We're All Chicagoans Now
Much has been made about California leading the country: the Golden State is said to be America's future, and to some extent, that is happening. But in other respects, as a nation, we're becoming more like Chicago, and Chicago is our future unless we struggle against progressive policies.
Chicago is perhaps the most solidly Democrat city in America. It has not elected a Republican mayor since 1927. And what it has created in the past 95 years is a society that suffers from inequality, corruption, and violence on a scale beyond anything seen elsewhere in America. Chicago ought to be a case study in what not to do, but liberals like Obama and Biden seem to think it is a blueprint for success — and it is, if only for the political elite who rule over a helpless underclass.
That blueprint involves transforming citizens into clients of the State, a process that progressives have begun calling "democracy." Progressives intend to establish a socialist totalitarian society with a permanent underclass ruled by a small elite — the so-called vanguard of the proletariat that Lenin said must rule indefinitely until workers were prepared to govern themselves, a day that never has arrived in any communist state.
Chicago employs some 36,000 persons, most of them at or close to six-figure salaries. That would presumably be close to 36,000 (plus family members) votes for Democrats. In addition, more than 14% of Chicago's population live below the poverty line, though far more receive government benefits — again, an incentive for maintaining the status quo. Couple these with votes from traditionally liberal groups such as teachers, media, social workers, and the wealthy elite, and one can see how Chicago has remained under Democrat control for close to a century. Even if liberal policies are not working for Chicago, they are working, in a narrow sense, at least, for the elite and the underclass whom they rule.
No wonder progressives see Trump as a "threat to democracy": Trump was elected on the promise of "draining the swamp," by which he meant just the sort of political corruption that one associates with Chicago politics. He did not succeed, because a vast Deep State of liberal politicians, bureaucrats, media, lobbyists, and corporate partners, to say nothing of millions of welfare clients and so-called community organizers harvesting votes, fought desperately to hold onto power and did so, by every sort of legal and extralegal means.
What prevails in Chicago is the opposite of the American ideal of democracy and opportunity for the common man. That democratic ideology drove America for centuries, even before nationhood, to become the beacon of hope for the world. No one can seriously maintain that Chicago is a beacon of hope. I don't know anyone who has chosen to spend their golden years in Chicago.
Still, in three key respects, America is becoming more like Chicago, even as more people flee to states like Florida, which is strengthening liberty and freedom. First, the size and control of government at the federal and state level is swelling, and we are seeing government intrusion everywhere, from FBI collusion with social media to increased funding for IRS, EPA, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and thousands of other unelected bureaucracies that legislate and enforce without constitutional authority.
Second, we are seeing a social transformation based on woke principles carried out by media, education, government, and corporations. According to one source, education in Illinois is the "wokest" of any state. As Stanley Kurtz writes, the new Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards (approved by the Illinois State Board of Education) are filled with commands that utterly politicize the classroom and very likely trample the free-speech and religious-liberty rights of teachers. Those who fail to teach "action civics" on behalf of progressive causes are subject to censure and loss of employment. And, as Kurtz notes, the indoctrination practiced in Illinois schools is going national, especially with the support of Biden administration policies on education. "The entire 'action civics' program amounts to an open invitation to an overwhelmingly leftist teacher-corps to bring politics into the classroom, thereby recruiting students into a progressive political army."
Third, we see the wealth redistribution carried out with increased taxation on the middle class — including the silent taxation of inflation — and transfer of wealth via large benefits for those who refuse to work but who are loyal "clients" of the State. Chicago imposes a 10.25% sales tax on top of Illinois's 4.95% individual income tax rate and a 9.50% corporate income tax rate, and much of this revenue appears to be spent on maintaining a compliant population.
Exactly where does all that income go? According to welfareinfo.com, the poverty rate in Chicago is 43% higher than the state average. Nearly 460,000 Chicagoans live in poverty, out of a population of 2.64 million. But welfare spending is only part of the picture. According to Chicago's Office of Budget and Management, out of a total budget for 2023 of 16.66 billion, 6.8 billion is spent on "general financing" and 2.3 billion on "finance and administration," while another 2.11 billion is spent on "community services."
Administration is a major expense. As of January 2022, Mayor Lightfoot's salary was $497,000, "though this may increase in the future." City workers often make six-figure salaries, and, as noted above, there are approximately 36,000 of them.
This is the direction America is going, but there is one further factor: the extent to which the American electorate has been convinced that servitude is really freedom and that disenfranchisement is "democracy." In the Foreword to the second edition of Brave New World, Aldous Huxley writes that "a really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude." With the support of a compliant and utterly biased media, our socialist federal government has succeeded in budgeting $11 trillion in 2022, including $6 trillion in "emergency" COVID and "inflation reduction" spending, and much of that is being spent on "re-education" of the electorate.
The recent $1.7-trillion omnibus spending bill is an opaque document of more than 4,000 pages, but just one line item gives a sense of what progressives are up to: $400 million to be spent on "environmental education." For the slaves to "love their servitude," they must be re-educated, and re-educated at the taxpayers' expense. The bill also devotes $200 million to a "Gender Equity and Equality Action Fund," another example of re-education spending. The Biden administration has traveled farther into the Brave New World than any before it, and it is determined to complete the job if Biden or a Biden-like surrogate is elected in 2024. When they are finished, America will resemble Chicago with a bit of San Francisco and Portland thrown in.
Americans know that their country is heading in the wrong direction, and Chicago typifies much of what is wrong: government in the hands of a political elite, crime out of control, bloated taxes, intrusive government bureaucracies, and a permanent underclass. And now, just as Obama tried to do before him, Biden is nationalizing the Chicago Way.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture, most recently Heartland of the Imagination (2011).
Image via Public Domain Pictures.