President-elect Donald Trump's tweets often trigger what is now commonly referred to as Trump Derangement Syndrome, or TDS. You've seen the symptoms: the wailing and shrieking of tortured liberals; their references to Hitler and the end of days or whatever dark prophecies can be tweeted with two left thumbs. But there was an intriguing Trump tweet aimed at Chicago the other day — the dysfunctional Democratic machine town that gave political birth to President Barack Obama and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. And oddly, this Trump tweet didn't set off a wave of TDS or charges of fake news or hair pulling and screaming.
"Chicago murder rate is record setting — 4,331 shooting victims with 762 murders in 2016," Trump wrote on Twitter on Monday after a "60 Minutes" piece on the city's homicide epidemic. "If Mayor can't do it he must ask for Federal help!"
Trump is wrong on a couple of counts. Chicago's tally of 762 homicides isn't a record. Higher numbers were routine in the 1990s. But with more than 4,000 people hit by bullets last year, there is an argument that the city that used to work is more violent than ever. Trump's talk of federalizing street crime and increasing the size of the leviathan doesn't sound remotely conservative, or Republican. It's something a big-city, big-government Democrat would say. Historically, many Chicago bosses would rather the FBI worry about gun cases than public corruption. Still, there were few, if any, shrieking lamentations or TDS when Trump let fly his tweet about Chicago homicides. Why?
Because more people were slain in Chicago last year than in New York and Los Angeles combined. And according to reporting in the Chicago Tribune, police street stops have dropped by an astounding 82 percent over the year before. With more than 4,000 shot, there easily could have been 1,000 dead, if not for advancements in medical science. So, as people are cut down every day, as protesters hold crosses on Michigan Avenue to commemorate the dead, as others build shrines and weep, and as journalists like me preach to the choir while the thugs keep pulling their triggers, here's what I see:
Chicago is bleeding. And Chicago's Democratic president and the Democratic mayor are impotent to stop it, even in the Democratic city, in this dark blue and fiscally ruined Democratic state. Chicago cops have withdrawn, the astounding 82 percent drop in street stops tells you. And the city's public schools don't work and the jobs for the working class are gone. But the blood flows on the streets, and the taxes rise as millennials and people in their prime working years become refugees, seeking safety and economic opportunity in other states.
Our politicians give good speeches, though. And Obama, the best speaker of all, is scheduled to give a farewell speech in Chicago on Jan. 10. It's not really a final farewell. He won't ever stop speaking. It is what he does best: giving long, lyrical speeches about himself and his hopes and his dreams. The man is a great talker. Talking is the president's one singular talent. Yet for all his talk, he has no answers for Chicago, or for its failing institutions or for the blood running in the streets. He hasn't had any answers for Chicago for years.
Lately, all Chicago seems to have been is a prop for Obama. Now, though, Chicago is the place for a grand golf course near the proposed site of the temple of his presidency on the South Side. Emanuel, his former chief of staff, knows what should be done. The mayor has been trying to push for tougher sentences for felons arrested with guns. There has been much fancy talk from others about treating Chicago's homicides as a public health problem. But you can't put salve on a mother's heart as she buries her child. And Emanuel is right about this: Putting repeat gun offenders into prison and keeping them there so they can't kill innocents is the smart move. Yet he can't push as strongly as he should, because he's done tremendous political damage to himself.
It was Emanuel's City Hall that sat on that horrific Laquan McDonald police video showing the black teenager shot 16 times by a white cop until dead. That video was held until after his re-election. Voters, particularly black voters, were angry, and now Emanuel is seeking another term and hoping Chicago will forget. The mayor insists that he had nothing to do with the video being held until after his election. But somebody at City Hall did. And he runs City Hall. And now he can't very well publicly pressure black lawmakers to take the lead on stronger gun sentencing laws. So he's sent police Superintendent Eddie Johnson out to beg them to stand up to the gangs in their neighborhoods. But Eddie isn't the mayor.
"Is there a sickness in the city of Chicago?" KABC-AM radio host Doug McIntyre in Los Angeles asked me about the Trump tweet and the homicides in Chicago and the politics. Of course there is a sickness, an old infection that has festered over decades and decades of corrupt political machine rule. It has festered through Outfit (outsiders call it Mafia) influence at City Hall and top echelons of the Police Department. It has festered through a public education system where unions, vendors and political clout take precedence over students. And it has festered through the long-accepted use of street gangs as election muscle.
So what do Americans see in the tolling of Chicago's dead, and the inability of public officials to stop the killings? If they look close, they'll see it for what it is: the result of our politics over time.
John Kass has covered a variety of topics since arriving at the Chicago Tribune in 1983. Kass has received several awards for commentary and journalism, from organizations including the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi, , the Scripps Howard Foundation, the Press Club of Atlantic City, the Chicago Headline Club's Lisagor Award for best daily newspaper columnist. In 1992, Kass won the Chicago Tribune's Beck Award for writing. to readmore of his reports, Click Here Now.