitan centers are suffering from the failures of left-wing policies around public safety and the drug epidemic. U.S. conservatism has long called for a restoration of public safety and stands in opposition to the misguided efforts to establish injection sites intended to contain the drug epidemic. The GOP should bring these solutions to the American metropolis, which has been suffering under Democratic rule for decades.
In 2019, I worked on a primary city council campaign in downtown Seattle. As campaign manager, I talked to countless residents who were tired of witnessing the everyday tragedy of drug overdoses on our city streets and the ever-common danger of falling prey to a random attack from a seldom-prosecuted offender. The understaffed Seattle Police Department became increasingly vocal in its pleas for a more pro-law enforcement city government at around that same time. According to Seattle police exit interviews, the lack of support by city leadership motivated an officer exodus from the force. Pair that with the under-prosecution of repeat violent offenders and you have a citywide safety issue. But this issue is not unique to Seattle.
Nationally, the United States has a police staffing problem. City populations continue to grow and require proportionally increasing city services, including policing. Without such accommodations in city governance, more and more voters moving into cities with understaffed police departments will rally behind pro-law enforcement candidates.
Though the current electoral map indicates that progressive Democrats have a stranglehold on metropolitan voters, growing insecurity about public safety has the potential to trigger a political realignment toward the GOP. Although concerns about equitable policing and use-of-force policies may continue to temper the conversation around law enforcement, a quiet but nonetheless zealous group of citizens concerned about their security can be rallied around conservative city governance. There is a balance to be struck between regulating police activity, a cause championed by progressives, and reducing crime, a considerable concern of the right wing. Nonetheless, the Republican Party should be forceful in its insistence that all Americans ought to be safe walking through their city’s downtown — a value clearly abandoned by urban progressives.
Regarding the drug crisis: the growing calls from the progressive end of the political spectrum for drug management programs such as injection sites are nothing but defeatist sentiment in our battle with addiction. Allowing this disease to persist in city streets is neither compassionate to those who are under the influence of illegal drugs nor fair to community members who must avoid used needles in shared public spaces. The good grace of metropolitan voters was reaching its limit in 2019 in Seattle as mental illness and addiction contributed to intense homelessness and sanitation issues in the city. Law enforcement will often be the first point of contact with severely drug addicted individuals in city streets. Therefore, more officers on the beat will allow for a more robust response to victims of the drug epidemic.
When the frustration of urbanites is met with the realization that real compassion means mandating treatment for those who repeatedly commit crimes due to mental illness or drug-induced episodes, cracks will widen in the seemingly impenetrable cement of urban progressivism. The conservative opposition to injection sites creates a hope that drug addiction can be conquered and that those in its grips are not doomed to a life of chemical dependency. But in order to win over metropolitan liberals, the GOP must be clear in its message that compassionate addiction policy means lifting people out of the deadly grip of addiction and not merely allowing them to suffer under the supervision of “safe” drug injection sites.
The GOP will still face an uphill battle in the metropolitan United States. As of now, big cities are voting overwhelmingly blue. But the conservative support for law enforcement and the GOP’s unapologetic confrontation with addiction as a matter of public policy speaks directly to the issues facing metropolitan centers across the country. Urban voters are ready for new solutions. The GOP has the realistic, effective ideas that U.S. cities need.
Sam Kehoe is a freshman in the College. Pondering Politics appears online every other Tuesday.