What’s the Matter with Charlottesville?

Charlottesville City Council. Photo credit: The Daily Progress

by James A. Bacon

In his bestselling book of 2007, Thomas Franks asked the question, What’s the Matter with Kansas? Why do blue-collar inhabitants of the Sunflower State, he wondered, so consistently vote for Republican politicians who pursue policies supposedly antithetical to their material self-interest? Perhaps the answer is that level-headed Kansans could see where the progressive policies of the Democratic Party would take them.

In Washington, D.C., progressive policies are diluted by our republic’s system of checks and balances. But there are places where the end game of progressivism has been revealed in all its unadulterated glory. One such place is San Francisco,  with its homeless encampments, open-air drug use, fecal-strewn streets, people lying passed out on sidewalks, flash-mob shoplifting, and shuttered stores.

Fortunately, Virginia has no analogue to San Francisco. That’s not for a lack of emulation. Progressives here just haven’t held the levers of power as long. But Virginians can get a close-up look of progressive political culture at work in Charlottesville. The home-town newspaper, The Daily Progress, has just published an analysis — “Charlottesville faces major challenges following mass departure of city leaders” — that might aptly have been headlined, “What’s the Matter with Charlottesville?”

Let me be clear. When I use the term “progressive,” I am not equating it to all Democrats. While I may disagree with many Democratic priorities, mainstream Democratic Party governors like Jerry Baliles, Doug Wilder, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have ably governed the state. Charlottesville’s progressives are a breed apart. What should worry Virginians is that progressives represent an increasingly influential faction within the Democratic Party of Virginia.

Charlottesville, where progressives have displaced mainstream Democrats, gives every appearance of being ungovernable. Turnover in the top ranks of city government has gotten so bad that two city managers have resigned within the past year and a candidate for the position of interim city manager recently backed out. Said the candidate, Marc Woolley: “There’s just no way that an interim person can work underneath that craziness.” In desperation, the city has hired a consulting firm in place of a city manager — surely a first for a locality not facing imminent bankruptcy.

Things are so bad that outgoing Mayor Nikuyah Walker, who courted controversy for posting on social media a free-form poem comparing the city to a rapist, has accused city leaders of contributing to white supremacy. Things are so bad that former police chief RaShall Brackney has filed an EEOC complaint against the city, alleging discrimination on the basis of race and sex and asking for $3 million — this in a city where 85% of all votes in the 2020 presidential election were cast for Joe Biden and only 13% for Donald Trump!

According to The Daily Progress, some frame the conflict as “a clash between a city set in the past and one struggling to come to terms with that past, race relations chief among them.”

“You’ve got this legacy going hundreds of years back where certain groups have been oppressed and suppressed,” says Robert Roberts, professor of political science and public administration at James Madison University.

Just one problem. Somehow, other Virginia communities with the same historical legacy are not mired in dysfunction.

Other observers blame social media. Undoubtedly, heated words on social media can aggravate personal animosities. But social media is ubiquitous in Virginia. Somehow, politicians in other Virginia communities manage to use Twitter, Facebook and Instagram without engendering intense animosities.

What sets Charlottesville apart is the extreme leftist complexion of local politics, which are tinted by the extreme leftist complexion of the University of Virginia’s academic culture. The rhetoric of the far Left is judgmental, unforgiving, and uncompromising. When there are no Trumpkins. or even Republicans, upon whom to channel their bottomless reservoirs of envy, resentment and grievance, leftists turn upon one another — Bolshevik-vs-Menshevik style.

Progressives eat their own. Charlottesville is not the kind of place where senior government officials can count on advancing a career. Who could blame them for staying away?

Update: Shaun Kenney picks up the question of “What’s wrong with Charlottesville” in a post on The Republican Standard. He examines the decline of press coverage in Charlottesville and the resulting loss of accountability. Says he: “It isn’t just the presence of a viable opposition that matters, but rather the presence of an open public square and a media that legitimately concerns itself with journalism rather than protecting the institutions and being team players.”

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55 responses to “What’s the Matter with Charlottesville?”

  1. James Kiser Avatar
    James Kiser

    I would say that Arlington and Alexandria are right up there with SF the press just isn’t reporting it.

    1. how_it_works Avatar

      People are openly urinating in the streets of Manassas…

  2. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    Who cares? They are getting exactly what they think they wanted.
    Hopefully their Utopia will flourish any day now.

    1. how_it_works Avatar

      It will, they just need more funding…

  3. Considering C’ville’s boneheaded decision last summer to classify 86% of its K-12 students as “gifted” to achieve “equity” it is little wonder that the city cannot retain professional employees.

    DPVA got a lesson in November. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, they learned from it. With any luck wokeism of all flavors has peaked and will recede to tolerable levels, even in C’ville.

    1. Donald Smith Avatar
      Donald Smith

      Charlottesville and Lake Woebegon…where all of the children are above-average.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        As opposed to rural Virginia where they are all below.

        1. Donald Smith Avatar
          Donald Smith

          Thank you for, once again, placing yourself on record.

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Same ledger sheet you’re on, Bubba.

  4. Donald Smith Avatar
    Donald Smith

    “the extreme leftist complexion of the University of Virginia’s academic culture.”

    Perhaps, at some point, Virginians will lose enthusiasm in paying for a university that seems to aspire to be the East Coast Version of Cal Berkeley.

    Virginia has lots of important, worthwhile things it can pay for. Maybe paying the costs for a “world-class” faculty at UVA—especially in the humanities and liberal arts—will find itself below the cut line of funding priorities in the new General Assembly. Regrettably, of course…

    1. Rob Austin Avatar

      Ryan and Magill are rabid in their goal to hire as many leftist/Marxist/”progressive” faculty they can. Just take a look at the CVs of the new Law School hires, the new A-School Dean, Med School Dean and the flood of DEI thought police.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    ” In 2019, San Francisco was the county with the seventh-highest income in the United States, with a per capita income of $139,405.” Isn’t that about twice what Fairfax County or Arlington County is?

    so, yes, they have their share of other problems including the homeless and ‘fecal strewn streets’ and what not….

    but too many times, BR focuses in so tight – that it completely loses any reasonable context of reality and is bound and determined to cry about the half-glass empty. IMHO of course.

    1. But that SF per capita is mitigated by the millionaires and billionaires within it boundaries. There is no middle class – only poor and super rich living behind racist walls which don’t work, or so they say. ‘Happy Hour’ beers are $8. Breakfast for four can cost near $100. Rent is beyond the reach of most people. The best buy – Maker’s Mark at Trader Joe’s for $25.

    2. how_it_works Avatar

      Not quite twice. The 2019 per capita income for Arlington is $98,116.


    3. Merchantseamen Avatar

      Announced today that NOVA has some 7 of the wealthists counties in the U.S. Seeing how they all get their wealth from the Gooobermint. They will fight to keep that gravy train rolling. Remember they hate you and want to kill you.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        you know, the word idiocy comes to mind sometimes. NoVa is where the HQ employees of the govt live – GS-15, etc… They’re folks that run agencies like the FAA, FCC, NTSB, FBI, DOJ, etc… nothing more, nothing less nimrod.

        1. Merchantseamen Avatar

          Thank you. You made my point however. Good job. However you could have left off the name calling.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            you mean the EXPERTS name-calling?

            Hey – We are ALL ignorant – every one of us including me. That’s why I seek out people who do know – more than one to assure it’s more than opinion and then I share what I found – the words and the link. I don’t claim to “KNOW” it, I just claim to go look for information and read it then share it.

          2. Merchantseamen Avatar

            Hmmm…. I don’t remember calling you an “expert” in a post. I did throw “experts” around in the comments section as a whole. Now I could be wrong. I will let you research it and get back to me. However if you are an “exxpert” wear the badge.

          3. LarrytheG Avatar

            Not me. As I said, we are ALL ignorant just on different subjects and I do heed the views of those who do have actual subject-matter knowledge and experience but also tend to try to confirm with others of similar backgrounds to discern opinion.

            Like your moniker – if you really are a Merchant Seaman, I know you have knowledge of that field…and would respect it, eh? 😉

  6. vicnicholls Avatar

    Dont see Warner and Kaine as examples of governing well.

  7. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Do you think the departure of Walker, who seemed to be the polarizing force, will bring matters back to normalcy?

    1. I’m repeating myself from prior Cville posts but the root of the problem is the absence of a publicly elected mayor. No accountable leadership and no mandate allows this situation to exist.

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        it is true that most cities in Virginia have popularly elected mayors, although there are still some that, like Charlottesville, have the mayor selected by council members from their membership. Staunton, Waynesboro, and Martinsville fall into this category. Having a popularly elected mayor may help Charlottesvillle, but it would not be a panacea. The mayor of Richmond is popularly elected and I would not call it a well-governed place. There is some instability, too–three police chiefs in the last year or so.

        1. I agree, but it’s like a game of whack a mole to fix anything. If there was a desire by Cville citizens to actually redirect, it’s a diffuse, difficult path to do so. You have to get a majority of city council elected that is sympathetic to your cause. At least with an elected mayor, there is direct accountability. Citizens may choose what we may view as incompetent or morally corrupt leadership, but at least they can directly choose that pathway.

          1. Merchantseamen Avatar

            Just rename it Scramento East. that about covers it.

  8. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Do you think the departure of Walker, who seemed to be the polarizing force, will bring matters back to normalcy?

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    Charlottesville does have it’s issues and clearly is dysfunctional, no question, but they cannot hold a candle to what is going on with the GOP these days!

    1. Donald Smith Avatar
      Donald Smith

      “they cannot hold a candle to what is going on with the GOP these days!”

      If winning the three top executive offices and the House of Delegates is “dysfunctional,” then sign me up!

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Oh they ARE winning elections, no question, but they’re based on lies like CRT and denial of election results they don’t agree with, and denial of science whether climate or virus … they KNOW their base and clearly they do have the numbers.

  10. Homeless encampments, open-air drug use, fecal-strewn streets, people lying passed out on sidewalks, flash-mob shoplifting, and shuttered stores are the exact opposite of progressive.

    I think we need to come up with a new term for the proponents and acolytes of far-left “ideas”. Calling them progressive is a terrible misuse of that word.

    Regressive would be more accurate, although still not quite right, I think.

    Destructionist, maybe?

    1. walter smith Avatar
      walter smith

      All are accurate, but the “root cause” is hatred, fueled by their secular humanist worldview.
      To the various factions of haters, whatever their problem is, is the fault of the oppressive patriarchy racist system. But for “the system,” they would be happy. The system is Western Civilization, brought to you by a Judeo-Christian worldview, so the system must be destroyed.
      I’m good with Haters, Leftists, Useful Idiots, Wokesters, Marxists, Destroyers, etc.
      One of the frequent commenters here embodies all the best of the Useful Idiot attributes, spouting the inanity du jour as de rigueur.

      1. Matt Hurt Avatar

        I don’t see their problem as hatred. I see it as resentment fueled by years of inequitable outcomes, coupled with a low resolution view of the problem and proposed solutions. Those folks failed to foresee many of the 2nd and 3rd order consequences that their favored solutions would inevitably bring. Sometimes ideas sound really good if you say them quickly and don’t think about the unintended consequences they’ll precipitate.

        1. walter smith Avatar
          walter smith

          To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, now we’re quibbling over price!
          Resentment to hatred isn’t a long trip…
          I would also characterize what you say they do (and I am in agreement with it not being thought through), is they RATIONALIZE. And when one does RATIONALIZE, one believes RATIONAL LIES….

        2. LarrytheG Avatar

          Matt – are you saying this from the point of view of those who feel like they’ve been treated inequitably, or those who say they have been?

          Some seem to target the folks who say there are inequities that need to be addressed – versus those who feel they were actually inequitably treated.

          Let me give an example.

          Just 2% of blacks and Hispanics successfully enroll in the magnet schools in NoVa.

          Is that an outcome that comes about because of inequity – in the eyes of those directly impacts – as well as in the eyes of those who believe there is inequity involved in others who are affected by it?

          1. Teach all students to read, phonics please.
            Eliminate war on drugs.
            Bulk up trade schools.

            It’ll take about a decade but can transform the country. See John McWhorter in Woke Racism

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            My understanding from a number of teacher friends is that phonics already IS a significant component for language but there is much more to it than just phonics.

            Read this:


            I’d like to hear more from you on your view about drugs and the role that they play in crime, incarceration and schools.

            Trade Schools and Community Colleges , yes… more kids need to attain higher education levels than high school graduation but they don’t necessarily need 4 years of College – at least right away, especially, if they are not well-prepared for 4-year and need more time on task to remediate.

          3. From your link it seems VA may be ahead of some other areas, but policy may not translate well to reality in poor schools.

            My wife as a sped teacher had kids with many diagnoses but found the real issue (not intellectual disability [ID]) with some was not being able to read. It was largely class based, kids from poor, chaotic, often single parent, non reading homes, white and black. Most did not know the alphabet before they reached school. They were behind the 8 ball from the first day and every day fell further behind. Several unsuccessful grades later they had a diagnosis and an IEP which is how they got to her.

            Being in the illegal drug business puts people in conflict with cops and the law on a daily basis. It also provides an easy but marginal living for kids who have not learned real skills. Subsequent large scale incarceration of men also means more poor young women raising poor kids alone (see non reading above). Ending the war on drugs eliminates both the opportunity for illegal lively hood and the legal consequences.

            Trades provide quick access to middle class honest, legal lives, but you can’t get there, or much of anywhere but jail, if you can’t read.

            Again, get John McWhorter Woke Racism, he does a far better job explaining than I do, and he’s a linguist so the reading itself is a pleasure.

          4. LarrytheG Avatar

            You do a GOOD JOB of explaining the issues IMHO.

            And I agree with you about the drugs but also wonder if they can’t make a living doing that then what?

            And I agree with you about the trades but reading, writing and math are still fundamental even for trades these days. If you cannot read fairly well, you cannot even do some trade work.

            It seems like if we TRY to HELP these kids, with more resources, it’s treated as reverse discrimination…..

          5. You’re right, there’s no quick easy solution, and a decade is an optimistic guess to start seeing results from change.

            K and pre K funding in BBB are a beginning. and were part of Manchin’s ignored alternative BBB proposal to Biden, but that’s another issue.

            “then what” is a real question, but if we don’t eliminate the convenient illegal life we will never get to address it.

            People who have left school without learning to read are a special, and a very hard, problem to solve. They are screwed. That population will continue to grow and become harder to help if we do not break the cycle by starting at the beginning and teaching the basics of reading in K and pre K. Changing the culture to value reading and education from the get go can provide incentive for older people to learn, and that is a beginning. It will not be easy or quick.

            McWhorter’s proposition is that woke racism is a religion. It promotes virtue signaling and cancelling to the exclusion of actually doing anything for people; things like eliminating drug wars, teaching reading and training in honest skills.

            His opinion is that White Fragility is the worst book he has ever read. He also encourages us heretics to toughen up and to ignore the slings and arrows of the on line woke religion mob. Make them sit back down at the table with the rest of us and work on solving problems instead of standing on it and screaming.

            He knows that racism still exists in the US, and that we need to continue working to eradicate it. He also believes that the ’60s with the Civil Rights Act of ’64, the Voting Rights Act of ’65 and the Fair Housing Act of ’68 make the America of 1960 more resemble the nineteenth century than the 1970s and beyond.

            As a black man McWhorter has standing to say these things that are difficult for the rest of us. Have I mentioned his new book Woke Racism?

          6. LarrytheG Avatar

            But there ARE people who do want to address these problems that are also being categorized as ‘woke’.


            How do the folks who really want to address the issue not get called ‘woke’?

            How do the critics of ‘woke’ actually do something about the problem beyond their ire towards ‘woke’?

            Sometimes feels like burn it all down and walk away.

          7. We start by rejecting things like CRT or focusing on America being hopelessly infested with systemic racism, and white people being racist with every breath they draw.

            The issue is actually helping real people who are alive now achieve better lives, not our own abasement or virtue signalling. We do that through things like ending the war on drugs, teaching all kids to read, and providing honest skills training. We do not do that by rolling in the horrid history of oppression and slavery committed by our ancestors. We do indeed acknowledge that history, not suppress it. Nor do we lie about it by making up a fantasy that our Revolution was waged to preserve slavery.

            If we focus on actually helping people no one will confuse us with being woke, especially the woke cultists. If someone does mistakenly make the accusation of being woke, toughen up, brush it off as a microaggression and move on:)

          8. LarrytheG Avatar

            There are people who are doing what you say should be done that are being accused of being ‘woke’ because they believe DEI is valid and needed.

            “woke” basically says that any/all efforts are DEI are CRT and that’s simply not true.
            DEI as a response to racism in the ranks.

            re; ” The issue is actually helping real people who are alive now achieve better lives, not our own abasement or virtue signalling. We do that through things like ending the war on drugs, teaching all kids to read, and providing honest skills training. ”

            We already teach to read and have skills and workforce training – we do that right now. I dare say most conservative opponents of public education support ending the war on drugs either.

            The woke critics have to demonstrate they have more to their movement than generalized hate and rejection of public education in general and demonization of teachers and administrators.

            Have you seen the school board meetings? Where are you guys?

            Is that you in those meetings or not and if not, where are you if you want change?

            You can’t advocate burning down the current system and start over… no?

          9. Seems to be quibbling, but not by you.

            A fundamental error is replacing equality with equity.

            MLK’s wanting his children to be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin was equality. C’ville’s classifying 86% of its school children as gifted to achieve racial balance is equity.

            Equity is pretty much woke racism bullsh*t.

            Teaching all kids to read is the path to equality that creates equal achievement and outcomes.

            Imposing equity while brushing off real differences in achievement as white racism is demeaning to black people. It does not help people have better lives. It is a fools game.

          10. “We already teach to read and have skills and workforce training – we do that right now.”

            But we don’t teach everyone to read, and reading is a filter for skill and workforce training. No reading, no workforce training. No reading no legal job. You don’t need reading to deal drugs and go to jail or get shot.

            To make progress we have to teach everyone to read. Everyone. We have profoundly failed to do that. Achievement test scores measure real differences. Different scores are not all racial biases against black people.

            In the rehabilitation world they talk about people being “rehab ready”. That means a person recognizes that there is something wrong and wants to fix it. In this context a big part of what is wrong is that we are not teaching everyone to read. We start getting better by working to fix that.

          11. LarrytheG Avatar

            We teach them ALL to read but not as successfully or to better that basic proficiency for those that are economically disadvantaged and ESl and some learning disabled.

            I appreciate the discussion – very much on subject and not on person.

          12. Matt Hurt Avatar

            Anyone with two brain cells to rub together can plainly see the real inequities.

          13. LarrytheG Avatar

            I’ve been accused of being “slow’ so humor me…

          14. Matt Hurt Avatar

            Educational outcomes, criminal justice outcomes, economic outcomes, etc.

          15. LarrytheG Avatar

            You gotta lay it out… I’m pretty dense…

          16. Matt Hurt Avatar

            Not sure I understand what you’re asking. I’m even more dense.

          17. LarrytheG Avatar

            Well, that settles it! 😉

    2. Matt Adams Avatar

      They certainly are no FPOTUS T. Roosevelt.

  11. Homeless encampments, open-air drug use, fecal-strewn streets, people lying passed out on sidewalks, flash-mob shoplifting, and shuttered stores are the exact opposite of progressive.

    I think we need to come up with a new term for the proponents and acolytes of far-left “ideas”. Calling them progressive is a terrible misuse of that word.

    Regressive would be more accurate, although still not quite right, I think.

    Destructionist, maybe?

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