Seattle liberalism is a failure in progressivism and indulgence in ignorance
Often, in hopes of escaping to some sense of a liberal utopia, I find myself watching old episodes of West Wing, the Aaron Sorkin American serial political drama depicting the fictional workings of a progressive administration.
In one quintessential scene, Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman mansplains to his assistant, Donna Moss, “There’s a hockey coach who’s got a player who’s squandering his potential. Coach says, “Are you ignorant or just apathetic?” Player responds, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
Last year, Mr. Sorkin and some cast members gathered at Austin’s SXSW to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the show’s series finale. When asked about the bevy of programming aimed at blue-state patrons, Mr. Sorkin expressed concern.
The writer of The Social Network and A Few Good Men worried, that in today’s climate, the endless amount of time one can spend in a kale-kombucha enclave of a liberal echo chamber could lead to progressives developing an dangerous habit of signaling an embodiment of liberal ideals (i.e. diversity, tolerance, and acceptance), while failing to actually espouse these values in real life.
For those looking for an example of Sorkin’s nightmare, one should look no further than Seattle.
Because, the passive-aggressive drizzly older brother of Portland is certainly the chicken tikka masala of liberalism — a diluted, washed down monolithically banal region devoid of any cultural nuance or unique character.
The persona of the typical Seattle resident has been hardened by the liberal moat they’ve built. If a typical Seattle personality were a recipe it’d be a heavy mix of NPR robotic regurgitation, an unsophisticated dash of Rachel Maddow, a pinch of Pod Save America’s condescending snark, and a three watered-down teaspoons of the day’s NY Times editorial section (except for conservative David Brooks of course).
Initially, I believed my six-month stint in Seattle, a time filled with faddish optics of multi-culturalism and a large douse of the nativist cold shoulder, was a unicorn of an experience. Upon further investigation, it’s apparent that these two characteristics are as ingrained into Emerald City culture as a Starbucks corner shop, Green Lake regaling, and fish throwing in Pike Place Market.
At first blush, I realized Seattle practices what one can only call ‘diversity at a distance’. During my first week, I attended a Bloomberg conference on sustainability and inclusion where one of the city planners boasted that in one district there are 58 languages spoken. Yet, the lady and no other person on that panel really knew anything further about that region. When asked to reveal what those languages were and how often those groups interacted, the civil servants faced turned paler than it already was (Spoiler Alert: everyone on the diversity and inclusion panel was so white they could have been modeling American Eagle’s spring white privilege collection).
More troubling, when Jay Inslee, the Governor of Washington, came up to speak, he doled out several statistics without mentioning any interaction of minority groups, their unique struggles, or contributions to his state’s largest city. (Seattle’s port and transportation industry would be dead without East African migrants — something never mentioned in the three-hour discussion regarding the city’s diversity.)
This poor lady’s and Governor’s dearth of understanding of diversity perfectly encapsulates the cities outlook on the meaning of a melting pot. It was a common theme in this town, for Caucasians (who are 69% of the population), to cite ethnic-centric statistics about people of color (who they rarely interact with) as an cultural novelty or a diversity economic case study justifying their international gravitas and global awareness. In short, Bill Gate’s fellow Pacific Northwester’s enjoy discussing issues affecting communities of color rather than discussing issues with communities of color.
It makes sense that Macklemore is so widely lauded in this area. Aside from his hometown roots, the rapper gives Seattleites a sense of outside exposure, an understanding of the “other”, without really encroaching upon their safe space.
If you think this is all angsty anecdotal evidence, data proves otherwise. US Census figures indicate Seattle as one of the least diverse metropolisis’ in America. Since 2010, the number of non-Caucasians has remained the same, making it the only thriving metropolis failing to become more diverse. According to the US Diversity Index Seattle scores a 53, where the overall score for the United States is 56.
Residents of the poor man’s San Francisco would argue that rising housing costs, a rapid infusion of high skilled workers, and the subtleties of gentrification all contribute to this area being the mayonnaise on the spice rack.
To some degree, there’s credence in that notion. But again, other areas such as New York, Chicago, and Austin have all recently dealt with outside factors aggressively transforming their culture, ethnic make-up, and workforce yet the whitizization is more noticeable in Kurt Cobain’s hometown.
For all its annoyances, one could possibly excuse the haphazard approach of understanding inclusion and diversity. What lacks any justification is Seattle’s resident odd demeanor and day-to-day treatment of others.
In nicer terms, Seattleites are some of the worst human beings on this earth. The average Seattle resident is so mundane, personally unsexy, and articulately unsophisticated it’s plausible to believe that many were the offspring of burnt cabbage and the Amazon device Alexa.
In the masochistic endeavor of trying to engage with locals, I signed up for three or four “Meet Up” events. Given the “shocking” election results, voter turnout was a common topic. In our discussions, I denounced the idea that simply making Election Day a national holiday would be the silver bullet to clear liberal electoral domination (because when you’re poor, over worked, and never see your family why would one bother to wait in line for a candidate who pays lip service to your problems).
I articulated (in my humble opinion) that to increase turnout progressives must develop a sound platform, expand resources towards voter registration, make sure the liberal base turns out during midterms, and that we try to increase voting locations and timeframes.
Each time I was lambasted as not caring for the poor, giving into conservative principles, and creating a pipe dream. At one point, others joined to denounce me and “corporate conservative” views. (Side note: I attended Berkeley and my idea of expanding voting locations comes from India where they have a one poll for every 1.2km).
Most shocking, is that this moment of liberal hysteria was the one time I had any spontaneous interaction from Space Needle bedfellows. Before this article, you might have heard the rumor that Seattle residents are not open, nor accepting, or welcoming and in fact rudely frigid. It’s true.
The term that often describes this reclusiveness is the Seattle freeze — a concept that describes the cold, standoffish, flaky, and passive-aggressive demeanor of the town’s residents.
And this is uncontroversial fact. A 2014 report from the Seattle CityClub showed that Seattle ranked 48 out of 50 similarly sized cities for “talking with neighbors frequently,” and 37 in “giving or receiving favors with neighbors frequently.” The oldest reference about the Seattle Freeze dates back from a piece from 1946 in the Seattle Daily Times which spoke of the lukewarm reception newcomers receive:
“It was revealed what we had indeed suspected — that newcomers do not always find us altogether perfect; that we sometimes are neglectful of the stranger in our midst; that we seem unduly preoccupied with our own local concerns.”
It might make sense that when residents boast about their city, they bring up their beloved Seahawks and Sounders, the semi birthplace of Rock & Roll, the proximity to lush to the islands of San Juan and Vashon Island, their craft beers (#overrated), and their summers (#overhyped). Never once would you hear about the magnificence or personal brilliance of the character of Seattle residents.
And that’s why Seattle is the Ted Cruz of metropolises. Because whatever geographical amenities, intellectual capital, and financial firepower an area may have the greatness of a city lies in the beauty, eclectic aura, and charisma of its people.
Seattle patrons lack the elegance of a Parisian, the worldliness of a Londonite, the hospitality of an Athenian, the entrepreneurial spirit of a San Franciscan, the weirdness of the Austonian, the vibrancy of a New Orleans resident, the grit of Detroit native, the honesty of a Chicagoan, and the realness of a New Yorker.
As hordes of newcomers arrive to Jeff Bezos’ backyard, the questions remain: is Seattle indifferent or apathetic to these facts? Can their citizens quickly revise their approach to liberalism before the lie catches up? Or are they okay with being the Nickelback of large towns?
The sad reality is patrons of the Washington state’s largest city simply don’t know and don’t care.