Eric Adams likes to compare himself to Joe Biden, but he has far more in common with Donald Trump.
Both are severely odd men, rife with personal habits and eccentricities that can render them alternately relatable and clown-like, like our best Real Housewives. But just as, say, Erika Jayne’s bubbly façade conceals the beating heart of a tyrant, so too can we lose the scent with Adams or Trump if we aren’t careful, becoming distracted by their theatrical goofiness at the expense of recognizing that they are inherently dangerous authoritarians. If Adams’ first month in office veered toward comedy, his second felt like an endless series of blows to the solar plexus.
We started this cold, gray February with the fun stuff. Militant vegan Adams got caught eating fish, and rather than have a laugh about it, he was prickly and ranted about the “food police” — so we found the one type of police Adams doesn’t love. He tweeted a photo of himself on a workout bike during a virtual meeting with the caption, “Health is wealth!” He equated heroin withdrawal with cheese withdrawal, insulting both heroin and cheese addicts. He claimed God told him he would be mayor. All very surreal, like Adams is being scripted by the writers of And Just Like That.
Adams defenders call these stories puffery and distraction. But look, part of this monthly column is understanding Adams as a man, trying to map his synaptic processes, and to that end, this weird shit is relevant and useful. We must dedicate time to perceiving Adams qua Adams because he is presiding over a breathtaking expansion of the police state in New York City. And so the task becomes judiciously highlighting the most revealing of the eerie Adams behavior, pinning it to our big board and asking how it connects to the creeping climate of terror rising up like a fog underneath us.
My confession is that this has all happened faster than I thought it would. I will try here to categorize all the ways Adams is laying waste to civil liberties and instilling a pervasive sense of fear in New Yorkers, at the expense of not only the NYPD’s victims and the neighborhoods the police will “saturate,” but also of anyone who relies on any other social services besides the cops, who are sucking up city funding and calling the shots even outside of their public safety domain.
Adams is pushing what Politico called a “dramatic expansion” of facial recognition technology, where the NYPD would gather photos of people taken from social media and match them against surveillance footage to ID “suspects,” or whomever else they please. (Wives of paranoid cops, take note.) Other cities have banned this. Adams speaks of it as a revelation, which is not surprising, as it combines his longtime love of statist overreach with a bleak, amateurish futurism, a combo last seen being promoted by Adams in the form of the BolaWrap™ 100, a lasso to rein in the mentally ill, which he gleefully demonstrated to a room full of reporters — “This is Marvel meeting reality,” he gushed.
February saw Adams roll out a series of policies designed to target our city’s poorest and most vulnerable. Farebeating will be cracked down on. Police will be forcing the homeless off subway trains at the end of the line and taking them to, well… we’ll figure that part out later. Sleeping on the subway, lying down on the subway, “aggressive behavior” on the subway, doing anything on the subway other than crying a single tear while saluting a Thin Blue Line flag will subject you to the attentions of an armed Trump enthusiast with a monopoly on force who knows he cannot be fired for anything he does.
In his bluntest act of favoritism, Adams announced a broad cutback in city spending, but exempted the NYPD. Gothamist did the work to show how the Adams NY(PD)C budget affects schools, which will be forced to make do with hundreds of millions of dollars less than in years past. Incredibly, Adams himself tied the school cuts to police funding, claiming that more cops would mean more school enrollment which would theoretically benefit the schools. Call it trickle down fascism. Even Adams’ disastrous attempt to close the Willoughby Avenue open street, one of the most successful in the city, had a police connection, as the local precinct was Adams’ former NYPD command and cops there didn’t like the program (too free, too pure).
I think about this — the NYPD supremacy — when I see Adams walking around New York in his NYPD hat and jacket, like a tinpot military dictator with a chest full of meaningless medals, an amorphous cross between statesman and enforcer. I thought about it when he told us he would carry a gun as mayor. There is no use figuring out where the cop ends and the mayor begins — like the astronaut meme, it’s all cop, always has been.
Adams’ lack of respect for autonomy and any conception of freedom extends to the arts, as he mourned that “we” (meaning the state) “allow” (meaning god knows what) drill musicians to rap about guns and violence. He has since promised to roll out a response to the drill rap menace. Here we see an example of what probably started as another random Adams bugaboo, like cheese, but, because Adams has institutional power, became a bona fide moral panic that ultimately requires a State resolution, similar to Chairman Mao’s war on sparrows.
Understand that Adams is a moral panic artist. He strives — with The New York Post as his echo chamber — to create a suffocating sense of chaos, signified by the mental image of a shiny silver gun held by a sneering Black man. With the populace sufficiently shaken, the NYPD can “saturate” (their word, as per the 2022 Crime Plan) neighborhoods and target what they call “trigger pullers,” which are not individuals convicted of gun crimes but rather “suspects” and people “involved” in “incidents,” who may or may not have ever pulled a trigger in their life. This is how it works — suspects become criminals, innocents become menaces. It matters not that crime is at about the same level as 2016, when New York was feted as a safety miracle. What matters is the narrative, the feeling, the vibe, the fear.
Donald Trump worked through fear, too. That of the undocumented worker, of the Black and brown man, of Antifa and anarchists.
Once you search for them, the Trump parallels are shocking and obvious. Adams, his ego frail, takes great joy in hobnobbing with celebrities and holding court at ultra-exclusive nightclubs. He retweets random people who pay him over-the-top compliments. He is a skilled culture warrior, adept at weaponizing identity politics and deploying it at critics. He hates the press — this month, in a grating, whining press conference, Adams lashed out at reporters who didn’t report the way he prefers, implied journalists are racist, talked about the great job he’s doing “if you want to acknowledge or not” and threatened to limit his press availabilities. We’ve seen this before. We know how it ends.
And where is the city council? We’ll look at them next month. Until then, stay aware and stay safe.
BUT WAIT… I couldn’t in good conscience go without mentioning Adams’ decision to appoint three — three! — open and proud homophobes to his administration.
Two of the hires are being deployed to the brand-new Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnership, whose function and goals remain unclear, but could be Adams’ kickback to God for making him mayor. The office will be led by Pastor Gilford Monrose, a vocal opponent of gay marriage who has compared gay people to adulterers and smokers. As a gay smoker, I feel seen, but also appalled. Backing Monrose up at the office is former Councilmember Fernando Cabrera, who — hard to believe I am typing this — traveled to Uganda to praise their anti-gay policy just as the nation was debating its infamous “Kill the Gays” bill! Even among homophobes, that puts Cabrera at the top of the hate pile.
Meanwhile, over at the Office of Immigrant Affairs, one Erick Salgado will be helping to run things as an assistant commissioner. Salgado is a true blast from the past, a former novelty candidate for mayor who snagged an endorsement from the National Organization for Marriage, a group all gays over the age of 25 remember as being one of the most vituperative ant-i marriage equality orgs in the country. Salgado is also an oddball, having accused gays specifically of trying to ban the Orthodox Jewish practice of brit malah, where a rabbi sucks the blood from a baby’s newly circumcised penis.We know Adams is comfortable building alliances with our city’s most right-wing elements. That, more than any personal homophobia on Adams’ part, likely explains these hires.
Adams appears to adhere to the Trumpian conviction that the working class is bigoted and reactionary, and so by supporting police, homophobes, the Post, he is being a populist. He’s not. He’s wrong, but it is the natural and expected merger of liberal identity politics and a MAGA-style rejection of modernity. I’d expect much more of this over the next four years.
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