Cleveland's Divide Is America's Division

FILE - This Sept. 11, 2012, file photo shows the Cleveland skyline taken from Edgewater Park in Cleveland. Cleveland won the
FILE - This Sept. 11, 2012, file photo shows the Cleveland skyline taken from Edgewater Park in Cleveland. Cleveland won the backing of a Republican National Committee panel all but guaranteeing the GOP's 2016 presidential pick will accept the party's nomination in perennially hard-fought Ohio. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)

On the first night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's excitable tirade attempted to move listeners past the currency of the American divide, saying: "It's time to make America one again".

The problem with the statement is that America was never one -- meaning nothing can be repaired that was never made.

Instead, the default is what has always been broke.

On the opening weekend of the convention, there were five killed and 20 shot in Cleveland. The violence didn't happen in the spotlight of the city's downtown -- a district no doubt undergoing rapid transformation as the region economically reconstructs into the knowledge economy -- but in its majority black neighborhoods on the city's East Side.

That is to say -- and pardon the worn Dickensian-descriptive -- that Cleveland is truly a tale of two cities, not unlike much of America.

But outside the rhetorical platitudes of the "haves" and "have nots", what does that mean exactly? What are the levers pulling American cities apart? Some insight can be had from the geopolitical arena, believe it or not.

"Disconnectedness defines danger," argues Thomas P.M. Barnett's in the Esquire essay "The Pentagon's New Map".

For the geostrategist, the world is split between two types of topographies: the Core, where "globalization is thick with network connectivity, financial transactions, liberal media flows, and collective security"; and the Gap, or countries disconnected from globalization and defined by poverty, low educational attainment rates and "the chronic conflicts that incubate the next generation" of instability.

This geographic heuristic is useful in understanding cities as well. In Cleveland there are areas of the city that are revitalizing as part of the Core, particularly new economy neighborhoods gentrifying concentrically out from the city's center; and the University Circle neighborhood that houses some of the world's best thinkers and doers in the ever-important field of life sciences.

Conversely, neighborhoods on Cleveland's East Side -- or the South Side of Chicago, West Baltimore, and the balance of Detroit for that matter -- comprise the Gap, with the isolation manifested in homicide rates on par with Central America countries, as well as higher levels of poverty, lower life expectancy rates, and low rates of employment.

Select Cleveland neighborhoods, in fact, have as much as 50 percent of men aged 16 and over not in labor force.

This, then, is likely the heart of the matter: the lack of employment opportunities for much of black America, particularly in deindustrializing cities. A recent Pew analysis found the gap in white/black unemployment rates spiked in the 1980s to nearly 3-to-1, as "the manufacturing sectors that employed disproportionate shares of African-Americans shriveled".

For many city leaders, such as Mayor Frank Jackson of Cleveland, until the economic dislocation is solved, no amount of programming can fix the city. Holding a two-inch binder detailing the city's new anti-violence proposal recently, Mayor Jackson told the Plain Dealer: "This [plan] will fail. I don't care how much funding you get. It's not going to work without that [jobs] infrastructure on the front end to support it."

And while the RNC convention is long on simplified sound bites -- "Make America Work Again" was the theme of Day 2 -- it's been short on policy ideas regarding remaking America's employment infrastructure. Generally speaking, Trump's plan is reindustrialize the Rust Belt by bringing heavy industry back en masse. But that's never going to happen. Steel employment peaked in Pittsburgh in the 1960s! Additionally, manufacturing output is nearly as high as ever in Cleveland, as it simply takes less people to produce more things.

Those trends will not reverse, nor should they. America's comparative advantage is in producing ideas, not trinkets. Ultimately, those cities -- particularly select neighborhoods within the cities -- that are not prepared for the future will not be able to share in the prosperity associated with American progress.

Meanwhile, the divide in Cleveland continues. Only 14 percent of black residents in Cleveland's Cuyahoga County have a college degree, compared with 36 percent for whites. A recent Brooking's analysis found that the Cleveland metro ranked 14th out the nation's largest 100 urban areas in per capita income and productivity gains since the Great Recession, but the improvements largely accrued to white Clevelanders. Specifically, wages for white Clevelanders increased by 8 percent since 2009, while declining by 9 percent for black Clevelanders.

"We ignore the Gap's existence at our own peril," concludes the geopolitical analyst Barnett in his essay.

If the content coming out of the RNC is any indication, ignore we will. And with ignorance comes the illusion that America was once one, permitting nostalgia as the fuel of a viable solution. All the while, the presence of a split grows, ensuring America's greatness remains more a bumper sticker than a lived experience.