Andrew J. Diamond, Chicago on the Make: Power and Inequality in a Modern City.
It is with apt timing that Andrew J. Diamond's Chicago on the Make arrives, given how Chicago has lingered in recent popular discussion as the broken mirror from which New York and L. A. draw glamorous contrast, or as a focal point through which our current president sees himself as an impassioned savior fighting back a fictitious national crime wave. (Violent crime has plummeted at the national level since the 1990s, despite a few recent upticks of violent crime in Chicago and other cities.) From Spike Lee's contentious Chi-Raq (2015) or the fetishized postindustrial white victimhood of Shameless (2011-), to the oft-hyperbolized but still problematic murder rate that editorial offices love to sporadically pump when all other wells run dry (New York had about three times as many annual murders during the 1990s), Chicago seldom invites anything more substantial than bluster or shock-value extraction from popular pundits and misconstrued attentions from audiences without Chicago ties. (Lena Waithe's The Chi [2018-] showed promise, however, and I am eagerly waiting for more.) Yes, Chicago is broken, and in a singular way. But when it comes to this city, which once competed with and even edged out New York for the national spotlight as the nation crossed into the threshold of the 20th century, too many have learned to fetishize the "what" while frequently ignoring or egregiously simplifying the very important questions of the "why" and "how."
Diamond's book, for anyone looking to actually understand the "how" and "why" of what has been called the most American of cities, does both of these concepts laudable justice. Arguing at its core that the history of modern Chicago singularly impacted--and perhaps even gave rise to--the implementation of neoliberal policies in the US, especially in its cities, Chicago on the Make combines a "play the hits" version of Chicago's history with refreshingly new analysis and insight crucial to scholars interested in urban studies and in the real national significance of Chicago.
While Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor's American Pharaoh remains the standard for information on Mayor Richard J. Daley (19551976); Upton Sinclair's The Jungle stays the luridly entrancing read about Chicago's industrial past; and Natalie Y. Moore's The South Side joins Arnold R. Hirsch's Making the Second Ghetto among the key sources for exploring Chicago's racial divides (Eve Ewing's Ghosts in the Schoolyard  is another recent addition to that canon), the benefit of Chicago on the Make is that it combines concise versions of these and other key aspects of Chicago's history into a greater historical narrative that traces them, in mosaic fashion, to the fragmented Chicago of today. As Diamond writes in the sprawling thesis:
Where this new history of Chicago diverges from most political histories of the American city in the twentieth century is in its effort to view the dynamics of inequality and demobilization as manifestations of a process of neoliberalization, which in the antidemocratic, political-machine context of Chicago advanced somewhat more rapidly and more aggressively than it did elsewhere. The term neoliberalization is invoked not merely to connote the implementation of a package of economic-minded policies that had inadvertent social and political consequences-such policies were in fact implemented and they did have important social and political consequences, especially in the early 1990s under Richard M. Daley. A more important dimension of the story of neoliberalizing being told here involves revealing how market values and economizing logics penetrated into the city's political institutions and beyond them into its broader political culture.
The claim is as massive as its length implies, but simpler than the jargon makes it seem. The term "neoliberalization" tends to be capacious in its usage, but essentially Diamond's story tells as follows: 1) that the Chicago political machine's abuse of public power for patronage gain ensured political "quiescence" and "demobilization" at the local grassroots level, and so served as a method of increasingly turning city services and funds over to the whims of private and supposedly "economically minded" interests, a method that culminated in the virtual partnership between Richard J. Daley's uber-mayoralty and downtown business in the mid1950s; and 2) that this political foreground enabled his son Richard M. Daley to adapt the utterly deregulatory, free-market type of neoliberal practices, fully inaugurated by Ronald Reagan in the 80s, during his mayoralty from 1989-2011. To put it in Diamond's words: "While scholars like David Harvey have viewed the context of the mid-1970s as pivotal to the neoliberal turn, this history of Chicago views neoliberalization as a process that unraveled gradually and unevenly over much of the twentieth century." As a primogenitor, then, Chicago is an important place to look while seeking to better understand the emergence of American neoliberalism, as well as the consequences that neoliberalized municipal, state, and federal governments have since created and faced.
Whether or not Diamond manages to entirely defend that claim is subject to debate, especially when it comes to the primacy of Chicago's placement in his historical arc of American neoliberalism. True, the design of Chicago's city plans by business leaders, the privatization of its parking meters and garages, and its conversion of public schools into charter campuses are hallmarks of municipal neoliberalization, but they are not unique to Chicago--a fact which Diamond asserts time and time again: "in this, Chicago was and still is a lot like many other American cities." What is most important in his analysis, rather than an examination of the effects of neoliberalization itself, as the long thesis seems to suggest, is his focus on how Chicago's perfected machine politics brought neoliberalization to its most dramatic ends. After all, economizing logic can work to a city's social benefit if it indeed takes into consideration the city and all of the people who comprise it as investors and beneficiaries--for instance, as Patrick Sharkey maps in his book Uneasy Peace (2018), the funding of community organizations proves a far more economical and socially beneficial means of reducing urban crime than arrests and imprisonment. But in Chicago, as Diamond demonstrates, unchecked machine politics disrupted the nature of that balance and then magnified the break, producing solutions entrenched in a skewed system of values that took machine and business interests as the equivalent of city interests-not "economic-minded" as in "economized," but "economic-minded" as in "for the sake of my own financial well-being." Civil servants, empowered by the singular and virtual perpetuity of Chicago's Democratic Party, became self-servants in a way that continues to mark itself as distinct via its outright flagrancy (e.g., in 2019 the sprawling trash fire that has been Ed Burke's indictment), though the current national regime is doing its best to close that gap. Because of this, the book feels like more of an indictment of cronyism and the political-machine system perfected in Chicago than a critique of neoliberalization in itself.
No one seems to come out unscathed from Diamond's historical overview, and finishing the book, regardless of political orientation or preference, leaves one with the feeling of having just unfurled a scroll coated in an uncomfortable film of grease. Though the jarringly grand workings of Democratic handouts and patronage projects under the first Daley seem to get the most extensive lip service in the book, lengthy sections are devoted to more recent political events that don't have the comfort of residing in a dismissible past, and include among them extended discussions of how the kowtowing of mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel to business interests has left the city in a financial malaise. Other than serving as a means to track "neoliberal" consequences from the time of Richard J. Daley straight to contemporary Chicago, Emanuel strikes another keynote in Diamond's book by serving as an anchor to discuss the uncomfortable business of Chicago politics and its relation to the rise of Barack Obama, a difficult task that the author handles with fairness and grace. Diamond discusses the benefits accrued almost entirely by business interests and white, upper-and middle-class residents while Richard M. Daley deployed Reaganite neoliberal policy to save the city from economic depression in the wake of deindustrialization: "In view of all the links between Daley's City Hall and Obama s White House, it would be hard to argue that the political sensibilities that suffused the Chicago success story of the 1990s and the first decade of the twenty-first century did not shape the Obama administration in significant ways." Michael Eric Dyson's work The Black Presidency hammers home the parallels. For a quick and nonencompassing survey, during the Obama presidency median Black household income dropped by 11.1 percent (double the rate of median white household income) while racial wealth disparities nearly doubled--with median white household wealth (around $110,000) settling at twenty-two times that of the median Black household (just under $5,000).
Obama grew within the Chicago political machine and it suffused much of his administration: from Emanuel to William Daley (Richard M. Daley's younger brother, who took over as White House Chief of Staff following Emanuel's departure and recently made a losing bid in the Chicago mayoral election), David Axelrod (advisor and campaign strategist to both Daley and Obama), Valerie Jarrett (Richard M. Daley's former chief of staff, and Obama advisor), and even Michelle Obama (a former assistant to Richard M. Daley and a Chicago planning official). This, as Diamond notes, does not discount the enormous strides, both political and symbolic, made by Barack and
Michelle Obama, but calls into question a narrative of that moment that can sometimes fall into a partisanship-inclined form of uncritical hagiography, one that bears dangerous political implications for Chicago politics and the politics of the nation. Diamond grants the fact that for Obama to have opposed the Chicago Democratic Party would have been "political suicide," and repeats the common refrain of how Obama's personal beliefs stood opposed to many machine efforts. These necessary reminders of how politics are a dance of compromise also underline the fact that it is and has been a dance in which Obama and other African American political figures hold an incredibly fraught position because of their race, one which often leaves them vulnerable to hard concessions.
Diamond also draws a distinction between Obama and other Black political machine figures in Chicago who Diamond holds more closely complicit in the city's broken neoliberalized history. Obama's tale, as Diamond writes it, is instead more closely related to the story of Harold Washington, who, in Diamond's book (as with many Chicago histories), is the one person who rises from the muck unsullied due to his hard, antimachine campaign:
Black mayors had headed major American cities since 1973, when Tom Bradley was elected in Los Angeles, Coleman Young in Detroit, and Maynard Jackson in Atlanta, but this was Chicago-the city with the second largest black population in the United States, where the saga of black struggle was particularly well known. Moreover, it was an event of great significance for the black diaspora--of lesser magnitude, of course, but not unlike the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008. Indeed, Washington's election was made possible by a breathtaking show of black solidarity and, as such, was a source of inspiration for blacks all over the world.
Hope, a parallel to that inspiration, is what accompanied and flowed from a political figure who once doxed alderman Eugene Sawyer for caving to machine interests across the color line following Washington's death, as captured in Obama's book Dreams from My Father. Yet, the recent fiasco of choosing a location and setting a community benefits agreement for the Obama Presidential Center is one example of how the machine has since taken its pound of flesh from Obama's legacy.
In a way that has become sadly daring as of late, Diamond collapses illusorily neat equations of partisanship and sociopolitical values by resurfacing an oft-elided narrative that rubs against the grain of neat partisan indexing. "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"--a cash-strapped public education system, police corruption, segregation, and crony contracts engineered by any party, as Diamond shows, would still reek of shit. It's a jarring and necessary reminder for everyone: good politics is not just party politics. And, to invoke The Jungle, it is rough, but imperative, to realize how the sausage of policy and political legacies gets made.
While neoliberalization is the buzzy framework through which Diamond outlines this point, his focus on the function of Chicago's machine politics forms the nexus of this historical case study into why and how "economic-mindedness" can fail municipal governments--especially those singularly corrupted by an unchecked political juggernaut--and, from there, carry national implications, as such political machinery spreads from city to city and even bubbles up to the federal level. Remember, a la Diamond, Chicago "was and still is a lot like many other American cities," and it in fact may be the most American of cities. Du Bois captured it in his darkly satirical take on the political machines of 1920s Chicago in his novel Dark Princess, and it is as true now as it was then: "There was war in Chicago--silent, bitter war. It was part of the war throughout the whole nation ..."
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2019|
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