Having been born in Manhattan, raised in a very close-in suburb which orbited in the firm grasp of The City and existed to serve it (it was the era when parents did that), and having lived and worked on this Island ever since college and law school, I plead guilty to being a native of the bubble.
The “bubble” in this case (there are dozens and dozens of them here and abroad) is the groupthink that can, almost without being noticed, permeate the office chatter and the lunches and cocktai parties of the professional classes in midtown, the Upper East and Upper West Sides, Tribeca and Chelsea, and other privileged neighborhoods. What exactly do I mean?
Public opinion pollsters have established a few litmus tests, or benchmarks, they use to measure attitudes on the conventional liberal/conservative spectrum, which are respondents’ views on issues such as pro-life/pro-choice, gun control/gun rights, for/against capital punishment, and a few others; you get the gist. Suffice to say the level of unspoken agreement on those issues here in the bubble is why one can plausibly label it just that: A bubble. (As the joke has it, “New York is perfect if you want the United States to be convenient without actually having to live there.”)
As I implied, there are many of these like-minded bubbles out there—everywhere from Ann Arbor, Palo Alto, and Cambridge to, conversely, the coal regions of Kentucky and West Virginia, Idaho and Montana and eastern Washington and Oregon, Mississippi and Alabama.
And as a Nation we just experienced a thunderclap of a wake-up call about how different American citizens’ views are. In the Manhattan bubble—perhaps not dissimilar to the City of London’s reaction to the Brexit referendum—this has taken the form of shock, denial, and gallows humor (“Is it 2020 yet?” buttons appeared spontaneously for sale everywhere).
But we at the indisputably more privileged end of this divide dare not be self-satisfied or condescending; the stakes are not, actually, symmetrical. As Charles Murray pointed out in 2012 in his seminal, and scarring, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010:
Many of the members of the new upper class [he’s talking to us, folks] are Balkanized. Furthermore, their ignorance about other Americans is more problematic than the ignorance of other Americans about them. It is not a problem if truck drivers cannot empathize with the priorities of Yale professors. It is a problem if Yale professors, or producers of network news programs, or CEOs of great corporations, or presidential advisers cannot empathize with the priorities of truck drivers.
Far more memorable and pithy was this exchange: A Trump strategist, challenged on national TV shortly before Election Day on his assertion that the elite liberal media was biased against his candidate, asked simply, “How many Hillary supporters in Manhattan have been to Paris more often than they’ve been to Staten Island?”
Adam Smith, Esq. is resolutely apolitical and that will not change: Not today, not next year, not ever.
But I have profound beliefs about the responsibilities of our profession to our society, given the extraordinary largesse that free-market liberal democracies have bestowed on us, and given our root commitment to opposing injustice and speaking out for the rule of law, and the timing seemed propitious for a reminder.
Two new stories illustrate what I mean. First up is The New Yorker’s currently running profile of Carrie Goldberg, a 39-year-old Brooklyn lawyer specializing in what’s formally called sexual privacy law, but you and I think of it as anti-revenge-porn. Here’s how she got started:
Several years ago, Goldberg was harassed by a vengeful ex. At the time, she was working as the director of legal services at the Vera Institute, a criminal-justice nonprofit in Manhattan. The ex threatened to send intimate pictures she’d given him to her professional colleagues. “I stand before you as a lawyer but also as somebody’s target,” Goldberg said recently, in a speech that she gave at a conference on domestic abuse, in Albany. “When I went to the police, they told me it was not a criminal issue.” She’d been frightened and embarrassed, and after the ex was served with a restraining order—he did not disseminate the pictures—she decided to start her own firm. As she put it to me, “That way, I could be the lawyer I’d needed.”
When revenge porn began to be a recognized term, fighting to get the pictures at issue taken off the Web was like commanding the tides to abate. But slowly, as our profession has become aware of this particular form injustice and shifted into gear on it, progress is beginning to be made.