Republican Donald Trump infuriates Hillary Clinton and the Democrats when he calls himself the law-and-order candidate.
He especially infuriates them when he zeros in on Chicago, political home of President Obama and birthplace of Clinton, where shootings have spiked in a wave of bloodshed.
Trump plays Richard Nixon to Clinton’s Hubert Humphrey, and with Chicago becoming the poster boy for violence nationally — and with televised anti-police riots in Charlotte, N.C., and elsewhere — he’ll continue to push the law-and-order theme.
“We have a situation where we have our inner cities — African-Americans, Hispanics — are living in hell because it’s so dangerous,” Trump said during his debate with Clinton. “You walk down the street, you get shot. In Chicago, they’ve had thousands of shootings, thousands since Jan. 1. Thousands of shootings. And I say, where is this? Is this is a war-torn country? What are we doing?”
Is Chicago war-torn? Not if you’re white and middle class and suburban.
But there have been thousands of shootings in the city, more than 3,000 this year alone, and more than 500 murders, more than New York and Los Angeles combined, most in poor black and Latino neighborhoods.
There are many reasons for this — the drug trade, the gang wars, hopelessness and despair — in cities like Chicago that have been run by Democrats for decades. So when Trump plays the law-and-order card, there is great anger from activists on the left and relative silence from Democratic officials, who are in panic.
Clinton would much rather the focus remain on a mean thing Trump said about a chubby beauty queen years ago.
But there was a murder in Chicago the other day. And now it has become a political story, because of where it happened and how.
A suburban man was killed in downtown Chicago after a wine tasting Saturday evening, on the sidewalk at the edge of Millennium Park, the city’s tourism jewel.
Thousands gathered during the weekend to take advantage of the pricey Gourmet Chicago foodie event. This wasn’t some fried-dough-on-a-stick deal. This was an elite food and wine festival, and city dwellers and suburbanites, some who support Trump, others who support Clinton, purchased pricey tickets to attend.
Peter Fabbri, the victim, had just come from a wine tasting, his family said, and was on his way home.
There was a street preacher saying something that Fabbri didn’t like, according to police, and they began to argue.
Then, police said, Paul Pagan, 32, his shaved head encircled by a tattooed ring of flames, showed up on his bicycle. He argued with Fabbri, and police said he pulled a gun and shot Fabbri twice.
So the fact that it happened at the tourist mecca of the great Democratic city was one thing. Details about the shooting suspect, which feed into a common understanding about lenient judges and impotent law, is another.
Pagan, police said, had been arrested 39 times, had four felony convictions and had pointed a gun at people twice during arguments. He was wanted on a warrant for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
And just like that you could feel the wind getting knocked out of the city.
When I’ve covered murders of innocent children in rough neighborhoods, talked to the families, stopped for a silent moment at makeshift shrines, there is always one thing of which I was sure.
The names would be forgotten. People would feel badly about the killings, but they forget the names, like Antonio Smith, 9, or Niazi “Peanut” Banks, 12. There have been so many. We grow numb.
They’ll forget Fabbri’s name, too. But they won’t forget where it happened: downtown.
They got on their phones. They sent texts to their kids. They talked to their friends about the part of town where blood isn’t supposed to be spilled. Not on Michigan Avenue.
And the suspect, a career criminal with a tattooed crown of flames, is a middle-class nightmare. Pagan’s 39 arrests, the multiple accusations of pointing a gun, all feed an understanding that Trump is taking advantage of — that Democrats are impotent in responding to violence.
It’s a powerful argument; it will resonate.
Trump’s get-tough rhetoric, his wild boast that he could bring peace to Chicago within a week, his demand for cops to stop-and-frisk — ignoring the fact that minorities have been stopped and frisked by cops in this country for hundreds of years — all these are identified by the political left, properly, as dog whistles.
They are broad political brushstrokes, rather like Clinton’s attempts at class- and gender-war themes, and her efforts to put her political arms around Black Lives Matter.
“But forget the politics,” street blues harmonica player James Craven, who was half a block away when Fabbri was killed, told me.
“I did two tours in Iraq,” Craven said. “I work heating and air conditioning during the week, I work in Section 8 homes, I’m around Chicago. What you don’t expect is somebody getting popped on Michigan Avenue. On Michigan Avenue?”
When it happens to poor people, the middle class doesn’t become afraid. They know little of the lives of people living in misery and fear.
But they know their own lives. They know they take a train and walk downtown as if it were a safe space.
And they vote.