The Memo: Trump turns to a skeptical Chicago

The Memo: Trump turns to a skeptical Chicago
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Trump tweeted early Friday morning that “crime and killings” had reached “epidemic proportions” in Chicago. “I am sending in Federal help,” he proclaimed.
The Justice Department later in the day provided specifics, with Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsBeto O'Rourke on impeachment: 'There is enough there to proceed' Rosenstein to appear for House interview next week Emmet Flood steps in as White House counsel following McGahn departure MORE announcing that 20 agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) would be sent indefinitely to the city.
The administration's statement heralding the move also noted that a “Chicago Gun Strike Force” had already been set up at Trump’s behest to try to staunch the violence.
“The Trump Administration will not let the bloodshed go on; we cannot accept these levels of violence,” Sessions said, noting that more than 700 Chicagoans had been killed last year.
Trump and Chicago have a complicated relationship.
A Trump campaign rally scheduled for March 2016 at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) had to be canceled after protestors clashed with the candidate’s supporters. 
A gleaming skyscraper bearing the president’s name looms downtown, but the process of getting it built was fraught.
The way the president has spoken of Chicago’s problems has sometimes grated residents. 

As far back as 2013, he tweeted that Chicago was afflicted by “a shooting disaster” and needed to adopt the controversial police policy known as stop-and-frisk. The following year, he tweeted that then-President Obama “should work on a cease-fire in Chicago as well as Gaza.”

At his first presidential debate with Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublicans bail on Coffman to invest in Miami seat Katy Perry praises Taylor Swift for diving into politics Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue MORE last year, Trump drew a parallel between Chicago and “a war-torn country.”

Some defend Trump’s comments as sincere expressions of outrage at the Windy City’s startlingly high levels of gun crime. But he received no thanks at the ballot box last November.

Clinton received almost 84 percent of the vote in Chicago itself, and 74 percent in Cook County, where the city sits.

Trump skeptics muse about whether the city’s twin status as a long-time Democratic stronghold and Obama’s hometown is the real reason the president so often draws attention to its troubles.

"I think most of it has to do with the fact that Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaRepublicans bail on Coffman to invest in Miami seat Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Live coverage: Heitkamp faces Cramer in high-stakes North Dakota debate MORE was from Chicago,” said John Frendreis, a professor of political science at Loyola University Chicago. “He seems to have a fixation with demonizing Obama or trying to undercut Obama’s reputation.”

Others, while not dissenting from that view, noted that conservatives have long held the city in low esteem, seeing it as an exemplar of Democratic misrule, and associating it with corrupt “machine” politics.

Larry Bennett, a professor emeritus at DePaul University and the author of “The Third City,” a book about Chicago politics, argued that the high national profile of the mayor, Rahm Emanuel, was yet another reason why the city made an inviting target for Trump. 

Emanuel served as Obama’s first White House chief of staff and, before that, as a senior adviser to then-President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonConservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign Sen. Walter Huddleston was a reminder that immigration used to be a bipartisan issue No, civility isn't optional MORE. His White House stints sandwiched a period as a U.S. congressman and as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

In addition, Bennett suggested, “many conservatives in the U.S. have the view that cities are not particularly well-run places, and many of the cities have Democratic Party leadership. I think, in that sense, what Trump is articulating is in part his own view of things, but also reflective of this broader mindset.”

The difference between liberal and conservative views of Chicago’s ills was on display at the White House media briefing on Friday. 

When Trump’s deputy principal press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked whether “a gun control problem” was part of what ailed the city, she disagreed.

It “is pretty clear that it’s a crime problem,” she said. “I think crime is probably driven more by morality than anything else. So I think that this is a law enforcement issue, and our focus is trying to add additional support.”

Law enforcement is clearly a delicate issue in the city — and one that found a painful focal point in the October 2014 police killing of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old African-American.

But Democrats argue that the Trump’s 20 ATF agents are a band-aid, and that their deployment shows a misreading of Chicago’s challenges.

“The most effective federal response … isn’t simply to send a dozen or so people,” said Tom Bowen, a Democratic strategist in the city and a former political director for Emanuel. “It is to have a comprehensive policy for getting illegal guns out of the hands of criminals — which is something that Jeff Sessions and Republicans in Congress and Donald Trump have no intention of doing, because they are in the pockets of the NRA.”

Republicans insist that is an unfair interpretation. They argue that Trump is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t, when it comes to words and actions about Chicago’s troubles.

Chris Robling, a GOP strategist in Chicago and a long-time analyst on the city’s WGN TV station, said that he met Trump in the city soon after he launched his long-shot presidential bid. While Robling was not persuaded to support the candidate, he was impressed by Trump’s knowledge of the situation in the city.

When it came to the additional ATF agents, Robling, added, “It is not necessarily the magic key to turn off the violence but it is a promise made and a promise kept. I give Trump credit for consistency…He promised to do something about the problem and now he is beginning to find his way to do something.”

But in such an overwhelmingly Democratic city, those views will always seem a minority opinion. 

UIC professor and former Chicago alderman Dick Simpson noted that the city is “a center of resistance, opposition and defeat for Trump in the political arena.”

A women’s march held in the city the day after Trump’s inauguration drew around 250,000 people, according to organizers – around five time as many as had been expected to show up.

This opposition, Simpson argued, is the prism through which Trump’s comments about the city are seen by many of its residents.

“He doesn’t like us,” Simpson said. “And it is pretty well reciprocated.”


The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.