The spread of contagions in a starkly divided city, lacking the glue of its formerly tenacious and now greatly embattled middle class, will be accelerated by the growth of the homeless population on New York’s streets. These populations—exposed to the elements and living in often crowded, unhygienic conditions—can be breeding grounds for rats and all sorts of diseases, some of them distinctly medieval, such as typhus, and many of which will arguably be far more dangerous than coronavirus…

History shows that, whatever its challenges, New York remains a resilient place with enormous resources and appeal. After all, it survived the challenge of Sept. 11 and will no doubt find a way to cope with the coronavirus. But this cannot be done without some major political change. If the city does not change direction, it will continue to decline. The only group capable of overturning the current trajectory is what remains of the middle class. There’s clearly growing dissatisfaction with the current trajectory of schools and public safety, as well as with pervasive corruption. Barely one-third of all New Yorkers approve of de Blasio’s performance—a record low.

Yet while the city’s middle class may be dissatisfied, it is smaller, weaker, and more stressed than it was in the 1970s or after Sept. 11. Crucially, the middle class lacks a solid foothold in the ruling Democratic Party, which arbitrates between city employee unions, professional ideologues, and the megarich. Particularly critical will be the role of ethnic communities, including Jews, who retain a unique stake in the city’s culture. These varied groups offer the greatest hope for New York, which has survived greater challenges, to climb out of what looks like a very deep hole.