I grew up in Chicago, and still consider myself a Chicagoan, as my peripatetic academic life has not led me to put down roots in any particular place. It therefore grieves me deeply to see the current state of the city.
In some ways it is much better. When I was in college and grad school, even near the lake you could not go south of Harrison Street (600 south, or about .6 miles south of the N-S dividing line in Chicago-Madison Street) without taking your life in your hands. Now there is upscale development near the lake all the way down to Cermak (2200 south). When I first went to Hyde Park in the late-70s, it was sketchy at best. Now it is unrecognizably upscale.
But outside of these pockets, the city is a dystopian hell. The West Side, especially the Austin neighborhood that my grandparents fled in the late-60s. The South Side outside of privileged enclaves like Hyde Park.
My first day in Chicago after returning from the Naval Academy is etched in my mind. I walked from my dorm (a/k/a The Roach Motel) at 54th and Greenwood to the AT&T store to set up a land line (there’s an anachronism for you). The store was located at 47th and King Drive. After crossing the corner of Cottage Grove and 47th I saw a blood trail on the sidewalk that led to a storefront clinic. Then the racial epithets from the people on the street started. When I got into the AT&T location, the woman behind the bullet proof glass stared at me like I was a space alien. ”How did you get here?” ”I walked.” ”Maybe you should call a cab to get home.” I took the bus instead, the #3, changing to the #55 at Garfield-again to the accompaniment of disbelieving stares of those on the buses.
Between my junior and senior years, I had a summer job going to pharmacies to count non-prescription medicines on the shelves as part of marketing studies for A.C. Nielsen. Since U of C let out late (in June), I was hired last and was assigned the worst neighborhoods. I remember going into (running into is more accurate) a pharmacy on 47th and Prairie Avenue where everything was behind bullet proof glass. Everything. Customers stood in a space about 5 feet by 5 feet, and asked the store employees standing behind the glass for what they wanted through a microphone-even a bottle of Excedrin. (At the turn of the 20th century, Prairie Avenue was the most prestigious address in Chicago. The shells of a few mansions remain, scattered among empty lots on dreary block after dreary block.) Hell, even the cooks and clerks at Harold’s Fried Chicken on 53rd Street were ensconced behind a wall of bullet proof glass, including a bullet proof turnstile on which they put your order. Ditto Ribs & Bibs on 53rd and Dorchester. I can’t imagine what the Harold’s on 63rd Street was like.
Those parts of Chicago aren’t better, and are arguably worse. This despite the dominance of Chicago politics and “governance” by “progressives” who pronounce to the world and the heavens their devotion to the poor and downtrodden. Or, I should say, because of the dominance of Chicago politics the self-same, self-described progressives.
Yeah. That gun control thing so beloved by the progs is working out great. (Chicago has had some of the most draconian gun control laws in the nation-laws that the SCOTUS has struck down.)
Take a look at this John Kass interview on CNN. Kass is the only prominent person in Chicago media who doesn’t have his head firmly implanted up his ass, or his lips firmly implanted on the asses of the progressive elite in Chicago-the elite that blessed the nation with Obama and Valerie Jarrett.
All the while proclaiming their devotion to the poor and minorities in Chicago, the progressive governing class of Chicago has looted the city and condemned its most vulnerable to a reign of terror.
As Kass notes, Chicago has always been a rough place. He mentions the gangsters of the 20s. (Family history: my great-uncle had a confrontation with a Capone lookout for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre: he was fixing the pay phone the lookout wanted to use to call Capone’s men to alert them that Bugsy Malone’s men had arrived at the garage where the Massacre took place. My grandfather, another “telephone man” fixed Capone’s phone in the Lexington Hotel: Capone gave him a fedora to express his appreciation.) But for the most part, those conflicts were intramural. Yes, many (and arguably most) of today’s murders in Chicago are also intramural in nature, one gangbanger killing another. But the current situation is more anarchic than in the ’20s, and the spillovers more pronounced.
Chicago also has always been a very corrupt place. In the 19th century, it was the town of boodle and “wire workers.” In the 1950s-1970s, the Machine ruled, and raked off the proceeds of that rule. It was the Land of the Voting Dead. (My grandfather voted while dead.) Hence the Kennedy presidency.
The main difference is that there is a hypocrisy today that was absent in the 20s and the 1950s-1970s Indeed, in the Daley I years, there was an almost roguish pride in the thievishness of the machine. Richard the First did not have progressivist presumptions.
In contrast, those who rule over today’s dystopian Chicago are stalwarts of progressivism. They are oh-so-superior, and hardly shy about instructing the great unwashed about what is and what is not acceptable. Safe in their brownstones and high rises in the Gold Coast or other sanctuaries hard on Lake Michigan, far from the gunfire in Garfield Park or Humboldt Park, they preen in their moral rectitude.
All the while presiding over a bankrupt and violent city.
Kass scathingly refers to Obama’s failure to attend a single funeral in Chicago, whereas he makes highly publicized appearances in Tuscon or Newtown. Similarly, he made a big deal out of how Trayvon Martin could have been his son.
It rankles me that Obama has distanced himself from the neighborhood he represented in the Illinois legislature for years. He used it as a political springboard, but has left it far behind, never to be mentioned again.
Check out this website that tracks murders in Chicago. Take a little time, and see how many have taken place in Obama’s old state senate district.
Collectively, the toll is far greater than Newtown: in Chicago, the body count is about a Newtown every month. But Obama has attended not a single funeral. Indeed, he has spoken nary a word about it. He has left that world far behind. Could none of those killed have been his son? Could it be that to mention the holocaust there would be to draw attention to his failure, and the failures of the progressive “blue state” model he epitomizes?
Progressives continually assert a moral claim over the rest of us. I ask: On what basis? I look at Chicago, and see a yawning gap between the lofty asserted claims and the shabby, bloody reality.