November 3, 2019


The Paranoid Style Of Malden Politics

The sour grapes of Maldens city elections are a bitter harvest, and the voters’ teeth are set on edge.

One Malden homeowner has found her campaign signs torn down, not once but day after day. Last night, someone broke up a campaign meeting for Mayor Gary Christenson by discharging a fire extinguisher and pulling a fire alarm before fleeing the scene. It’s not just Malden — someone set up a network of fake sites for a Somerville newspaper in order to spread fake campaign rumors — but Malden is especially bad. It’s not just this year — Malden’s 2014 State Representative primary was similarly bitter — but this year is even worse.

The constantly-iterated cry of right-wing Malden is: all our problems stem from outsiders. A former city councillor complains on Facebook about “stack and pack” apartment buildings, because those apartments might attract people who are Not From Here. Many election-season controversies have been variations on this this call to keep outsiders away, to block new housing in which they might live, to tear down the bike lanes they might use, to get Lime Bikes off our lawn. Systematic efforts to avoid renting to immigrants just cost one Malden apartment complex a fine of more than half a million dollars; that fine is scarcely mentioned by the campaigns, but social media attacks on outsiders appear daily. Muslim and Wiccan progressives are routinely ridiculed for their faith by local wingnuts.

Richard Hofstader’s famous essay on “The Paranoid Style In American Politics” begins: “Althoug American political life has rarely been touched by the most acute varieties of class conflict, it has served again and again as an arena for uncommonly angry minds.” That anger always seems to come from the right, and today those winds still blow from those sorry, sordid regions.

And, goodness, these guys are angry.

Throughout the campaign, challenger John Matheson has promoted a series of screeds, alleging that Mayor Gary Christensen hired campaign consultants who live in neighboring suburbs, or that he blocked prosecution of a former city employee, that the development of the former Masonic building was in some way corrupt, or that the Mayor promoted an addiction treatment center that might attract some patients who don’t own property in Malden. All these claims were easily refuted. Almost all associate the Mayor with people who are Not From Here. Throughout, Mr. Matheson has claimed that Our Revolution is allied with the Mayor and that Our Revolution is Not From Here.

It’s not just Matheson. Joe Gray, a candidate for School Committee from Ward 6, campaigned for City Council two years ago in support of the Charlottesville “Unite The Right” rioters, the tiki-torch-bearing nazis who murdered Heather Heyer. Danyal Najmi, running for City Council in Ward 5, has been repeatedly required to assert his citizenship, presumably because his name isn’t sufficiently Irish. Much bitter debate has focused on the question of whether to turn Roosevelt Park near the Salemwood School into an astroturf field for organized athletics — perhaps serving neighboring private and charter schools; the earlier development of Howard Park led to a city park being (literally) locked away from use by its neighbors — mostly renters — and reserved for more affluent sports teams [3].

Right now, the Right owns the White House, the Senate, and the Governorship. They’ve largely stymied progressive causes in the State House. They often have a working majority in the City Council. Our city claims to be “welcoming” but it abjectly cooperates with ICE. The Malden right is doing just fine.

Nevertheless, the right is mad as hell. This campaign is nearly over, and with luck and hard work we may get through it. Are we doomed for Malden’s politics forever to be dominated by this strange parochial rage?

The cure is not forebearance or civility or waiting for things to calm down. They never do. The cure is certainly not appeasement. Our problem is vision: without a clear vision for the future of Malden, we drift from blue bags to parking to snow removal, mired in minutia and meaningless testimonials to every candidate’s wonderful character and superb children.

We cannot return to an imaginary past of Malden Minstrel Shows or a time when everybody knew your face and everyone knew their place. That fact is the ultimate source of Malden’s right-wing anger, and we need to counter that anger with intelligent vision backed up with ambitious plans.