This was the most frequently asked question I encountered in Phoenix recently. Admittedly, the Resistance was demoralized by the results of the election. But the query-cum-statement came from more than activists — indeed, they are more likely to be too invested in the fight to allow a crack of doubt to enter.
Those asking are natives or have lived in the state for many years or decades. They are not nostalgiacs. They are intelligent and pragmatic. Some are considering leaving, adding to the brain drain of urbanites who come to Phoenix starry eyed at a "blank slate" only to discover the many barriers to progress and depart for Portland, Denver and Vancouver, B.C.
In raising this issue, I don't want to provoke the usual denial, sunny codependency or angry defensiveness. I was surprised that so many people, unprompted, asked the question.
Is Arizona hopeless?
It certainly doesn't seem that way to the Republicans and "conservative"-leaning independents who vote. They continue to get the place they want, with the exception of such socialist outbreaks as light rail (WBIYB). Some are people with whom I went to school but remained there. They are decent, smart individuals and, against all odds of the Cold Civil War, we remain friends. Anyway, the cons have no reason to complain — but that won't stop it from manufacturing its lifeline of perpetual grievance and victimhood. They tend to be sore winners.
So the question applies to others. How many are there? It's difficult to say with precision. People keep moving to Arizona, albeit at a slower pace. A Morrison Institute poll of more than a decade ago found that a strong plurality of residents would leave the state if they could.
Who would ask such a question? Anyone to the left of today's "conservative" dogma (which would include Barry Goldwater, were he alive); liberals and progressives; people with urban values; those concerned about the destruction of the environment; those disheartened by the struggle to build and maintain civic, economic and cultural assets as befits a big city, and the ones beaten down by the struggle as Arizona has become a one-party, one-ideology state.
Is Arizona hopeless?
You know this is the wrong place to look for booster lies ("Talton hates Arizona"). And as much as I would love to write a stirring column channelling Henry V or Churchill, it is a little late for in the game for that.
So the answer partly depends partly on how one defines Arizona and how one defines hopeless.
Arizona is a big state and retains much of its God-given magic. Once it gets in your soul, it's hard to shake it. The state is so much more than the marketing moniker of teams that play in Glendale. Arizona is downtown Prescott and downtown Flagstaff. It is Bisbee and the Sky Islands, the Mogollon Rim, Bill Williams River, and the still largely wild forests of eastern Arizona.
Getting to the natural wonders and quaint town centers is more difficult, from the requirement of passing through acres of crappy sprawl (e.g. Prescott Valley and the outskirts of Prescott) to dealing with the traffic and too many people. Millions still adore Sedona. As someone who knew it when there was not even a traffic signal, I can barely go there. A further depressing portent: Sedona's Well-Red Coyote Bookstore is closing in February.
Don't forget central Tucson. The Old Pueblo avoided the terrible teardowns of Phoenix and its downtown and surrounding districts and barrios show some potential, especially with the completion of the streetcar. Much magic still remains in Phoenix, in the Historic Districts, North Central and Arcadia.
Tempe has density in its core and, unlike Phoenix, is attracting private investment. It is also building a streetcar to complement light rail. There's the magnet of the main ASU campus, too. Unfortunately, most of Tempe below Broadway is hopelessly suburban. It would take a major reset to turn this into high-quality dense and walkable neighborhoods.
Downtown Scottsdale has density, too — and money. The downsides: A dysfunctional city government, the constant pull of investment to north Scottsdale, the blunder of not bringing light rail to Old Town thus leaving it to become ever more congested and car-dependent, and the loss of community from when it was a place of locally owned businesses.
For a state with its population, Arizona suffers from a startling lack of options. Washington, slightly more populous, would be a red state without Seattle, one of America's urban boomtowns. Less populous Colorado is plenty red and filled with suburban and exurban crap. But it also has Denver, with a real downtown and one of the nation's most ambitious rail transit systems. Texas offers progressives refuge in Austin, downtown Dallas and downtown Houston. Arizona has nothing to compete, a particular disadvantage given the competition for talent that wants to live in a real city.
How to define hope? If hope is sunshine and hot weather, you're set. Climate change will give you a bellyfull.
There's real community in a place such as Willo, with its front porches, walkable streets and welcoming neighbors. Unfortunately, you have to drive, often for miles, to buy the things that a Seattleite can reach within four or five blocks. So you can hunker down and make your stand in a place such as this, vote, patronize local businesses and the arts, make your voice heard, ride light rail. For god's sake, plant trees.
Don't hope that migration will moderate Arizona politics. In fact, it has made it more extreme, a la the Big Sort. Don't hope that Hispanics will turn the state purple or blue. "Mexicans don't vote." This is not merely the comforting refrain of the right but the reality. Experience and empirical evidence have no effect. The disasters of decades of Republican rule are everywhere to be found, but in the most recent election those who chose to vote doubled down.
Don't expect City Hall or Michael Crow to turn downtown and Midtown Phoenix into the urban centers one would expect in the nation's sixth most populous city. Only major private-sector investment can do that.
Arizona is not alone. I'm not sure there's hope for America, at least as the country I grew up in and the nation it might have become. Republicans have won a commanding majority in Congress, one they might keep for decades. The oligarchs keep solidifying their quiet coup with legislation and control of the courts. Anyone who assumes that a Democrat — Hillary! — is inevitable as the next president is extremely naive.
So all over the country, where "conservative" Republicans hold more statehouses than anytime in decades and the "conservative" Randian ideology holds sway. Government "is the problem." The white middle class keeps voting against its interests. Empire and military adventures must be funded. Thus even the most seemingly powerful and progressive cities are struggling to hold their own.
Is Arizona hopeless? You have to decide for yourself, based on what you want in a place to live and assuming there won't be a do-over in your life. If I were thirty, I'd move to northern Europe. As I have written before, I want a civilization not just a "market."
That doesn't mean we don't fight. But the forces arrayed against us are more powerful than anytime since the Gilded Age.