“And it is awful here, there is no other way to say it. But I believe that Detroit is America’s city. IT was the vanguard of our way up, just as it is the vanguard of our way down. And one hopes, the vanguard of our way up again. Detroit is Pax Americana. The birthplace of mass production, the automobile, the cement road, the refrigerator, frozen peas, high-paid blue-collar jobs, home ownership and credit on a mass scale. America’s way of life was built here.”
I’ve read and written a lot about how America is dying. Regulatory capture, Wall Street, global arbitrage and deviant entrepreneurs collaborated to massacre the middle class.
But I always came at it from the perspective that the country is mid-collapse. That we still have time. That we can still swing the wheel and, for the most part, make it through. Sure, we’ll pay $8 for a gallon of gas, we’ll overpay for armies of contractors we don’t need, but we will make it through. We’re America after all.
Charlie LeDuff convinced me we may be too late. The book is aptly titled, Detroit: An American Autopsy. What if the land of the free, of prosperity, of two cars and a picket fence succumbed to the corrupt, the incompetent, the immoral?
He describes the imbeciles that run Detroit – not just its corrupt, race-baiting politicians, but also the evil puppet masters, the CEOs, that pulled their strings. He takes us on a journey through those we abandoned on the front line, one he describes as a “landscape of fire and human failing.” We watch them live, fight, and die. He talks to the workers in factories, once producing subprime mortgages, now reduced to relabeling screws. He speaks with the mothers of the dead. We walk with him as he tries to make change, failing more often than not. His own life is inexorably tied into that of his failed city, so we feel his guilt, his family’s mourning, the pain of finding work, the toll it takes.
He writes like Naipaul. Blisteringly honest. Solid, real flow.
And it presents the viewpoint that we’re not careening into failure. We’re already there. Ours is a state soon to be hollowed out by failed cities. America was murdered. What we live in is fundamentally different from what we had. We’re in the middle of launching what is new. Its time to approach it that way.
Regardless of whether you believe in American decline or not, this book presents a compelling, unflinching perspective that is worth reading. This should be required reading for anyone who thinks D.C. and its ilk still matter.