New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), said, Tuesday, that what really scares people in the Empire State isn’t the threat of nuclear war or rampant crime, but Republicans.
“It’s a conspiracy theory that New Yorkers don’t want to die in a fiery Nuclear Armageddon,” Hochul said.
To verify this claim, I traveled the state to find out for myself.
I conducted a Town Hall meeting in Breesport, a small town not far north of Elmira. A woman named Alice, whose four sons are currently serving in the military, two in the Marines, one in the Navy, and one in the Air Force, said that she hears from at least one of her sons every day, and they all tell her the threat of nuclear armageddon is real.
“Every day, it’s the same thing,” Alice said, “‘Mom, you’d better clean out the fallout shelter Grampa George built in the 60’s. It looks bad.’ You know? But I’ll tell you something,” she went on, “the other day, I was at the grocery store minding my own business, looking for whole button mushrooms for my green bean casserole for Thanksgiving, and a guy in a MAGA hat came up behind me and said, ‘Look how expensive everything’s gotten!’ I didn’t even know he was there. He nearly scared me out of my boots!”
Alice isn’t alone. In Bedford, children at a Halloween party jumped and screamed as their Uncle Max, a Republican with a Lee Zelden yard sign on his front lawn, repeatedly leapt out from under a pile of leaves with a zombie mask on and tried to grab them as they ran by.
In Manhattan, I met a young man named Brian as he was being lifted onto the No. 7 Subway platform from the tracks. He’d just been shoved off the platform by a hooded by-stander whose actions came entirely without provocation. As he was pulled out of the way of the oncoming train, Brian calmly dusted himself off and thanked his rescuers for their assistance as they boarded the No. 7 Train for Grand Central Station. I asked Brian if he was afraid for his safety living in New York, given the steep rise in crime since Biden took office in 2021, and he said, “well, what really scares me is the thought that my girlfriend won’t be able to get an abortion in Texas if we happen to be at a music festival in Austin the next time we find out she’s pregnant.”
In Brooklyn, I caught up with an elderly Hasidic woman named Esther, as she stood beside a burning synagogue that had been spray-painted with swastikas. Her husband, who was a rabbi at the synagogue, lay unconscious on the sidewalk, having been beaten, allegedly, by a band of peaceful protesters. She told us that living as a Hasidic Jew in New York has always come with certain sacrifices, so she took the attempted murder of her husband and the firebombing of her synagogue in stride. “We’re pretty unflappable,” she remarked. “But just before you got here, the whole community scattered like fleas when a man in a Save America tee-shirt came running down the street with a baseball bat to chase the protesters away. Nothing like that has ever happened here before, and we just didn’t know how to respond to it, so we got really scared that things were about to get violent.”
Walking around the Cornell University Campus in Ithaca, the fear was like the atmosphere itself. “We used to be afraid because of the rape culture on campus,” said one transgender woman named Stevie, as she stroked her beard. “But women at Cornell lose more sleep these days over the thought that we might actually have to pay back our student loans.”
I spoke with another student, named Joel. He wore Birkenstock sandals and wool socks, and a button declaring, “No Person Is Illegal,” as he drank a tall pumpkin spice latte and ate a fresh croissant still warm from a nearby on-campus cafe. Between sips of his coffee and nibbles of his pastry, he shared his deepest fears with me. “I think of those un-aborted children being ripped from their mothers’ arms at the border,” he said, holding his boyfriend’s hand for emotional support. “And I think of how those poor migrants, who come here seeking a better life are loaded onto buses and then dropped off, fifty at a time, in rich, white parts of the country that aren’t equipped to deal with such an influx.”
I asked Joel if he thought poor border towns like Loredo or Brownsville, in Texas, were equipped to deal with the thousands of migrants who stream across the border each day. “Well, let’s be clear,” he said, the border is secure. So, if there are thousands of migrants a day, it’s not like they just walked across and just showed up. If you live in a border town, you should be equipped to host the migrant population, no matter how many there are, because you know they’re coming. I mean, that’s your responsibility.”
Joel’s boyfriend, Randy, wore a rainbow scarf and had a “Black Lives Matter” coffee mug. He gave Joel’s hand a squeeze of support and nodded. “It’s racism,” he said, quietly, looking at Joel. “Yeah, for sure,” replied Joel, as he turned back to me again. “It’s racism, one-hundred percent. That’s the only reason they’d refuse to give the migrants food, clothing, shelter, or healthcare. And it’s the only reason they’d ship them off and make them someone else’s burden to deal with.
I asked Joel if it was fair to say this was the basis of his deepest fears. “So, yeah,” he said, “I lie awake at night worrying that some Fascist Republican governor is gonna bus fifty migrants to our campus and make us feel guilty for worrying about our first-world problems, like, why I can’t get hazelnut cream in my croissant. That could literally happen at any moment, and if the National Guard doesn’t get here in time to relocate them to an internment camp, they might have to spend a night in one of the dorm rooms on campus, left empty by the precipitous drop in enrollment at Cornell, due to our totally responsible COVID policies, that we would never think of imposing on those unfortunate migrants being used by Republicans as political pawns.”
Gov. Hochul’s claim that New Yorkers are terrified of Republicans, not nuclear war or random violence, seems to be accurate. November 8 will tell us whether we should expect the climate of fear in the Empire State to get better or worse in the months and years to come.