In the first debate, Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump lost a lot; beyond just the event itself.
He lost points in the polls, and the hearts and minds of undecided American voters. He also lost respect from women everywhere as the Alicia Machado talking point towards the end of the debate sent him into an inexplicably self-destructive downward spiral during the week that followed.
He also lost what little support he still had in the city of Chicago.
In Chicago, the traditional Democratic stronghold of all strongholds, in a state rivaling New York, California and Maryland to be the bluest on the electoral college map, Trump wasn’t going to win the nation’s third largest metropolitan area and fifth most populous state anyway. His image in the second city has been irreparably toxic ever since he allowed his name to be cartoonishly over-sized on the tower here that bears his name.
Trump’s popularity in Chicago was at rock bottom before the debate, and last Monday night, the bottom dropped out as the GOP nominee attempted to paint a picture of Chicago as a Mad Max style hellspace. At worst, Trump used the “Chicago” repeatedly as a code word for his racist, bigoted views.
At best, Trump made grossly inaccurate generalizations about the Windy City and clumsily tried to externalize that fiction as an alternate reality applying to other American cities. Simply put, it was a cheap scare tactic to motivate the racist demographics within the American electorate to get to the polls.
It was essentially a Trumpian version of the infamous “Willie Horton ad” in 1988, that the George H.W. Bush campaign used to attack Michael Dukakis.
Just like almost every attempt that Trump makes to be a genuine, establishment Republican, it was an awkward whiff. Here’s what Trump actually said about Chicago the first time he referenced it on debate night:
“In Chicago, they’ve had thousands of shootings, thousands since Jan. 1. Thousands of shootings. And I’m saying, where is this? Is this a war-torn country?”
He then repeated, committing the signature Trumpian double down:
“In a place like Chicago, where thousands of people have been killed, thousands over the last number of years, in fact, almost 4,000 have been killed since Barack Obama became president, over — almost 4,000 people in Chicago have been killed. We have to bring back law and order.”
Before essentially giving away the only aspect of violent crime in Chicago that actually does bother him:
“It’s terrible. I have property there. It’s terrible what’s going on in Chicago.”
As a lifelong Chicagoan, what we heard from those absurd statements is pretty much what Alec Baldwin said in his Trump depiction when Saturday Night Live lampooned the debate:
“The thing about the blacks, is that they’re killing each other. All of the blacks live on one street in Chicago; all on one street! I looked it up this morning, it’s called Hell Street, and they’re on Hell Street and they’re all just killing each other just like I am killing this debate.”
As you would expect, my fellow Chicagoans and I had a strong, passionate reaction to Trump’s attempt to depict our fair city as a dark, dystopic hellscape, and that was expressed on social media:
Astead Wesley on Twitter
M.S. Bellows, Jr. on Twitter
Paul M. Banks on Twitter
Ta-Nehisi Coates on Twitter
Everybody here knows that Chicago has some serious issues, but Trump, just as he showed all night long, didn’t do his homework. Basically, Trump’s knowledge of Chicago was at a fourth grade level, if that specific fourth grade’s city of Chicago curriculum consisted of nothing but screenings of the Spike Lee film “Chiraq” (a work of fiction) and CNN’s “Chicagoland” (a de facto Rahm Emanuel infomercial directed by people highly connected to the Mayor’s brother.
This narrative is the product of cheap media sensationalism and lazy reporting.
For a more adult-in-the-room view of the Midwestern metropolis, we first turn to Mary Schmich, an op-ed columnist who wrote in the Chicago Tribune:
“Those of us who live in Chicago — the city, not the dystopian myth — don’t need to be schooled by Trump in what’s wrong. We know. A lot of us work on trying to figure out how to fix it, to make it a better place for everyone.”
Next we turn to Paul Sajovec, Chief of Staff for the 32nd Ward Alderman. He confirmed my belief that most of the city is secure, and that almost all of the violence occurs only in few specific areas.
“They are concentrated in certain neighborhoods,” Sajovec said.
“This is why the city has used these tactical teams to produce a significant street presence in areas where violence flares up. Most of the city is and has been pretty safe. However, you need to keep in mind that crime statistics overall are often flawed and can be easily manipulated.”
“In total murders Chicago is on top, but people generally focus on the murder rate. In the same year Chicago blew past the 500 mark, Flint, MI led the US in murders per capita followed by Detroit. Flint’s number that year equated to one in every 1,613 residents being murdered.”
“I think that Mayors get too much credit when things are trending positively and too much blame when they are not.”
Overall, crime in America is actually down, but you wouldn’t know it given the “if it bleeds it leads mentality” of the national mainstream media.
Beyond just crime statistics and the words of local experts, my own personal experience also contrasts the Trumpian dystopic fiction. The Roseland neighborhood and the infamous “Wild 100s” that lie within it are the specific portion of the city that always serve as the primary backdrop for the “Chicago is all gangbangers killing each other narrative.”
If you want to know this area’s reputation take a look at the Urban Dictionary.com definition of Wild 100s. For a more detailed and substantive depiction, I suggest you watch this ABC 7 Chicago I-Team Report.
I actually spent my entire childhood just about a 20-25 minute drive from the Wild 100s, and that world could have been on another planet from where I grew up. Until the summer of 2013, I had never even heard the term “Wild 100s,” and it was a place proverbially in my backyard.
Trump is only picking up on a fairly recent trend- that of painting all of Chicago with a very broad brush. It’s inaccurate and over-exaggerated.
I’ve learned and experienced that through the many years that I’ve spent covering this issue within the context of Chicago basketball and football. Lately, I’ve seen and heard prominent local sports figures such as Jahlil Okafor, Tyler Ulis, Dwyane Wade and Lovie Smith encourage other athletes to speak their voice on social issues.
We all need to work together and push back against the unfair negative stereotypes of Chicago articulated on television.
Shed some light on the positive- that’s the most important thing, because love and hope trumps hate and fear; always.
Photo by Tony Webster
Paul M. Banks is a regular contributor to RedEye, the Chicago Tribune's youth-oriented daily newspaper. He appears regularly on WGN's CLTV (usually wearing a sport coat with skinny jeans) and KOZN 1620 The Zone. Banks previously contributed to the NBC Chicago and Washington Times websites. He currently owns and manages The Sports Bank.net, partnered with FOX Sports Engage Network and News Now. Growing up with three older sisters and no brothers, he inevitably ended up a member of #TeamOverDressed