In 2013, Seattle made international news when it elected, of all things, a socialist, Kshama Sawant, to the City Council. Sawant went on to become a celebrity who inspired other socialists to run for office. The far left was alive and well. Seattle made international news again in 2015 when it initiated a plan to raise the city's minimum wage to $15. We became the leading symbol of a progressive city—the city that launched the nation-wide fight for $15. Also, more than 90 percent of Seattle voted against Trump, and many of these voters are the single reason the whole state is deep blue and has a deeply democratic voting institution.
Then yesterday happened.
Seattle made international news, not for implementing more socialism, as Fox News would call it, but for caving in to pressure from a corporation with a market capitalization of $700 billion, Amazon. And this is how the whole world sees our City Council's repeal. It looks like democracy fell on its knees, tail between legs, and finally surrendered to the power of corporate money.
The headlines are almost uniform. New York Times: "Seattle Officials Repeal Tax That Upset Amazon." Atlantic: "How Amazon Helped Kill a Seattle Tax On Business." NPR: "Seattle Repeals Tax On Big Business After Opposition From Amazon, Starbucks." CNN: "Seattle just killed the 'Amazon tax' it passed four weeks ago." CNBC: "Seattle votes to repeal new tax law following pressure by Amazon and other local businesses." Fast Company: "Seattle sides with Amazon over homeless people." HuffPo: "Facing Pressure From Amazon, Seattle Repeals ‘Head Tax.’" It's as if everywhere in the world has been waiting to thrust a knife into the bubble of Seattle's cool.
There's more. The repeal action was not missed by Sean Hannity, Trump's Minister of Information, who was in Singapore for the "historic" summit with the Supreme Leader of North Korea: "The City Seeks to Repeal ‘HOMELESS TAX’ After Business Revolt."
Now, did something die in Seattle yesterday? If so, what is it that died?
What we must always remember is that Seattle and other major American cities only recently shifted to leftist utopianism. Until the 1980s, it was not unusual for a Republican to be a mayor. But for the past 30 or so years, in city after city, Republicans lost almost all power. Rudy Giuliani was the last great urban Republican playa. Not only did Seattle's mayors move to the left, its City Council made a journey in that direction that eventually reached Sawant. In such a climate, a Republican was like that much-talked about snowball in hell. But this leftward political movement corresponded in Seattle and all other cities with an economic movement motivated by market forces, gentrification.
The white flight of the 1950s and 1960s relocated white political power to the suburbs. This power eventually formed a part of the GOP's base. As whites left the city, and left it to immigrants from the Global South (they were brought into existence by the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965) and black Americans (the descendants of the Great Migration), its political institutions were captured by a survivalist leftistism. The period between the late-'80s to 2016 was transitional in the sense that gentrification attracted primarily educated white voters back to the city. They were the generation that followed (and still had sharp memories of) the collapse of America's radical left in the 1970s. Their story was expressed in the 1976 film Milestones. They returned to the city as, to borrow from Crosscut's Knute Berger, "pioneers."
This transition made possible a broad and progressive political coalition between immigrants, black American working class, and educated whites. This coalition made the urban right almost impotent. But there was a problem in this leftist paradise, one that white progressives never deeply or effectively addressed: black Americans and immigrants were being displaced by market forces. In the case of Seattle, this made the city more white, and the suburbs more brown. It is in this context that we are now seeing a resurgence of the white Right.
A key figure in this development is burger heir Saul Spady (the grandson of the founder of Dick’s Drive-In). He, more than Amazon, is the face of the repeal. It is his first big political victory, and he will clearly try to transform the reverse white flight in Seattle into a political office. This would have been politically impossible even two years ago. But things have changed very rapidly in our city. Spady is now a symbol, in Seattle, of a conservative politics that was once out in the suburbs. He bursts forth from what died in Seattle yesterday.