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Lessons from Dirty Jerz

“They’re from New York. Snookie is from Poughkeepsie. The Situation is from Staten Island.”—Chris Christie on MTV’s Jersey Shore

New Romantix

I. Enemies of enemies are not friends.

What outsiders seem not to know about New Jersey’s apparent shift to Republicanism when former Governor Chris Christie was elected nine years ago was the amount of points he gained for not being his predecessor, Jon Corzine. Corzine was the former CEO of Goldman Sachs; Christie was a local lawyer. Corzine apparently tried to sell the Turnpike; Christie was trying to convince people that overweight was not equivalent to overindulgent. Corzine tried to increase the sales tax rate; Christie was into lowering property taxes. The apparent inevitability of a Christie election was palpable even to my seventh-grade self—as my government, biology, and English teachers implored us to convince our parents to vote for the third-party Chris Daggett—anybody but Christie, who was bound to cut our township’s funding by millions of dollars in favor of charter schools.

Christie was one of our high school’s alumni, and our town also had a school named after a Kushner. “How could you trust someone,” my middle school government teacher said, “willing to just turn on his own hometown like that?” Our middle school class went on long tangents about how we wanted control over our own government, doodled anti-Christie-Corzine drawings on our Converses, and complained day and night to our parents as our teachers did to us. When Christie decided to announce his run for presidency at our high school years later, I watched as teachers and students who despised him hold pro-Christie signs while rolling their eyes, and we laughed and laughed at the footage after Christie became Trump’s Gretchen.

II. Buy local.

Political pessimism runs deep in New Jersey blood; cynicism is the antidote. Newark’s “supermayor” Cory Booker attempted to turn back a long tide of poverty, entrepreneurial exodus, and crime through business, development, and most of all, cheeriness: He wanted Newark residents to hope again. He saved neighbors from burning buildings, helped temporarily homeless dogs, and shoveled sidewalks. It seemed obvious, however, as we watched Booker prepare for higher offices, that symbolism, not true investment in Newark, was his motivation behind the mayoral post. Booker widely publicized an opening of one Whole Foods store in Newark to provide a minimal number of jobs for local residents while paying consultants thousands of dollars a day from reform funds to assess school districts.

He announced large education reforms on Oprah, which “played disastrously in the community,” who neither knew before about these reforms nor had input into how these reforms were to happen, but resonated brilliantly nationally. He placed an unofficial minimum of $10 million gifted annually for membership on the Foundation for Newark’s Future to help wealthy donors decide what to do with the city. Local actors who had once supported his campaign, citing his absenteeism, said that they felt like a stepping stone on his run to higher offices.

III. There is always a cloud before the storm.

Perhaps, as New Jersey native Anthony Bourdain stated on his show "Parts Unknown," the best prophecy of our country is the snapshot of Trump’s Taj Mahal established in 1983, out of place in a hurricane-touched and stinted Atlantic City. Trump had once been the hope of Atlantic City too, promising then to bring booming times back one quick flamboyant casino at a time, crossing the finish line in 2014 with bankruptcy.

IV. Classical dichotomies exist.

I went off to Harvard after high school; my best friend went off to Yale. Last November, the night before the Game, we sat in one of the bedrooms of an ugly two-story house while the wet wood floor beat with the deep-deep-down-inside part of Kanye’s “Fade,” whose remix was scratched and scored by an anonymous skinny white boy. The mirror seemed cracked as if punched through, and some book by Joan Didion laid mean on the dusty dresser. The house smelled faintly like a cat. Outside, someone yelled over and over again that they were gonna make the school pay, and I wanted to ask for what. Rivalry seemed especially meaningless then, and when we made our way out of the rank two-stories, I saw in my best friend the quiet yellow girl that came before her and the even quieter one that came before her.

Our shared town took up negative space between us. She insisted we were sheltered, but in truth, we lived in a liberal nightmare of a place. Our senior year, after Ferguson, a white boy named Tevlin got shot by a black man in an act of admitted public execution for all the lives of color taken by Americans in the Middle East. Later, the president of our high school Gay-Straight Alliance chapter came out as straight and showed off his new girlfriend while his ex-boyfriend sulked in the corner. Then, our town’s equivalent of a soccer mom sued Harvard, but not before another boy’s parents sued Princeton for the same reason almost a decade before. It means something, I told her, to have lived somewhere so upside-down.

V. TL;DR.

Perhaps the best conclusion I can give from these nostalgic parables of local governance is that symbolic gestures are meaningless. Our insistence that they matter works on a level of operation that is simply too easy. And when self-interest is involved, we hurt most the ones that were initially promised help.

Christina M. Qiu ’19 is an Applied Mathematics concentrator in Mather House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.

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