If Donald Trump wants to highlight his desire for national unity and expand the ranks of Republican voters, he might think about visiting Chicago.
Chicago is ground zero of the “American carnage” the president described in his inaugural address. Over the weekend, 74 people were shot in the Windy City, 11 of them fatally. That brings the death toll so far in 2018 to 318 people, the vast majority of whom are black.
So brazen is the lawlessness in some parts of the city that gang members casually fire into crowds. “If they shoot you, they don’t even run,” one bystander told the Chicago Tribune. “They just walk away, they ain’t trying to run.”
People are reaching a breaking point. Gianno Caldwell attended an anti-violence protest recently, and what citizens told him seems to confirm what recent poll numbers and comments by influential leaders reflect: Trump has a real opportunity to reach out to black Americans. In doing so, he can not only attract more voters, but help unite the country.
Trump has done well to counteract the divisive nature of identity politics by highlighting our common humanity and common citizenship in his rhetoric. In nearly every speech, he highlights that we are all made by the same God and are all equal citizens.
“We are Americans and our hearts bleed red, white, and blue,” the president said at a rally last week in Florida. “We are one people. We are one family. And we are one glorious nation under God.”
It’s a popular theme for Trump. In July 2017, he said “though we have many stories, we all share one home and one glorious destiny, a destiny that’s getting better and better. Every single day, and whether we are black or brown or white, and you’ve heard me say this before, we all bleed the same red blood. We all salute the same great American flag, and we are all made by the same Almighty God.”
Both of these comments echo Trump’s inaugural address, in which he said “It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American flag.”
But the problem of violence in Chicago provides an opportunity to do more than just promote unity in speech. Even some Democrats are asking for help.
To start, Trump should meet with regular citizens in Chicago to get a better sense of the problem, highlight the crisis, and hear proposed solutions that are agreeable to the people living with the violence. As Henry Olsen highlighted in a recent warning to Republicans, to win over voters, one must “understand what makes them tick. After all, if you’re not into them, don’t be surprised to discover that they’re just not that into you, either.”
The point is not to impose Trump’s solution on Chicago but rather to help the people of Chicago institute their own solutions. In our political system, consent is more important than who may be right or wrong. The president would do well to emphasize that fact.
While Trump is an excellent showman, he would be better served by a town-hall event rather than a big rally. The point of such a meeting would be to begin a serious conversation about what is best to do in Chicago, not to mobilize them. The rallies can come later. Trump is just as capable in this type of setting as he is at a rally, if history is any guide.
Further, although Chicago might not be (as some would have it) a “Trump-free zone,” it isn’t exactly friendly territory, either. The president wouldn’t have to announce the meeting in advance. His staff could set a time and location discreetly. This is not to say the event should not be recorded or broadcast. Wouldn’t it be something to watch this supposedly racist, egomaniacal, “blowhard” president sit and listen to black voters in Chicago asking questions?
Then there is the question of what to do.
Trump is already promoting one idea that might help: prison and sentencing reform. A bill currently making its way through Congress is somewhat controversial, but the president recently indicated he would sign it. Would such reforms help or hurt the cause of tamping down criminal violence in Chicago? What do residents there think?
Or perhaps the problem might be more tangible or immediate to the residents. Do they want more police? Fewer? Trump could institute a localized policy to increase or decrease DEA, ATF, and ICE activity. He could issue guidance to federal prosecutors in the Northern District of Illinois to use more or less discretion.
Or perhaps there is a need for more money. Trump is willing to help farmers, perhaps we should consider aid to certain communities. Congress holds the power of the purse, but the executive may have some leeway in where certain funds go in case of emergency. Certainly, the president should work with Congress to solve the problem. He could work the issue through legislative affairs or host a second, similar town hall with congressmen, senators, and the speaker of the House.
Trump could do a great deal without needing to find a perfect solution, so long as Chicagoans are on board and the rest of us find it agreeable (though what citizens agree to politically is usually the best, if not the most effective course). We could consider it a beta-test or a trial run for other communities.
Many conservatives and libertarians will recoil at the idea of the federal government insinuating itself in a quintessentially local problem. But specific circumstances call for specific answers. And limited government need not be weak and ineffective government.
Anyone rightly concerned about the Constitution in all of this should consider the republican guarantee clause. Yes, this clause has been little used and for good reason. But it exists for a reason. Are protecting life and property not part of republican government? Does this not also apply to the citizens of Chicago? And think of the wonderful, public debate we might have about what “republican government” actually means.
Or look to Article I, Section 8. Imagine using the mostly abused general welfare clause or the necessary and proper clause to establish justice or to provide for the domestic tranquility of American citizens who live in Chicago. If doing so grows the crowd of people who understand and agree with republican government, thus allowing for even more fixes, so much the better.
Hasn’t the Constitution been abused enough? There is significant risk of unconstitutional action in this case, but such are our circumstances and such is the case with government generally. Conservatives who see only the looming specter of “big government” in the discussion here should try to have an open mind about what might be the prudential course. Trump should talk with citizens in Chicago, consider his options given the circumstances, and help chart a path toward making America great again for residents in Chicago who simply want to walk down the street or gather for a celebration without fear of being shot.
Others might think the problems in Chicago are too deeply rooted in the culture of the inner city. I will concede that politics may be downstream of culture, but add that paddling back upstream might be the only way to fix things. As the first generation of American statesmen understood, “Religion, morality, and knowledge” are “necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind,” so government must foster these things. Trump engaging the Chicago’s black communities might foster an affinity for political agreement, unity, and government by consent. These things are a good start toward a restoring culture of republican government.
It is said of Trump that “he has an uncanny sense of knowing that something is a good deal,” so let’s hope right now is one of those times. He could do more to unite the country and restore the bonds of goodwill among black voters and their fellow citizens. While Trump has done a great deal to make America great again for many forgotten men and women, there are still many citizens in desperate need of help.
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