Listening to Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, it was hard not to lose hope in the future of the country and the American experiment.
It was delivered with grandiose delusion by a stammering, brain-addled octogenarian. When he wasn’t tripping over words or making stuff up (how he is taming inflation, as if the president controls interest rates), Joe Biden was being a petulant scold, sounding as if he was really angry that someone misplaced his dentures.
He wants to raise taxes, expand the welfare state, all because he thinks he knows what’s best even though he barely knows what day it is. Is this our future? Maybe.
Biden, for all his incapacity, will probably defeat the likely GOP challenger if it’s former President Donald Trump, another old dude who offers up his own set of personal baggage so large, we don’t have room in this column to describe it.
And yet there is a ray of hope — sunshine, to be precise — beaming down south in Florida. If you want to see the American experiment flourish, spend a few days down there, particularly in the melting pot known as Miami, as I recently did.
And talk to some of the locals — immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, even Naples, Italy, and the first- and second-generation Cuban Americans — and you see where the future of this country could be heading: A vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem that actually works.
This is not a campaign commercial for the governor, Ron DeSantis, who has his sights set on the White House, or even the local pols like Francis Suarez, the very able mayor of Miami. But both have set the tone through a business-friendly tax code and limits on the welfare state while promoting diverse economic development.
Sunshine State lifeblood
Florida is more than just Disney World and orange groves these days. Big tech, Wall Street, crypto, hospitality and amazing restaurants are the state’s — and city’s — lifeblood.
So are the people who are arriving, many of them immigrants, a lot of them transplanted northerners, all of them seeking opportunity that statists like Joe Biden have been discouraging for decades.
Again, spend some time talking to these strivers as I did. They’re grinders. Not just the brokers and bankers, but the people who work during the day in restaurants, then drive an Uber at night.
At the hotel where I was staying in Miami Beach, the Haitian doorman explained to me how he thought he had what it takes to some day be on Fox News where I work (Yes. he’s a proud viewer.) He was more composed and articulate than most kids out of college I know with similar ambitions. So who am I to doubt him?
My cabdriver told me how he’s a first-generation Cuban American. His family came to Miami in the 1970s. The now-glitzy South Beach area was largely a “dump,” as he put it. No longer, he proudly explained as we passed a booming stretch of restaurants and high-end fashion shops that employ the locals and give them a chance at a better life.
At a restaurant, I was served by a waiter from Italy, who escaped the stifling economy of the southern region known as the “Mezzogiorno.” He left some years ago and by the sound of it, he’s never going back because he can actually make a decent living here without paying off the local Mafia boss.
I’ve been going to Miami and parts of its urban sprawl since the mid-1990s when I was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and my assignment was to cover city corruption that involved the sale of municipal bonds.
I touched base with a friend of mine, a local born in Cuba who came here and made it pretty big as a bond salesman. Before talking business, he gave me a tour of Little Havana. We had lunch of arroz con pollo at the amazing Versailles Restaurant, followed by some cafecito at the famous Máximo Gómez park, the epicenter of Miami’s Cuban American community.
Miami was always a place of change, and in the 1990s Little Havana, as my friend pointed out, was increasingly becoming Little El Salvador and Little Nicaragua as well. Fast forward to my trip last week and it’s obvious Miami is still changing — and improving with creative capitalist destruction that preserves some of the old and advances the new.
Yes, the food is still great at Versailles, the characters playing dominoes at the park are still doing their thing. You still see Cuban flags mixed with those from El Salvador and elsewhere in Latin America along Calle Ocho.
But the downtown business district, which back in the 1990s looked like a ghost town in the middle of the day, is bustling with financiers. New construction of luxury high-rises and office buildings is seemingly everywhere.
Little Havana, meanwhile, is seeing an amazing urban revival with shops and restaurants offering the best of Miami’s cultural medley. Tourists who were once afraid to embrace urban Miami’s grittier side are spending like they do in South Beach.
Of course, Miami and Florida aren’t utopia; drugs, gangs, fentanyl, illegal immigration, homelessness, they’re all here. So is Florida Man. But people don’t come here for utopia. They come for the chance that Sleepy Joe won’t give them.