Ya know, when I sit here and write about the current outrage of the day concerning the latest outrage du jour of the idiots Captain Jack Sparrow and the motley crew of his personal Black Pearl, if it occasionally appears that I may have popped one Xanax too many, there’s a good reason for that.
That’s because this is nothing all that new to me. Nor is it particularly new to Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC, nor is it new to a great many older Americans who had the somewhat dubious privilege of being born and raised in, or lived for an extended period in certain American cities. And although the cities involved may be different, the name for it is the same.
It’s called “machine politics.” In days long gone by, in cities like Chicago, New York, and Boston, the political climate, as well as the natural political leanings of the constituents, made it possible for one particular political party in the city to stop participating in the process of government, and instead to become the government. And once they came into power, they set up an entire internal organization in government to maintain and expand that power.
In Chicago, we just called it “The Machine.” And in my younger political junkie days, the owner and sole proprietor of that machine was one King Richard J Daley. The Democratic party was the dictatorial ruler of not only Chicago, but all of Cook County as well. And as not only the Mayor of Chicago, but also the Chairman of the Cook County Democratic party, “Boss” Daley ruled over all he surveyed. Sound vaguely familiar?
There are several striking similarities between the machine that a political savant like Daley ran, and the current administration that even a political ignoramus like Trump currently runs. One is that, as in any basically incestuous organization, there is a pecking order. In Chicago, you didn’t just decide to run as a Democrat for alderman, county clerk, commissioner, or any other public office. You got in on the ground floor, you knocked on doors, you paid your dues, and you had a political “sponsor.” Exclusion was easy. In Chicago, the dead have been known to sign nominating petitions for good machine candidates, but the board of elections is pretty picky about everybody else’s signatures. Sound familiar to Trump’s anointment of far right Trombies while trashing non loyalist incumbents? Or how about just scrapping primaries altogether in order to quell opposition?
You think that Tubby the Ewok’s Department of Justice is seriously fucked up? Well, not to a Chicagoan. We call that “old home week.” Judges in Chicago and Cook County were not appointed because of their legal expertise. They were appointed because of their campaign contributions to, and legal work for Chicago ward bosses. Those lawyers curried favor with the ward bosses, and when openings occurred, the bosses pushed their favorites for elevation to the bench. Justice in Chicago might be blind, but she sure knew what the weight of a shekel felt like on one of the trays of that scale.
Think ICE, DHS, and CBP are out of control in the Trump administration? Puh-lease, in Chicago we called those “the boys in blue.” The Chicago police department was the law enforcement arm of the Democratic party, not the city of Chicago. If you were black or brown in Chicago, that traffic stop meant a day wasted in court and a fine. But even the police had their limits. As iconic Chicago political reporter Mike Royko put it in his history of Daley titled “Boss,” “if you were white, well off and drove a nice car, the traffic cop had to be careful how he treated you, because he had no way to know if you were a friend of an alderman, in which case you could beat him over the head with his own billy club without a whimper.” But as with Trump with ICE, Daley found out that owning the law can be a double edged sword, when a flagrant police corruption scandal almost brought down his administration.
Think Trump’s administration are a bunch of petty crooks abusing their positions of authority? Oh brudder, are you a babe in the woods. Chicago city services ran on “the fix.” Your garbage pickup might be fine, but if there wasn’t a Daley sign in your front yard at election time, your old garbage can might not get replaced so quickly when it got dented and had holes. If you bought tickets to the ward bosses annual golf outing and fish fry, you could hand your check and property tax bill to your precinct captain, who would drop it off when he went downtown. If not? Take the bus, or pay the parking and sit at the assessors office half of the day in line.
Here’s my personal favorite. You think that Trump and the Russians in 2016 was a blockbuster? Shee-it! That was a mom and pop bodega operation. This is no bullshit. In Chicago, back in the day, we were blessed to have “Short Pencil Louie,” the hall of fame vote thief. And we can prove it isn’t a myth. In one of Daley’s very few close mayoral primary elections (Daley normally ran unopposed) a Chicago Tribune reporter managed to sneak into the counting room at one of the headquarters, where he managed to snap several surreptitious photos of Short Pencil Louie, bent over a table, furiously erasing X’s in the Adamowski boxes, and marking them in the Daley boxes instead. It was front page news the next day on every newsstand. And everybody in the city yawned, and flipped to the sports pages to find out how the Cubs were doing in spring training. As Sean Connery said in The Untouchables, “That’s the Chicago way.”
I hope you found my little trip down memory lane not only at least a bit entertaining, but a bit informational as well. One of the oldest sayings in the world is, “Nothing shocks me, I’ve seen it all before.” But when it comes to political shenanigans, if you’re a political junkie, and you had the privilege of growing up in one of those cities, at one of those times, then the old saying rather has the ring of truth to it.
To know the future, look to the past. before the insanity of the 2020 election, relive the insanity of the 2016 GOP primary campaign, and the general election, to see how we got to where we are. Copies of President Evil, and the sequel, President Evil II, A Clodwork Orange are available as e-books on Amazon, at the links above. Catch up before the upcoming release of the third book in the trilogy, President Evil III: All The Presidents Fen