For decades the state’s intelligentsia has lamented that there are “two Connecticuts,” a prosperous one in the suburbs and a poor one in the cities being oppressed — by disparities in property tax rates; by state government’s not spending enough on education and welfare programs, though such spending long has been increasing; and, now, by “systemic racism.”
Hearing this an outsider might assume that Connecticut is a stronghold of reactionary Republican politics — that it twice chose Donald Trump for president, that it has been electing Republicans to Congress and the General Assembly since anyone can remember, and that government here is starving under a low-tax regime.
But the state sent its last Republican to Congress in 2006. Connecticut’s last Republican governor left office 10 years ago. The General Assembly hasn’t elected a Republican majority in either house since 1994, 27 years ago. Taxes here are high.
So if Connecticut has been oppressing its poor lately, some other political party has been doing it. Indeed, the failure to elevate the poor here in recent decades correlates closely with the policies advocated and implemented by some of the very people lamenting the two Connecticuts.
Of course there are two Connecticuts. But after all these years of fattening the state’s government class only for the divide to worsen, the problem may not be so connected to the state budget. It may be mainly cultural, since the two Connecticuts inhabit separate worlds.
Upper Connecticut is gainfully employed, at least somewhat educated, and engaged with community life and institutions.
Lower Connecticut is uneducated and unskilled, pressed financially as inflation outpaces the income paid for menial work, and increasingly demoralized, alienated, and even violent.
Upper Connecticut’s policy response to this lately has been mainly to increase the availability of intoxicating drugs and gambling, tax revenue from which will mainly compensate the government class. Indeed, what should be most distressing about the two Connecticuts is that amid the recent mayhem in Lower Connecticut — the murder of a teenager in Waterbury by a mentally ill man just out of the hospital; the daily shootings and almost daily murders in Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport; the increasingly arrogant crimes of juveniles who have realized that society has lost the nerve to discipline them — there really is no relevant policy response at all.
Upper Connecticut is oblivious to Lower Connecticut and crowns its obliviousness with virtue, the mock concern expressed by its new bleating about “systemic racism.”
Since most children in Lower Connecticut lack parents and parenting, the schools can’t educate them no matter how much money is spent.
Not being educated, many of these children grow up unable to support themselves in middle-class life and become dependent on welfare programs or resort to crime. Government keeps creating programs to remediate their lives but there are ever more lives coming along needing remediation, so the programs never catch up.
So Lower Connecticut — the underclass — becomes full of antisocial behavior, and then people who don’t want it near them are called racist. But as members of racial minorities themselves increasingly move away from the underclass, the repulsion has little to do with race anymore.
Connecticut’s news organizations report well enough the basics of the daily mayhem in the underclass. But the larger forces that bring people to their ruin or their doom are seldom reported. To Upper Connecticut the daily mayhem is the natural order of things.
After all, the FBI reported the other day that the big increase in murders is a national phenomenon, and as he chases the mayhem in his city, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker can’t do much more than keep reminding people that the local social disintegration they see is also happening throughout the country. That is, it’s not his fault.
Yes, there are two Americas too. But as the intelligentsia of a wealthy and educated state, Upper Connecticut has less excuse for failing to examine the social disintegration and failing to seek its causes, less excuse for pretending to be enlightened when it is really just on the payroll of the status quo.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.