Not long ago the historian Tony Judt proclaimed that New York had passed as a global city. Possibly because the idea of Reagan/Clinton-era globalism had passed. Culture follows capital, and as Harvard’s Niall Ferguson has said, today it is all about China and America. So better that the American leader today hails not from what Judt considered to be a European city, a “world city” — New York; that is, old New York — but Chicago. New York is a “world city,” Judt wrote, but it is “not the great American city — that will always be Chicago.” L.A. is global, or “world,” as well, which makes Chicago the premier American city.
Only Bono or Hillary Clinton would think that China was ever about “the world.”
China is, and has been, for millennia now, about China. But there is a difference
this time as Chinese President Hu Jintao visits Washington. When Hillary would
meet with Chinese leaders in the past as secretary of State or as visiting first
lady to China, there was no question in her mind or Bill’s that they represented
the world. Every post-war president before George W. Bush has felt that. It is
the nature of the inherited conquest; the world post-Yalta: America won the
Second World War. America won the world.
The difference this time is that now there are two, just as Ferguson says: America and China. It started awhile back; Ferguson has used the phrase “Chimerica” for several years now, and it became clear at the Copenhagen climate conference last winter that China would now claim territorial imperative. Germany and Israel have since begun to claim their independence from American post-war dominance. But I think for the first time now people feel it: America alone; America with China.
So Obama, oddly enough, for the first time since Yalta, represents us as we are and will only be: Not as “the world,” which we have never been, but as America and as Americans as we will always be. So it may be appropriate that he is from the great American city — “that will always be Chicago.”
Chicago is like that trickster coyote they found all snug and resting quietly in a convenience store a few years ago in the center of the city. No one knew how it got there. There should be a monument to it marking the time when Chicago would awaken; the time when it would call itself Second City no more. The TV show “Prison Break” tells the story of Chicago: the story of a city struggling to bust out and break free from a vast, tangled, paranoid spider web of malevolent prison guards, evil politicians, twisted doctors and psychiatrists, sadomasochistic Secret Service men and a blond, middle-aged dominatrix vice president so strange she will do anything, including removing her brother’s teeth, to seize and hold control.
It is getting to be Chicago’s time, and it has been getting to be like that for a long while. Obama opens the gate.
Visit Mr. Quigley's website at http://quigleyblog.blogspot.com.