by Margaret Rowley

Multiple news sources have detailed Stephen Miller’s recent accusation hurled at Jim Acosta of “cosmopolitan bias,” an insult that has been recently and repeatedly levied at so-called “left-leaning” news networks.

Acosta: This whole notion of they have to learn English before they get to the United States, are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?

Miller: I have to say, I am shocked at your statement that you think that only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English. It reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree that in your mind — this is an amazing moment.

Dan Mihalopoulis seems as confused as I am about the sudden turning of this word into an insult, and ends his piece by conflating Miller’s use of the term with xenophobia (which, he points out dryly, is another word with Greek etymology). The accusation of cosmopolitan bias – here apparently a lack of knowledge about the world at large, when the word itself means exactly the opposite – is nothing new. As Jeff Greenfield has recently pointed out, Josef Stalin also used ‘cosmopolitan’ (well, its Russian-language counterpart) as an insult.

Rebekah Entralgo further expands on the historical use of ‘cosmopolitan’ by white nationalist movements, calling it an “insult with racial subtext.” Amulya Shankar details the term’s anti-Semitic past. Clearly, the use of ‘cosmopolitan’ as an insult in a White House press briefing caught some attention.

I’d like to tease out what Miller meant by his insult, which I suspect had more to do with being a coastal elite than with being worldly. Presumably to be cosmopolitan and/or urban is to be (over) educated, to live in a major urban center, and to be somehow non-representative of the “real” population targeted by the Trump Presidential campaign. In the U.S., accusations levied at the city-dwelling coastal population range from a supposed insatiable hunger for bleeding tax revenue from the population in the middle of the country (a fallacy) to being ignorant of the means of production of commodities produced in the Midwest (food and coal, to name a few). I would suggest that ‘cosmopolitan’ has come to mean educated and urban, and therefore indoctrinated by liberalism and out-of-touch with rural populations.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the United States population in 2010 was 80.7% urban. Maine and Vermont, both states on the Eastern seaboard, are the least urbanized in the country. But before we conflate cosmopolitan’ with ‘urban’, it may be useful to look at the definition of the word. The top three definitions that appear online are:

  1. free from local, provincial, or national ideas, prejudices, or attachments; at home all over the world.
  2. of or characteristic of a cosmopolite.
  3. belonging to all the world; not limited to just one part of the world.

So ‘cosmopolitan’ means “citizen of the world,” but this definition does not seem to reflect Miller’s usage of the term. A citizen of the world would be more likely to know that English is one of the national languages of India and that it’s taught to young children as a matter of course in Germany. I recently took a French course with five other students from around the world of different ages and with varying levels of education, but all of us spoke English. A cosmopolitan knows that in many parts of the world, English is the international language. So Miller must have meant something different when he spat “cosmopolitan!” at Acosta (the son of a Cuban refugee).

Of course with this definition I am flattening what it means to be cosmopolitan (or the opposite). Like everything else, cosmopolitanism must have a scale. Some with a cosmopolitan perspective are certainly not widely traveled, and others who hold tightly to nationalism have visited every corner of the earth. Sometimes cosmopolitan and nationalistic may not even be mutually exclusive. What I’m interested in here, though, is the intent behind Miller’s words. In a time when words have multiple meanings, it seems irresponsible to discount the possibility of ‘cosmopolitan’ slowly coming to mean “urban.” The entire Trump Presidential campaign seemed intent on dividing the Midwestern population, both urban and rural, from its coastal counterpart, and to my understanding of the day-to-day use of the two terms, they are closely related. As an aside, I’m not the only one to conflate ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘urban’, so it’s worth exploring.

I went to college in a small Midwestern city, and completed my master’s degrees in another. Both had infrastructure that supported an urban lifestyle: I had access to malls and other shopping, roads maintained by the city and supported by the taxes of citizens, public transportation (including at least a few busses, if not Amtrak). In neither city was I obligated to drive more than half a mile for groceries, nor did I have the space to grow my own food. Both cities boasted small airports, through which I could connect to international flights. The cost of living varied in those two cities, but was nevertheless higher than the surrounding rural areas. In Boston, people certainly live closer together and pay higher rent, but the similarities vastly outnumber the differences. In both places, to varying degrees, I was exposed to people with racial, religious, and cultural backgrounds different from my own.

Some friends of mine who live in the Midwest are quite cosmopolitan, speak multiple languages or were born in other countries, and have traveled all over the world. By contrast, I know some native Bostonians who have not even traveled widely within the United States, and a few who have never left Massachusetts. Yet, inhabitants of the Eastern seaboard can easily be judged by other Americans (from a distance, of course) to be “belonging to all of the world,” and therefore, not quite as “American” (read: nationalist) as they should be.

I’ve been addressed many times with the ridiculous assertion that Boston is a “different country” from the Midwest. I moved to Boston almost eight years ago, and I manage quite well in this alien land, where we also speak American dialect English, drive on the right side of the road, and access the same informational network of web- and news sites as our Midwestern counterparts, with whom we share a federal government. We have libraries, grocery stores, and McDonalds. We have universities and, as close as three miles from my urban abode, large family-run farms. The only thing (other than the cost of living) that differs substantially between Boston and the Midwestern cities I’ve called home is prevailing political opinion, and if that is enough to create “a different country,” then the United States has always been an amalgam of different countries. Could it be, therefore, that the United States has always been cosmopolitan?

Cosmopolitanism, though, is dangerous to this administration. The concept of “Make America Great Again” relies heavily on raw sentiment and a lack of questioning, and citizens of the world tend to ask too many questions. One should not ask “when was America great, and for whom?” because the answers will likely anathematize three-quarters of the population. One cannot demand to know which countries we must outpace to become “the greatest” or how we plan to achieve this feat in an increasingly global economy. One is expected to simply accept that America was once great (for some reason), now is not, and can be again in the same retrospective way that it once was. In my limited experience, many of those who want to “Make America Great Again” don’t have answers to these questions, nor does the premise hold up under scrutiny.

Those who have traveled the world and seen the vast American system from the outside, peering back at the U.S. from outside like the majority of the world, know that “Make America Great Again,” in so many different ways, is a mirage; a last wheeze of sentiment for the booming post-World War II economy where women and minorities were shoehorned into place, and where the world trembled in the wake of America’s use of the first nuclear weapon. Levying the insult of “cosmopolitanism” succeeds in diminishing the vast importance of questions about the meaning of “Make America Great Again” by creating a strawman out of the coastal city-dweller, and in dividing the population against itself. Once this has been neatly achieved, and we are well on our way by now, the powers-that-be are free to retain and amplify their authority.

The problem with all my preceding arguments is that, in the end, I’m afraid that Miller’s cosmopolitan argument is correct. The unspoken assertion, by Miller and others, is that to be cosmopolitan is to be dangerous and anti-American and that the opinions and questions of cosmopolitans are worthless, in the sense that they are worth less than those of non-cosmopolitans. I’m afraid that, in the eddy where ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘urban’ meet, many large-city-dwellers are indeed worth less – at least when it comes to their votes in Presidential elections.

Massachusetts, the only state in New England to boast a large city, has eleven electoral college votes. The population is currently 6.8 million. This means that, by my reckoning, there are approximately 619,273 people for each electoral college vote in a national Presidential election. In Wyoming, the population of the entire state is 585,501 – less than the number of people per one electoral vote in Massachusetts, yet Wyoming has three electoral college votes: one for every 195,167 people.

These are different numbers than the ones Slate posted in 2012, which still reflect a similar sentiment. The color-coded map allows for a visualization of the fact that that Midwestern states by and large have more power in a Presidential election, and proportionately more representation in Congress. The post populous states – Massachusetts, New York, California, Texas – actually fare the worst in how much the votes of their individual citizens actually matter. These are also the states with the biggest international airports, easy access to Mexico, Canada, and other international destinations, and (by the reckoning of Miller, it would seem) the largest cosmopolitan populations. In this sense, the votes of urban/cosmopolitan city-dwellers on the coasts are, actually, worth less than their Midwestern counterparts, as we saw in the most recent election when the loser of the Presidential race won the popular vote by a large, urban margin.

I must say, in summary, that I am not surprised by this new twist on an old word. It seems to me to be the next in a predictable series of steps designed to implement a conflict of class, education, and location in the United States. Where this will lead is anyone’s guess, although we have plenty of historical fodder through which we can dig for parallels. All this, from an administration whose President is a life-long New Yorker, a city that for most of the world remains a beacon of cosmopolitanism.


41 responses to “Cosmopolitan”

  1. Margaret: There is much that I agree with here, and the piece is really excellently written. I have a few points of disagreement, and they seem central enough to the core themes of the piece that I thought them worth airing.

    –As others may not know, I know Margaret personally. She was a student of mine, and grew up in the town where I have lived since 1999. And I cannot agree with her on the point re: Boston vs. the Midwest. In my case, it would be NY vs. the Midwest, and I find them to be entirely different countries; different planets even. Not just because of politics. Religion. Ethnicity. Culture. Manners. Work ethic. In every way, the two places couldn’t be more different. Paris is more like NY than Springfield, MO is. Hell, Saigon is more like NY than Springfield, MO.

    –I do think there is a legitimate critique of a certain dimension of cosmopolitanism and I’ve made it myself. I don’t believe one can be a citizen of the world. Indeed, I think the phrase is largely meaningless. The Nation-State is about the largest coherent social-political entity there can be, and there is a very reasonable question as to whether it is too large itself. To the extent then that cosmopolitanism seeks to undermine or at least, rejects, familial, tribal, local, and national loyalties and fealties — and I think it definitely does — it can be fairly criticized on those grounds.

    –Finally, I know it will be unpopular with most here, but I am among those who think not only that the Electoral College is a good idea but that it is essential in a country of this size and with this sort of distribution of population. You should not be able to win national elections in a huge, federal polity, by winning a handful of major metropolitan areas, but that’s exactly what would happen if you got rid of the EC. Democracy is important, but it isn’t the only thing of importance: indeed, I would argue that liberalism and federalism are as important if not more so, in a country like this.

  2. ombhurbhuva

    To parse ‘cosmopolitan’ as used by the current ‘bete noir’. Usually in the past it was joined to ‘rootless’ and it is in that sense it was meant. The new immigrant is often a rootless person having severed their roots with the parent country and are still strangers in a strange land. The cities will have more of such people who are neither one thing or the other. Cheap air flight has exacerbated this alienation as they can keep going back to top up on the home country. In Ireland we call them Yanks in a spirit of friendly contempt. They probably return the compliment.

  3. @Dan K: Thank you for your insightful comments- I largely agree with you!

    On your first point, I do agree that Springfield is quite a different scene than Boston or New York. I actually didn’t grow up there- while my family is still there, we only relocated a few months before I started college in 2002, and I only lived there for the four years that I was in college. I grew up in Denver, and on a family farm; as a result, in a decade I went from a farm outside a town of barely 5,000 residents to the only major metropolitan area in New England. Personally, I find the two much more similar than, for example, the farm is to rural France (where I am now). But it does entirely depend on perspective, as well as criteria for judging similarity (and possibly also a definition of “nation,” a la Benedict Anderson (who I think has come up here before).

    Second: I agree that there are legitimate critiques that can and should be made of the idea of cosmopolitanism. Unfortunately, I don’t think Miller intended to make one, and indeed, I don’t think he was using the word as it was intended to be used.

    Finally, and I should have made this clearer, I don’t actually support the dismantling of the EC, and certainly am not well-read enough about it to advocate for its destruction. The only point I intended here was my general discomfort knowing that, in federal elections, my vote counts for less than the votes of those in less-populous states. I wanted to tie this in particularly because much has been made recently of how sidelined Midwesterners (the “silent majority”) have been, when the numbers for the EC actually tell quite a different story. I know that redistricting and re-allocation of Congressional seats and EC votes is coming right around the corner. This year, though, things happened to be particularly unequal and it served DT quite well in his campaign.

    But I hope these points will not obscure my larger point – that I think the current administration is doing quite an excellent job of pitting the Midwest against the coasts, which I believe is central to their maintenance of power but not particularly helpful or good for either the Midwestern or the coastal populations.

  4. To be clear, I was in no way defending the remarks of your target. I was speaking to the question from my own perspective.

  5. @ombhurbhuva: It is indeed easier to maintain those dual roots on a coast, with direct flights et al. I was just having family discussions the other day about the odd positions in which my husband’s New York-based family often find themselves: in the U.S., they are French. They come from France, they come back every summer, they eat French food, speak French, some have accents, etc. In France, they are “the Americans.” Walking this line is perfectly acceptable and normal, in New York or Boston (at least in my experience). I’m sure that it would be much harder to maintain this dual identity further inland, not only because of the difficulty of traveling to Europe, but also because it might be less socially acceptable to have feet upon two continents.

  6. @Dan K: Everything you said makes complete sense, and I must say that it’s sometimes easier for me to remember the similarities and forget the differences. I read, in your comment, the word “religion,” and several huge differences came flooding back. I have a memory from college where we were having a discussion about the culture shock of moving to Springfield from New York (and I, of course, had just come from a farm and was feeling quite metropolitan!).

  7. Dan,
    still thinking about cosmopolitanism; I lean toward Margaret’s POV in the matter, but am considering your objections here and elsewhere.

    I will say that I think the Electoral College is an entirely out-dated device. I understand the logic of your argument, but the election belies it. The Constitution was clearly intended, in part, to protect the rights of minorities. But it is ridiculous to have a minority determine the Executive leadership of the government. If that would mean that the less populated regions don’t get their chance to determine who pardons the White House turkey on Thanksgiving, so be it.

    It should be noted that since 2000, the Republicans have played a strategy directed at the Electoral College, with the clear intent of maintaining the viability of a minority party control of government, which has been successful (when combined with gerrymandering and voter suppression), except in a single national election, and the re-election of Barack Obama.

    Of course the Democrats could use similar tactics and strategies – and should. But I personally am tired of a national electoral process that allows, even necessitates, such strategies.

    You know from previous notes of mine that I also think Democrats should go back to their New deal base and appeal to the working class, and I’m not a big fan of identity politics or similar social issues that make good copy but poor limited appeal, and no real impact on the economy.

    But Trump, only 8 months in, is now ‘president’ of one third of the population – he knows it, he revels in it, he flaunts it. That is not just not right or defensible. But everything he or most of the Republicans in Congress do right now does not seem right.

    Of course, this is a purely political-historical issue; while there may be a state-by-state possibility of throwing a state’s Electoral College voters to the winner of the most national votes (at least it’s being contemplated in some states), the EC itself can only be changed by Amendment, and I don’t see any beneficial amendments getting passed in the present political climate.

    Nonetheless, the EC is well on its way to becoming an object of national shame. But then, so is the presidency.

  8. EJ: You could be right. If only one could pilot-test a few no-EC elections and see!

  9. Hi Margaret

    One theme you touch on here is the divide between well and poorly educated voters, and you link to a Newsweek article by Josh Lowe who quotes a senior fellow at Chatham House: “[I]t isn’t simply about objective qualifications but is also linked intimately with a divide over values and culture… You often find … that people who have lower levels of education and fewer qualifications also tend to subscribe to more socially conservative and more authoritarian positions… It isn’t clear what the causal relationship between education and conservative values is, says Goodwin; while there is some research in France, for example, that suggests going to university exposes you to new ideas and networks and therefore changes your value system, it isn’t conclusive.”

    This is a very complex issue, and I suspect that what we are seeing in Europe and America in terms of political polarization along class and education lines can only be explained by looking at the contingencies of recent history. My (limited) knowledge of the views of European intellectuals in the early-to-mid-20th century suggests that a broader range of views used to be represented at that level than is now the case (and not just at the extremes).

    On Miller. I know very little about him, but I think he was largely responsible for drafting that first, ill-judged (however you look at it) executive order on immigration.

    William D. Cohan wrote a long piece on Miller for Vanity Fair earlier this year. Cohan wrote a book about a rape case concerning which Miller, then a student, took an unpopular public stance. The article is gossipy. There are a couple of weird hints about Miller’s sexuality (or lack thereof). And guilt-by-association, especially concerning Miller’s early – but apparently very slight – association with Richard Spencer*. And too much emphasis (and credibility) is given to former classmates. Nonetheless, there is interesting material in the article and it certainly does make Miller look like a nasty piece of work: cold, with disturbing beliefs, and opportunistic.

    Even in May (when the article came out) Miller was, in Cohan’s words, “in the process of skillfully pivoting his allegiance from the increasingly tarnished Bannon to the administration’s rising stars, Jared Kushner and Gary Cohn.”

    Not a smooth operator by any means, but (so far) a very successful one.

    This is how the article ends…

    “Does Silverman [an old high school classmate of Miller’s] have any advice for people who are just learning about Stephen Miller for the first time? “Take him seriously and know that he is a dangerous person,” he says. “He has a dangerous mind and a dangerous way of thinking. He wants to shift what America is about… You’ve got to stay vigilant. He’s not taking days off. If there’s one thing Miller is, and he’s a lot of things, he’s absolutely motivated. This is his entire life. This is everything for him. He’s not going to rest. He won’t rest. He won’t stop… He’s not a Trump shill. He was this way before Trump, before Bannon. He was radicalized way before that.” ”

    * In April, Spencer tweeted: “Whatever your opinion on Nazis, they were extremely interested in… space travel, rockets, public health.”

    Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

  10. Margaret, thanks for writing this! So much food for thought!

    I want to first make an observation on Dan’s initial response to you and then see if I can relate that to other parts of your essay.

    Dan, when you mention that Springfield is less like NY than Saigon is, I suddenly had a vision of you walking in the back entrance to Panera’s and looking at the chart on the wall for what a well-cooked bagel looks like. I’m sure I understand what you were getting at by this comparison (Athens GA is the smallest town I’ve lived in as an adult, and in many ways it has more in common with Hilversum in Holland where I spent a few years growing up than big city Philly where I went to grade school and high school), but I also understand the point Margaret was making about some of the specifics of the culture (In Hilversum Weds’ were half days at school and we could stop our bikes on the way home at the market where you could buy pickled eel, the sports we played were soccer, rugby, field hockey, and cricket, my best friend wore wooden shoes, and the house I lived in had been the home of collaborators in the second world war, but right next door several Jews had hidden in a crawlspace between the first floor ceiling and the second floor floor….).

    The point I am suggesting is that it isn’t always easy to separate out what our measures are, what they can be applied to, the other measures that can also be used in the same places, and also when something that we are familiar with as the result of measuring is itself being used as a measure. Seeing when a bagel is done is a different task than seeing the similarities and differences between cities and towns. Sometimes family resemblances can be traced in all sorts of confusing and conflicting ways…..

    My point about measured things sometimes also showing up as measures probably puts me out on a limb perhaps entirely by myself, but maybe I can explain some of my obsession in terms of your essay. ‘Cosmopolitan’ makes definite sense as something measured. The three definitions listed show various senses in which it serves as a description for people in those circumstances. When Miller uses it as a stick to beat people with you get the idea that the accused have been measured in some undesirable way. But I wonder if This measuring is the complete story.

    In particular I wonder if we are not so acclimated to the world being measurable that we simply don’t pay much attention to the measures themselves. Are the measures themselves necessarily measurable too? And if they are, is it necessarily right that we do? It just seems that in our frenzy to put a measure on things we develop the sense that it is all fair game, that everything can be given a reading, if it just slows down enough for us to slap a measuring stick up against it. The sense I get is that we do a poor job discriminating between what we accept as measures and what we take to be measurable, and that this has consequences.

    So, back to ‘cosmopolitan’. From the outside this is indeed how some folks can be described, and if that ends up being a slur, so be it. The question, then, is whether the outside perspective has anything to do with the inside of these people’s lives. In other words, when we apply the measure of cosmopolitanism, have we somehow *captured* these people? What does it look like from the inside? Are they leading their lives in a continual assessment of measuring up, or is their way of life *itself* the measure of their world? Is what we describe as ‘cosmopolitan’ simply what their way of life looks like from the outside? I may not have presented that as clearly as I need to, but I hope it makes some sense.

    One other useful example is the ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan. As an outsider it seems like a good question to ask what that would mean. And you did just that, giving several ways that things could pan out. We could measure in terms of both greatness and American as well as what it meant to be ‘again’. From the outside it is easy to see where these things are measurable. But the sense I get is that the people who use this phrase as part of their identity, as in fact a statement of who they are, are not engaged in any measuring with it. Rather, ‘Make America Great Again’ is part of the purpose of their lives. It isn’t a question, and it isn’t subject to testing. It is not an empirical quandary or a practical dilemma. ‘Make America Great Again’ is part of the meaning of their lives. It measures the world for them. It is not something that itself needs to be measured…..

    The question I wrestle with is whether it is necessarily better to take our measurements from the outside, whether *this* external view gives us the best understanding, or whether in some cases it only confuses the measures with the measurable. Does that distinction matter? It just seems that if we accept everything as necessarily subject to measurement we don’t simply ignore things that have the role of measuring, we undercut the idea of measurement itself. If everything can be measured, if it somehow *needs* to be measured, have we left space to actually understand what measuring actually is? In other words, an activity embedded in a way of life and through which the world comes to make sense.

    Maybe some of this made sense…..

  11. @Mark English: Thank you for the information on Miller. Although he was only a pivot point for my purposes, everything makes much more sense now!

    I suspect there is a lot more to say about educational divides- I’m thinking here especially of Bourdieu and his mid-century research in France, some of which relates to musical taste and social/cultural capital.

    @Carter Gillies: I think I’m understanding! A rubric by which we could measure difference might help where cities are concerned, but I suspect that most of the difference is subjective. This is why I didn’t dig too deeply into it in this piece, although there is certainly quite a depth there.

    By way of explanation of my viewpoint, maybe I can offer a (short and fairly generalizing) story: when I was a child, I was puzzled about Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake” comment. Or rather, not about her comment, but about the statement she was answering, that the peasants had no bread. As an American child, I thought “if there’s no bread, why can’t they just eat something else?” The U.S. food value system (I’m sure there’s a better term for it, but I’m no gastro-anthropologist!) is rather flat, and we have this long history of scientists and quacks alike telling us what to eat, so our system has changed frequently over the last few decades. We eat carbs, then no carbs, then olive oil, then low fat, etc. If there’s no bread in the house, in other words, there are likely other things, and this goes across class systems and geographical locations within the U.S..

    If we’re going to get REALLY reductionist about it (and why not!), Americans had our revolution over taxes. The French revolted over bread.

    The first time I went to France, in 2011, I noticed that a baguette was 90 centimes. For the quality of the bread (the flavor! the crustiness!), this is quite a steal. Something comparable in the U.S. would probably cost about five dollars, especially if it was made by hand by an artisan baker. Further, the price of a baguette was low compared to, say, the cost of a pastry (which cost about what it would cost here – 3-5 Euros per portion).

    What I found out was that the French government sets the price and weight of baguettes. Bakers cannot shortchange their customers by cutting the weight of the baguette, increasing the leavening, or raising the price. Everything else they make (pastries, cookies, muffins) they can set the price as they like, but baguettes are guaranteed to be, basically, cheap as dirt. This is because bread is the foundation of the French diet – everything else is supplementary. This is what I did not understand as an American child. If a French kitchen does not have bread in it, if a French family cannot afford bread, they can’t afford anything else either. If the peasants have no bread, then they are starving.

    This little piece of understanding blew my mind at the time, and I believe that it still colors my own system for coding “cultural” differences. As I sat across the pond last week thinking about the U.S. and how we eat or don’t eat bread, how we work and live and value, and what we deem worthy of revolution… Boston and Springfield seemed quite similar.

  12. alandtapper1950

    Dan: You say, “The Nation-State is about the largest coherent social-political entity there can be, and there is a very reasonable question as to whether it is too large itself. To the extent then that cosmopolitanism seeks to undermine or at least, rejects, familial, tribal, local, and national loyalties and fealties — and I think it definitely does — it can be fairly criticized on those grounds.”

    We may disagree about some things, but I very much agree with this!


  13. Parallax

    >> All this, from an administration whose President is a life-long New Yorker, a city that for most of the world remains a beacon of cosmopolitanism.

    Cosmopolitan is defined as “familiar with and at ease in many different countries and cultures.” So in a very literal sense New York is not cosmopolitan at all.

  14. What a weird comment. NY is one of the most diverse places on the planet and the people there are *very* used to and comfortable with people from every corner of the globe.

  15. Parallax

    The way you measure diversity is rather odd, the diversity in Silicon Valley and NYC is skin deep and note that the definition uses the word “culture”.

  16. I’m sorry, but you have no idea what you are talking about. New York City is one of the most international cities in the world. There is a greater blend of world cultures there than almost anywhere in the world. Silicon Valley is nothing like it and has no relevance to the conversation.

  17. Parallax

    In what way is New York City more cosmopolitan than the Bay Area?? People who work and live there come from all over the world but they all share the same rigid ideological mindset. You can get different types of food and there is lots of people with different racial backgrounds, but that is it. To me that is not real diversity, it is skin deep.

  18. I disagree entirely. Grew up and then spent 10 years as an adult in NY. I’ve also lived in Michigan and now in Missouri. I’ve been to countries from South America, to Europe, to the Middle East, to Russia. NYC is one of the most cosmopolitan places in the world. And if you think new immigrants from Pakistan, third generation Puerto Ricans, and upper East Side W.A.S.P.s “all share the same rigid ideological mindset,” then it just shows you’ve never been to the place or didn’t pay attention while you were there.

  19. Parallax

    I don’t know when you lived in NYC but I am willing to bet it was more than 20 years ago. I do think people who live in NYC share the same rigid ideological mindset because most of them are highly educated well-compensated professionals. Here is a data point: in the last election in NYC Hillary Clinton got 2,191,869 votes to Trump’s 467,254 (Trump won Staten Island but lost all other boroughs by wide margins).

  20. News update: Trump pardons Arpaio.

    The end of the rule of law in America (at least for now). The triumph of racism. (and the rule of minority )white supremacist) government.

    I don’t know if I’m a cosmopolitan; I only know that Trump is not the president of two thirds of the American people. And he knows it; and he revels in it; and he flaunts it.

    The Electoral College be damned.

  21. Parallax

    When it comes to presidential pardons Bill Clinton was there first, he pardoned more than a 100 people in the final hours of his presidency (the range is something: it goes from his half-brother Roger who was in jail because of cocaine charges to international fugitive Marc Rich who made his money by committing wire fraud and busting sanctions against Iran during the hostage crisis!).

  22. @Parallax: when I first read your comment, I thought “oh, here is a simple conflation of a point of geography for the people who inhabit it,” because of course if New York City is only one place, how can it be “familiar with and at ease in many different countries and cultures?” Except, geographically, it would seem to be. Manhattan’s Chinatown boasts “the largest enclave of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere” (Wikipedia). It’s bordered by Little Italy, which historically had an Italian immigrant population of as high as 90%. Wikipedia even has an entire page devoted to ethnic enclaves in New York City. The City would seem to contain the world within its boroughs.

    My MIL, who grew up between New York, France, and Mexico, was educated in French at a lycée français in NYC. My FIL arrived in New York at 18, speaking only French; according to the 2000 census, 36% of New York residents are immigrants. My husband, who grew up in Queens, went to the United Nations school where he was taught in French by a Ghanaian teacher.

    I do not think that the majority of New Yorkers voting for Clinton shows that they have the “same rigid ideological mindset.” New Yorkers lived with Trump the longest, and maybe knew better than the rest of us what we were getting into. Add to this that there were only two major-party candidates. I’m reminded of the often-cited slogan of, among other things, resistance movements in the Middle East: Many Yesses, One No.

  23. Parallax,
    Pardons have been mis-used before; but the Arpaio pardon is a flagrant insult to the American judicial system. It also tells us that the the investigations into the Trump organizations Russia connections will be repeatedly stymied with further pardons. It also signals to Trump’s friends and allies that they can commit any crime and he will have their back, as long as it appeals to his whims, and he can get traction from it with his base. It also re-enforces his anti-Mexican positioning, and his advocacy of brutal police tactics in dealing with Mexican Americans. As you remark, Clinton’s pardon abuses, while inexcusable, came at the very end of his presidency; we are only in the first year of Trump’s.

    No, I’m sorry, your attempted normalization of Trump will not do.

    In the context of a discussion on cosmopolitanism, we have to confront an unpleasant fact: one third of the American revile the other two third. It is not simply that they feel forgotten, and certainly they were long ignored, and have a rightful claim to have their needs attended to. But they don’t simply view the urban population with suspicion – they hate us.

    That’s why we can’t afford a minority-rule government in a country this diverse: the potential that the ruling minority will abuse other minorities or even the majority itself is too great. The notion that a minority government is viable (occasionally voiced as “America is a republic, not a democracy” and with undeniable roots in the views of Alexander Hamilton) is predicated on the assumption that this minority will represent what is best in the American character, and wisest concerning American interests. But when a system develops that allows a minority government, that is in fact all it can guarantee, a minority government. It cannot guarantee the best and the brightest, but makes possible the rule of the worst, of those who have no sense of shared interest with the American people as a whole, who have no sense of service or of any duty they owe the nation. And that’s what we have now.

    The congressional Republicans are not impeaching him; they excuse and apologize and pussy-foot for him. That’s too bad; what they don’t seem to realize is that his presence in the White House mocks their authority as congress. With a president who has no respect for law, what good can legislators achieve?

  24. Margaret!

    I just love that story of your experiences with bread! It is a great illustration of what I am trying to get at 🙂

    One of the issues that started me thinking along these lines is how the arts are being justified for funding and for policy. In the US (and other places) there is this temptation to find whatever best measures the value of the arts. The arts are good for the economy, they benefit cognitive development, etc. It seems taken for granted that the only value the arts have are the ways they can be measured. Art either is demonstrably instrumental or the value cannot be found. In other words, the arts are only justified to the extent they impact, benefit, etc, something else. The means to an end.

    It occurred to me that we only ask those questions if we have not located the value of the arts from the inside, where that value is assumed rather than an issue for doubt. From the inside the arts don’t have a value that we are unsure about or that we somehow need to test for or measure by some instrumentality. Rather, the arts are the *basis* of value. The arts are what we carry out into the world to give it meaning. The world has value for us (on the inside of the arts) because the arts frame these other things as meaningful….

    From the outside you never get to see that. The arts seem like a question, somehow up in the air, to be determined. Of course it seems appropriate that we get out our tools for measuring the arts. If we do not *see* the arts as a measure in their own right, what are they? We seem perfectly entitled to ask that question. Only, from the inside the arts are more like the foundation, the place we step from in order to bring other questions to the world. That difference seems too important to simply get swept aside in our zeal to have anything and everything subject to measurement. It is important much like the difference between bread in France and bread in the US 🙂

    The problem I am having is how naturally it gets assumed that the arts need to justify themselves. And when funding and policy are at stake you can see why this *would* *be* important. The trouble is that as soon as you turn something whose primary value is *as* the role of a measure into something that itself is subject *to* measurement we have perhaps lost more than we might be aware of. It is a bait and switch, of sorts. But when we fail to see that we fail to see we have traded out a value that is itself the measure for a value whose nature is itself in question. That distinction keeps hitting me over the head, and sometimes I worry that I am like Chicken Little crying that “The sky is falling!”…….

    And yet I can’t avoid the feeling that this is something important. Wittgenstein explored some of these issues in On Certainty and elsewhere, and the more I think about it the more I am worried by how easily we gloss over the differences. I even introduced myself to Dan asking the question “Is Philosophy justified?” with the same intention of putting the different roles of value in the crosshairs. I am not smart enough or well read enough to figure this stuff out by myself, but I get the sense that more and more folks are willing to entertain this as an issue. Measuring our measures is occasionally important, it is worth seeing that, but sometimes it makes a hash of what we think we are doing. If we miss that we miss something else entirely. If we think our empirical questions are only digging down to the more ‘justified’ foundation of value we have missed the bait and switch entirely……

    Not sure where this leaves us except to simply acknowledge a bit more honestly that baguettes do not hold the same place in people’s lives in France as they do in folks’ lives elsewhere 🙂

    Thanks again for your conversation, Margaret!



  25. Parallax


    1. You seem to measure how cosmopolitan a city is by the percentage of population who was not born there. That to me is a poor measure, or maybe you *do* think Dubai is cosmopolitan …

    2. Politics is part of life, I presented the election results as a data point (in NYC minus Staten Island Trump got less than 15% of the vote).


    1. The fact that Clinton’s pardons came at the very end of his presidency make them much worse not better. With Trump you can make this pardon an election issue if you wish.

    2. What normalization? Trump is the first president to grant a pardon to a questionable character?? Is this worse than Ford pardoning Nixon? Or Clinton handing out pardons to anyone mired in a scandal connected to him: in relation to Whitewater alone he pardoned: Stephen Smith, Susan McDougal, Chris Wade and Robert Palmer. Then you had him pardon his former CIA director (Deutsch), his former HUD secretary (Cisneros) and the Democratic Ways and Means Committe Chairman (Rostenkowski) … Trump could end up worse than Clinton but he has a long way to go before he catches up with with Clinton’s “pardongate”.

    3. I reject your premise about hatred and the minority rule. It sounds more like you wished all those people hated you personally.

  26. Margaret,

    I hope you will forgive me jumping right in without reading the rest of the thread, I will do so later, but I think your generalization of what you think people mean by “cosmopolitan” is off the mark.

    Cosmopolitan does not just mean “educated and urban” or that someone has drunk the Kool-Aid of liberalism. Ombhurbhuva hit close to the mark with his characterization of “rootlessness” but he applied it to the wrong people. It is not the new immigrants who are rootless, but the cosmopolites themselves.

    Cosmopolitan can be an insult when one understands that the attitude is one of choice: of youth over age, of now over yesterday or tomorrow, of flash over substance, of abundance over scarcity (mindsets), and I’m sure I could continue, but I would wander into cliché. Cosmopolitans have chosen to become the hothouse flower, the snowflake, the temporary. So long as the world continues in peace and prosperity, they have made a winning bet. They live lives of beautiful delicacy. They can surround themselves with exotic people whom they identify by their differences and whom they just love and they don’t really have to think about whether they are loved in return.

    They have forgotten to be the ant. The middle parts of our country are not so blessed as “axis of the world” locales such as London, Paris, New York, or San Fran (or, a more locale example for myself, Austin). Cosmopolitans have forgotten how to respect, stay near to, and provide for their elders. They have forgotten how to collect wisdom, instead they choose intelligence and learn early to use it as a weapon against all of their own idols. They have a hard time seeing themselves living, providing, and dying. Instead they see themselves living, experiencing, and waiting for science to bail them out of that last thing. They don’t understand that things can go bad. Perhaps the end is not nigh, but then again, maybe it is. Those who see cosmopolitan as an aspersion feel their more traditional, more insular, and simpler life is better insurance against the unknown than one that moves easily from coast to coast, from continent to continent, and from commitment to commitment. They feel that these cosmopolites have bared their throats, trusting in the shepherd to never fall asleep or be far away, trusting that the shepherd will take their wool and provide all to all leaving them to contemplate the grass and not much else.

  27. I guess I neglected to throw in my actual summation. Cosmopolitan is an insult not because of what they have chosen, but for what they have turned their back on. The majority of these people don’t think some people are better than others based on race, that people should be telling gay people how to live their lives, or even that women can’t do anything to which they set their minds. In fact, if anything bothers “the rest of America” about these cosmopolites, it is the surety with which they will label anyone not in their tribe as either a special victim deserving of pity and protection, or uneducated, racist, sexist, bigoted, homophobic, xenophobic, intolerant, and very much not deserving of pity or protection.

  28. Well, I’ve been living in the buckle of the Bible Belt now for 20 years, and EJ’s characterization is right on the mark. The people here *loathe* precisely the people EJ has said they do.

    Someone who is “cosmopolitan” is a citizen of the world. Naturally, then, a city like New York, in which there is a mixture of people from all around the globe is much more conducive to cosmopolitanism than the sort of town that I live in, which is overwhelmingly white and evangelical Christian.

    If NYC isn’t cosmopolitan then no place is.

  29. Parallax

    Currently NYC is not representative of United States let alone the world. For me a cosmopolitan city is a place in which there are no sacred cows. NYC fails pretty badly at being cosmopolitan right now.

    I would suggest that blue cities in red states are much more cosmopolitan than NYC (thinking of Houston or Austin specifically).

  30. Parallax,
    You failed to address the implications of the Arpaio pardon I pointed to: Trump has no regard for the rule of law, and is likely to use pardons to benefit himself and his family while in office, and the Republicans don’t seem likely to stop him or even understand the damage he is doing to the nation.

    But the tone of your comment indicates a profound cynicism, and although an equally profound pessimist, I have no interest in or tolerance for a cynicism that basically assumes all sides are equally corrupt, and which demonstrates little understanding of history and little sense or of reasonable proportion..

    I don’t care what Clinton did in his final week or so in office; I am concerned with how, moving forward, this country deals with the dilemma of having a self-serving right-wing conspiracy theorist in the White House, with no concern for law, for public service, or for the national interest.

    I don’t think a further conversation along these lines will benefit either of us.

  31. Parallax

    From two years ago (July 2, 2015):

    >>NEW YORK (AP) — New York City officials are reviewing the city’s contracts with Donald Trump after statements the GOP presidential hopeful made about Mexican immigrants.
    >>A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that the review is currently ongoing. The probe follows controversial statements Trump made at his presidential kickoff event last week.

    But hey, in the same block you can get Chinese, Indian or Greek food! Freedom of cuisine over freedom of expression!

  32. ombhurbhuva

    @ hedgescholar:
    Might I clarify my position on the cosmopolitan question. My input was based on trying to discover what particular sense of the word was operative in the mind of Mr. Miller. Clearly he was taking it in a pejorative sense which is not one that applies to the word as free standing . I surmised that there was an elision of the standard slur ‘rootless’ leaving it to be understood. The working knowledge of English that he considered important to becoming a citizen is sensible. How can you be part of the ‘national conversation’ if you don’t understand it.

    Cosmopolitan on its own I do not take to be a negative condition You can be a perfectly good citizen of any country whilst appreciating the particular strengths of other cultures. The closing of a Philosophy Dept. in any French 3rd. Level institution would be unthinkable. It would not be considered.
    ‘Cosmolpolitan’ in the first instance applies, I think, to persons and by extension to cities. If the people that are foreign born or first generation speak only their own language or mix only with their own ethnic group I don’t think they could be called cosmopolitan. They might as well be back where they came from. To qualify as ‘cosmopolitan’ you have to be at ease in different cultures. That should not affect your allegiance to the country of which you are a citizen.

  33. alandtapper1950

    This discussion is a bit confusing for someone situated antipodally to its origin. In part it is about the phenomenon of cosmopolitanism and the alternatives to it. I can follow that thread. In part it is about an insult made by someone I have never heard of to someone I have never heard of, with passing reference to other people I have never heard of.

    Am I too parochial? Or does the discussion just illustrate the maxim that “all politics is local politics”? (Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, Jr. And yes, I do know who he was.)

  34. Whatever, man. I’m tired of this argument. Think whatever you like.

  35. ParallaX:
    “But hey, in the same block you can get Chinese, Indian or Greek food! Freedom of cuisine over freedom of expression!”
    Yes, your cynicism is clear and obvious – and obviously unconvincing. But pat yourself on your back (as you will anyway) and go off feeling self-satisfied – that you have completely closed down the possibility of conversation with others..

  36. Parallax


    I addressed your question: whatever you are afraid Trump will do with the power to pardon (criminal family etc.) Clinton already did during his time in the White House. It is not my fault that everyone has forgotten what kind of a character Bill Clinton was.

  37. Parallax


    In what way am I cynical? Because I disagree with the definition of a word? Or because I pointed out a few things that don’t mesh well with the ideal image you have of NYC? The joke about cuisines is illustrating the hollowness of the definition of cosmopolitanism based on the percentage of foreign born people. We have gone from diversity of ideas (my definition of cosmopolitanism) to a diversity of skin color or some superficial cultural aspects such as cuisine. The fact that this is not an obvious regression is pretty odepressing if you ask me.

    The only path forward is a return to basic principles and some political self-reflection. But those are hard to do, calling others cynics and pessimists is much easier.

  38. I think we’ve exhausted this subject. Let’s move on.

  39. Parallax

    >>I think we’ve exhausted this subject. Let’s move on.


    >>In this sense, the votes of urban/cosmopolitan city-dwellers on the coasts are, actually, worth less than their Midwestern counterparts, as we saw in the most recent election when the loser of the Presidential race won the popular vote by a large, urban margin.

    The situation is complicated by stuff like this:

    Evenwel v. Abbott, 578 U.S. ___ (2016), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that the principle of one person, one vote, under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution allows states to use total population, not just total voting-eligible population, to draw legislative districts.

  40. @ombhurbhuva

    I think the acid in Miller’s use of the term “cosmopolitan” goes beyond whether people speak English or even how well they assimilate. In fact, I don’t think he was talking about the people at all. He wasn’t rehashing the old argument of whether assimilation is better represented by a well-blended stew or a chunky salad. Instead, he was pointing out that there was a group (the cosmopolitans) who considered themselves to be part of neither. The cosmopolitans certainly feel they can blend in with many groups and cultures in much the same what that one might put on a variety of masks, but it is certain that they feel themselves to be above the hoi polloi. Of course, Miller has in common with Mr. Trump the complete inability to construct simple subject-object sentences, so we are left guessing and populating his ghosts of thought with our own significances. (Or perhaps that impression is a product of the small size of the particular sound bite we have….)

    Anyway, that was certainly a digression. The place is not cosmopolitan in this negative sense. Places are cosmopolitan in positive senses, like NYC, San Fran, or Austin. I think that those who feel cosmopolitan has a negative context are referring to a population that feels they are above all that is provincial, parochial, traditional, accepted and so forth. There might be ‘ways of doing things’ for other people, but the cosmopolitans are of the elect of intelligence and insight. They are post everything. They are the few that the many will need to run their lives and be exemplars when everything coalesces into whatever it is that comes next. They are the cream.

    Again, I think it is problematic if we use Miller (or at least this particular quote) as a touchstone because there is little to grasp onto, but the negative context of the adjective cosmopolitan, at least where it applies to an individual, can certainly be understood. A cosmopolitan would make mistakes like assuming that foreign born populations were incapable of assimilating the culture or language of their host country for much the same reason that some people assume that black citizens are somehow incapable of securing a photo ID, it is the soft racism of diminished expectations. We need undocumented workers from Mexico not to be lawyers and doctors, but to pick our crops, build our houses, and clean our homes. The cosmopolitan does not question that their place atop the ivory tower will ever be questioned by these groups, they see themselves in their Olympian status as the ivy wreathed observers and dabblers in the affairs of lesser men.

  41. @hedgescholar:
    Yes my perspective is skewed. You are right. I refer to those cosmopolitans as the liberal intelligentsia and they would be my natural constituency if I wasn’t in fact a right-wing troglodyte. The waves of condescension beating on Trump folk is just the perfect way to lose 2020. My prediction is that next year he will announce a massive public works program which if they oppose they lose and if they support they lose.