Saturday, March 11, 2017

Miss Washington, but love Chicago,

deplore the Donald and, oh, three cheers for Karen Lewis and the Chicago Teachers Union

Our recent move from Washington, DC to Chicago is still in its transitional phase. We left very good friends behind in DC and we'll miss them all. Our challenge in Chicago will include developing a network of close friends as diverse and sustaining as the group of friends we left behind.

But I am optimistic about the possibilities. Our friends in Washington were often quite accomplished people, and some of them were native to the DC area, but in Chicago even the transplants from elsewhere seem to grow very deep roots here. I don't know what to make of that difference just yet, but the potential for movement-building seems more real here than it is in Washington. Yes, Chicago is a very segregated city, but the demographic diversity is astounding. There simply is no racial majority. If you want to make change here, coalition is the only way to go.

It is reliably colder in Chicago than in Washington and that does take some getting used to, but the solution is layers, lots of them--and not hunkering down. One has to live outdoors with vigor here or settle for hiding from the weather.

Another noteworthy difference is how big the sky seems in Chicago and how far away the horizon appears to be. That's a good thing. A great thing, really. At the lakefront one's eyes simply bask in the glory of unobstructed views. Yes, Chicago is flat and that's not so good, but the payback in being able to see the skyline, to watch the lake rage in the cold wind, to scan open vistas, like the green midway running through the University of Chicago, is a nice tradeoff. The eyes can't help exulting.

I have to say that back in DC, the Washington Post used to piss me off more often than not. The frequent failures to call out official spokespeople for their meaningless drivel, to call the powerful out for their nonsense, could often drive me to rants that Marrianne must have found tiresome. But the Chicago Tribune seems at least an order of magnitude more hapless than the Post. The Trib has some stalwart opinion writers, like Eric Zorn, Rex Hupke, Mary Shmich and Clarence Page, who still favor evidence-based journalism, but they are book-ended by right-wingers who make Jennifer Rubin and George Will look like moderates.

Of course, here and everywhere Donald Trump's election victory seems to have upended reality. Steven Chapman, a regular columnist for the Trib, has always been too right-wing for my taste. I used to marvel at how predictably he would find fault with Bill Clinton and applaud George W. Bush. Admittedly, Clinton was a person with numerous faults, whose instinct to parse political positions, appease critics and develop compromises that pleased no one is, or should be, legendary. Chapman's inclination to distrust Clinton, to believe that he was a liberal wolf in a moderate sheep's skin, made sense, but his willingness to refrain from strong criticism of Bush while he launched ridiculously expensive wars and failed in fundamental leadership ways, like rebuilding New Orleans, seemed to be a perfect example of abandoning conservative principles in favor of rooting for the home team.

But here comes Trump, who has turned out to be so extreme that he has created opportunities for compromised conservative thinkers to get past partisanship and return to principle. Chapman's column in Wednesday's Trib ("Trump the Weakling and his latest surrender") thoroughly indicts Trump for numerous offenses, all of which fall under the category of buckling in the face of resistance. "Backing down is not a departure from [Trump's] usual style. It is his usual style. Trump is not a guy who can be counted on to stand his ground. Often, he crumbles under the slightest pressure."

Trump, Chapman noted, responded to a federal court order blocking his first travel ban with, "see you in court, the security of our nation is at stake." But instead of going to court in a presidential effort to protect the "security of our nation," Trump, seeking to avoid another judicial rebuke, modified the travel ban. We'll see how that goes.

But Chapman wasn't finished. He noted that Trump defiantly took a call from the president of Taiwan, ignoring the long-standing one-China policy that has guided U.S. policy for more than 40 years. But he backed down and reaffirmed the one-China policy when Chinese premier Xi Jinping refused to speak to Trump "until he agreed to eat his words."

Trump, Chapman added, didn't even bring up the idea that Mexico would pay for a border wall when he visited with Mexican president Pena Nieto, but "only when he was safely back across the Rio Grande did Trump dare to repeat that our neighbor will foot the bill."

There's more, and if one is looking for an enjoyable moment with a right-wing columnist who is essentially calling Trump out for cowardice, just follow the link above. In any case, I'm not saying that I suddenly have warm feelings about Steven Chapman, but I am encouraged to see that for some conservatives, partisanship really does not compromise every principle.

Nor do I think that Chapman is the first right-winger to find a way to resist the siren call of partisanship at any cost. The Post's Jennifer Rubin, for years an inveterate critic of Barack Obama and constant flatterer of Paul Ryan, has begun routinely denouncing Trump's behavior and policy nonsense for at least the last six months. Check out Jonah Goldberg in the National Review, also.

"By now you may have noticed the difficulty many conservatives have defending everything President Trump does and says. I’m not just referring to the big policy moves, most of which conservatives can support fairly easily (so far). I mean the whole whiplash-inducing spectacle: the unfiltered, impulsive tweeting, bizarre interview non sequiturs, glib insults and distractions.

"If you honestly have no idea what I’m talking about, you may need to be de-programmed from a personality cult," Goldberg wrote in a piece for USA Today ("The Right can't defend Trump's behavior"). Of course, one reflects, these things are entirely clear to virtually all of us--except that they are not. A recent Suffolk poll finds that Trump is unpopular with the majority of Americans, but still somehow more popular than Hillary Clinton, who actually hasn't done anything to offend any of us for months now. I will therefore take the piece by Goldberg, the editor of the National Review, and others he has written that are also deeply critical of Trump and Republicans who cannot seem to separate themselves from Trump politically, as a good sign.

After all, every democracy not suffering from complete gridlock needs conservatives and liberals who can hear each other think. I'm not saying a few columns prove anything one way or the other, but I am encouraged by conservatives who are writing "I'm not with him."

Anyway, back to good-bad things about Chicago. I am definitely going to go to more performances/art exhibits/concerts/slams/whatevers here than I ever went to in DC. Washington certainly had a vital grassroots culture of its own, but the high-end, high-culture stuff often seemed to dominate. But everybody and her cousin seems to have some street-slam culture thing going in Chicago and I aim to be close by when some of that stuff goes off. I will concede, though, that I've only briefly sampled thus far and am only talking (or writing) about good intentions. We shall see.

Not surprisingly, serious urban problems and an apparent inability to solve them are among the things Washington and Chicago share. They also both suffer under a federal government that shows no signs of a willingness or ability to help. Given its druthers, the Trump administration will do its best to further damage public education, an agenda that will harm black and brown America first, but ultimately take down white America, too.

Of course, Trump, himself, volunteered to intervene to make Chicago's gun violence problem worse than it already is. But given his obviously short attention span, it appears likely that the city will avoid being wounded by that particular stray bullet. Not that there aren't plenty of others around who can't help barking both fruitlessly and endlessly at the sound of gunfire.

"It is time for a radical response. Time to stop talking and start doing. Time to take steps to clear the air of gunshots so our lofty plans for more police and more jobs can seed and grow rather than wither from the spray of automatic weapon fire," wrote former prosecutor Donna Moore in a March 8 column in the Trib (Stop the indifference: Bring in the National Guard).

Arf. Arf. Arf.

"...the city should ask that [the National Guard] be deployed, along with local police, to the South and West sides, not to militarize them," Moore recommended, "but to restore public safety and save lives."

Moore's single argument that her plan will work rests on an example of "one blessed weekend in November 2016," when "Chicago police, Cook County sheriffs, state police and federal agents saturated the three most dangerous police districts in the city...The strategy worked. The killing ceased. That weekend there was exactly one shooting--one--in the area under patrol."

This is nonsense. Dare we ask what causes such high levels of violence in the first place? How does a show of force address the underlying causes of violence in Chicago (and elsewhere, for that matter)? Moore cites a weekend of intensive policing during which only one shooting occurred. Are we to believe that focussing on a specific-area did not have adverse effects outside those limited boundaries? What were the patterns and frequencies of violence and crime before and after the weekend under examination? How is it possible to patrol streets, alleyways and parks with uniformed, heavily armed personnel without militarizing the area? What would be the downside consequences to the communities under lockdown and to the city, in general?

Arf. Arf. Arf.

Because the Trib routinely favors harsher punishments and longer prison sentences for the perpetrators of violence, the paper's willingness to accommodate opinion pieces that advocate counter-productive tactics like increased armed occupations of poor and minority neighborhoods comes as no surprise. Nevertheless, more thoughtful perspective pieces do run in the paper from time to time. One such piece, written by Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis ("Invest in schools, teachers to reduce violence"), ran in the paper on March 7.

Lewis's piece, a sustained and effective argument that advocates spending on social service interventions that reduce the traumatic effects of ongoing violence in neighborhoods, and in the process, addressing the causes of subsequent traumas, merits reprinting in its entirety here. But the link above will take interested readers to the full piece. In the meantime, here's an extended quote:

"While we are not typically thought of as first responders to violence, teachers and school staff are often the first responders to the trauma that violence brings, especially when it happens to the very students entrusted to our care," Lewis wrote.

"At Henderson Elementary School in West Englewood, teachers helped students write notes to Kanari [Gentry-Bowers], their classmate, before she died in the hospital. Since November, seven Henderson students or former students have been killed or injured by gun violence.

"Every shooting of a child brings confusion, sorrow and fear for their classmates. Left untreated, these emotions cast a dark cloud, affecting young people's ability to learn and focus — and, in the worst scenarios, leading them down the path to violence.

"That's why CTU members held out for crucial violence-prevention provisions in our most recent contract. Our new contract expands counseling and supports staffing community schools with clinicians, restorative justice practitioners and wraparound services to help break the cycle of violence.

"At the time, Mayor Emanuel claimed that there was no money to pay for these demands. And even after signing the contract, the mayor has continued to starve our schools, with help from [Illinois governor] Rauner. Carson Elementary School, down the street from Henderson, will lose more than $200,000 in the millions of cuts just announced.

"We live in one of the richest cities, in one of the richest states, in the richest nation in the world. Elected officials who line up to mourn the latest shooting while claiming that 'there is no money' to pay for prevention, or that the wealthy already 'pay too much,' are really saying that they care too little.

"Enough with the talk.

"CTU members were willing to strike to ensure that all Chicago's children get the resources that they deserve. We've forced the mayor to put our tax dollars toward young people, instead of into developer slush funds.

"But if Takuya [Holmes], Kanari and Lavontay [White Jr.] are to be more than just names on an endless list, then we will need to do much more.

"We must eradicate the conditions that create violence. That means policy change and resources: fully funded schools and thousands of new jobs that pay a fair wage.

"The members of the Chicago Teachers Union show up for our students when the cameras are off. We need our public officials to do the same."

Can I add Karen Lewis and the Chicago Teachers Union as two more of the really great things about Chicago?