I took some joy in the defeat of Lori Lightfoot in the multiway Chicago mayoral election. She was symbolic of everything that has gone wrong with Chicago, from rising crime and failing schools, to corrupt one-party rule and thoroughly mismanaged finances. I had to look up who is going to be in the runoff—only one of whom looks like he would do a better job—but I’m still glad to see her gone.
In the seven years I lived in Chicago, I never fell in love with the city, but I did find the experience informative. Back then, the city was emerging from the “crack wars” of the early 1990s. Crime was bad, with homicides in excess of 900 in one year. Race relations were terrible, and the threat of violence was real and omnipresent.
For a while, Mayor Richard M. Daley was in charge. He was not ideological but was a pragmatist from the old school, much like his father. Rahm Emanuel governed similarly after 2011. Chicago went from hell, to better, to a veritable renaissance in the middle 2000s, but then descended into hell again after Lightfoot’s election in 2019.
Chicago’s decline had been underway before Lightfoot took power. Crime trends were starting to rise, and productive people, corporate headquarters, and professionals trickled away for years, in search of better weather and lower taxes in the south. But the biggest headwind was demographics.
While Chicago attracts tourists, has many corporate headquarters, a vibrant art scene, and world class universities and restaurants, Chicago also has a large, angry, under-policed, and under-incarcerated black underclass, who have rendered half of the city “no go” zones.
In recent years, Chicago’s Soros-funded prosecutor, Kim Foxx, fully embraced some of the more lunatic fads that have come down the pike, including minimal bail for violent offenders. To Lightfoot’s credit, she had frequent clashes with the pinko prosecutor over her more destructive policies, but Lightfoot never wholeheartedly took the side of “law and order.” It is impossible to do so without offending black voters, many of whom view weakness on crime as a sign of solidarity with the black community.
In 2019, Lightfoot ran as an honest and pragmatic alternative to the Democratic machine candidate Toni Preckwinkle, and the racial dimensions were not as pronounced in that contest, as each was a black woman. But Lightfoot had minimal political skill, became more corrupt as she acquired power, and ended up trying to be all things to all people on criminal justice issues. Struggling in her recent election, she made explicitly racial appeals to black voters.
Lightfoot’s problem was similar to the one Biden now faces: the Democratic Party is now fully in the hands of the far Left, and there are no longer factions within it that moderate the dumbest leftist fads.
Threats to Liberty From Crooks
Chicago and Lightfoot indirectly illustrate a real problem with the “think tank” crowd who form the heart of Conservatism, Inc. All of these Koch-funded outfits, the Catos and AEIs, are libertarian-leaning. They counsel that big government is the problem, which is obviously true some of the time, with examples ranging from Chicago’s once-stringent gun control regime to the voluminous and burdensome Code of Federal Regulations.
But this is not the whole story or even the major obstacle today in America’s cities. There are also serious deprivations of liberty imposed by crime and disorder. If you do not feel safe at night going to the store, shopping, or getting on the train, you are not really free. It does not matter that this threat does not come from the government, but, in those cases, from government’s absence.
Think-tank libertarianism also ignores that a government’s burdens can fall unevenly and selectively. Much of modern government has the quality that Sam Francis described as “anarcho-tyranny.” Extreme restrictions and chaotic anarchy exist side by side.
For those seeking to live “within” the system, a million rules and procedures keep them in line, whether it is vaccine mandates, parking tickets, gun control, various taxes, or endless paperwork. You wouldn’t want to lose your cushy corporate job, professional license, or ability to see your kids, would you?
At the same time, those who have already encountered the criminal justice system enjoy a certain kind of outlaw freedom. After all, once you’re a felon, the marginal cost of another arrest, a few hours or days in jail, or even years in prison is not that burdensome.
After “bail reform” and other stupidity, the immediate consequences of crime have become, well, inconsequential.
There is now going to be a runoff among the top two candidates from the earlier multicandidate race, Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas. Both are Democrats of course, but they have very different politics and constituencies. They are to Lori Lightfoot’s left (Johnson) and right (Vallas). This will be yet another black (Johnson) versus white (Vallas) election in Chicago. As depressing as it may be, this division of the electorate is as predictable as the tides. Each community’s perceived interests and concern (or lack of concern) for law and order is refracted through a tribal lens.
This is the other major blind spot of the think-tank libertarians. They assume all electorates are created equal, and that good policy will acquire undifferentiated voters’ assent once the think-tanks demonstrate how to “maximize social welfare” through rational public policy. They forget that voters have tribal allegiances and identities and are moved by symbolism and emotion. They also forget that the Democratic Party and its voters barely care about historical American liberties, and demographics are moving many parts of the country into one-party rule by the Democrats.
In other words, people may prefer policies that are objectively harmful to themselves because they are more harmful to those they see as enemies. People prefer to be governed, even badly, by someone like themselves.
Chicago shows the utter meltdown of a multicultural society. Even one-party rule cannot bring its disparate factions together. Lori Lightfoot, the would-be reformer who checked every diversity box, did not have the backbone, skill, and courage to redirect the energies of the city’s mutually hostile constituencies.
Perhaps no one can in today’s Chicago.