“In the space of a single generation, Detroit managed to ruin itself,” is how Kevin D. Williamson opens What Doomed Detroit, his incisive look at the forces that led to the Motor City’s downfall.
The book, a volume of Encounter Broadside, is only 34 pages. Yet Williamson does more to explain what happened to Detroit than Charlie LeDuff did in 300 pages. LeDuff’s recent Detroit: An American Autopsy, does little to dissect the reasons behind the city’s fall (short of blaming bad leadership from city hall to Wall Street). LeDuff bewails Detroit like a mourner who cannot see through his tears. It is Williamson who takes up the scalpel and performs the required autopsy.
Those familiar with Williamson’s writings in National Review know him as a gifted and witty writer. In What Doomed Detroit, however, he leaves behind his customary levity. Detroit’s story is a hard one, and Williamson tells what happened without unnecessary flourishes.
Detroit is bankrupt and at least $20 billion in debt. Half its streetlights don’t work because thieves have made off with their copper wiring. More than 120,000 homes stand vacant. Bus drivers are afraid to drive its streets, and its murder rate is 11 times New York City’s. While the city has an official unemployment rate of 16 percent, its real unemployment rate is closer to 50 percent.
One of the main culprits, Williamson writes, is racial politics: “Detroit is a city in which black identity politics has trumped, and continues to trump, every other consideration, from basic finances to public safety.” To be sure, Williamson notes that race politics in Detroit started with white racism. Led by Democratic politicians, whites resisted desegregation when the black population exploded, rising from 6,000 in 1910 to 120,000 in 1929.
“It is an irony of our history that the political home of black racism in American politics is also the historical political home of white racism: the Democratic Party,” Williamson writes.