Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel took advantage of his elite privilege and joined The Atlantic, a major media publication, as a contributing editor. He also was hired by ABC News to be a contributor.
For months, The Atlantic has periodically published punditry from Emanuel, including when he was still mayor. He is now the latest high-profile person to benefit from the revolving door between public office and the news media.
Emanuel’s first column since the end of his tenure as mayor centered on the college admissions scandal.
“The outrage over the Varsity Blues investigation perfectly illustrates what may be the most important, least understood, and underappreciated political dynamic of our era: a full-on middle class revolt against the elites and the privileges they hoard,” Emanuel wrote.
“For all the focus on inequality and social justice, this middle class revolt is the most important barrier standing between Democrats and the White House.”
Emanuel is one of those elites who hoard privileges. For example, like most high-profile politicians, he sent his children to private schools instead of public schools.
More incredibly, Emanuel recounted how the war in Iraq was launched on false pretenses and bankers were bailed out. He suggested it was a “mistake” not to hold elites accountable.
“Is it any wonder so many middle-class taxpayers resent the elites?” Emanuel mused. “They’ve been forced to bail them out from their own mistakes time and time again — and yet the beneficiaries of that goodwill haven’t apologized, let alone taken responsibility. America’s middle class is Cinderella, and the nation’s elites are her evil stepsisters — only now it’s the stepsisters who get to marry the prince. It’s infuriating.”
The former Chicago mayor had the audacity to deliver this message with no humility or awareness of its natural hypocrisy.
Emanuel and others in the political class are clearly desperate to maintain their relevance as more and more citizens turn against them. They seek to co-opt language that appeals to citizens aware of gross inequalities and social injustices, including words one may hear at a Bernie Sanders rally, without supporting the very proposals that are required to address social and economic injustice.
They parrot the aspects of liberal populism that they believe the Democratic Party can easily pander to in order to defeat President Donald Trump without making any commitments that would meaningfully address the destructive status quo.
In his column, Emanuel abstractly recommended Democrats prove to voters that they understand the concepts of accountability and responsibility. They “need to be the ones demanding that those who fall short be made to answer for their own decisions. Every one of us should have to live by the same moral and ethical codes. The nation’s elite shouldn’t have any special license to take the easy way out.”
But it is not as if Emanuel obeyed any particular moral or ethical codes while he was mayor.
For The Nation, Miles Kampf-Lassin detailed how Emanuel will be remembered as the “mayor who advanced corporate interests and an agenda of austerity at the expense of Chicago’s working class residents.”
Emanuel spent his two terms undermining the power of the Chicago Teachers Union, shutting down public schools in low-income black and brown neighborhoods, closing mental health clinics, slowing construction of affordable housing, increasing property taxes, privatizing public transit cards, overseeing policies of gentrification, and offering mega corporations massive tax breaks.
His administration attempted to cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. When a court ordered the release of video of the incident, it sparked a series of developments that forced a small level of police accountability on the city and ultimately led to the first conviction of a cop for murder in more than 50 years.
Emanuel believed the entire city of Chicago had “special license” to dodge responsibility for McDonald’s death. That is how the city approached countless other cases of police brutality against black people, including gruesome acts of torture. He was unable to emerge unscathed from the scandal and chose not to run for a third term because he feared he would lose.
During the Chicago mayor’s race, Aaron Cynic outlined how Emanuel and his administration pushed through megaprojects for corporations and the rich, which perpetuate income inequality in the city. He opposed an elected school board and crafted a budgeting model for public schools that fueled a vicious cycle of disinvestment for poorer communities.
When Emanuel was President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, he possessed a similar disdain for the moral or ethical codes, which he now says Democrats should universally uphold.
In the 2012 book, Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency, Daniel Klaidman highlighted how Emanuel fought minimal efforts by Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate officials who worked in President George W. Bush’s administration. He viewed Holder’s interest in accountability for torture as “narcissistic” or “self-aggrandizing.”
Emanuel drew upon years of experience “in the dark arts of bureaucratic subterfuge” and attempted to install a trusted aide in the Justice Department, who could keep the White House informed of Holder’s plans. He clashed with White House counsel Gregory Craig over the release of photos from the Defense Department that showed detainee abuse and torture.
This attitude takes on greater significance in the era of Trump, when there is a constant concern that Attorney General Bill Barr is serving the White House instead of maintaining the integrity of the Justice Department as an independent executive agency.
“To the chief of staff, the Justice Department, with its independent mandate, was an inherently nervous-making place. As a White House staffer during the Clinton administration, Emanuel had tangled endlessly with Justice,” Klaidman recounted. “He had done everything he could to marginalize Attorney General Janet Reno, whom he saw as an annoyingly prudish figure whose rigid independence often thwarted the White House’s political goals.”
Emanuel was apparently “famous for blitzing Justice officials with phone calls, obsessively trying to gather intelligence, plant policy ideas, and generally keep tabs on the department.”
In the Obama administration, Emanuel was a “hardheaded realist.” He was at odds with the liberal idealism of people like Holder. He saw those intent to reform the war on terrorism as individuals who were “out of step with the American people.” Emanuel had a tendency to favor political plans, which appeased Republicans at the expense of principles or values.
During the 1990s, Emanuel supported the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He backed welfare reform and the crime bill, which Vice President Joe Biden had a significant role in developing. He emerged from the school of New Democrats, a centrist ideological group that sought to make liberal politics more appealing to the right-wing politics of U.S. corporations and conservative white voters.
To further expose Emanuel’s rank hypocrisy, Curtis Black, writer for The Chicago Reporter, put together a “comprehensive guide” to egregious acts committed by Emanuel for The Intercept.
The Department of Environment in Chicago was eliminated by Emanuel. His administration insisted lead levels in the city’s water pipes were safe, even as the Environmental Protect Agency warned residents could be exposed to higher lead levels. Emanuel had one of his toadies in the City Council block hearings on unsafe levels of lead in the water.
“His law department sought to overturn a court ruling that found the existence of a code of silence in the police department, and he backed up his superintendent when he promoted a lieutenant who had a long history of excessive force complaints,” according to Black.
Numerous African Americans fled the city because of a spike in shootings and chronic disinvestment.
While higher-income white communities flourished after a recession, the economy never recovered for black Chicagoans. Unemployment only decreased by 0.4 percent, down to 17.2 percent. Black noted, “That’s more than double the national rate.”
Clearly, Emanuel has nothing to offer citizens except neoliberal snake oil repackaged in a container that pays lip service to the discontent of the 99 percent.
His agenda as a pundit will be to act as a gatekeeper for the Democratic Party establishment by setting the confines for acceptable liberal politics and chastising anyone who steps outside the proverbial veal pen during and after the 2020 presidential primary.
That said, The Atlantic did not hire Emanuel to speak to poor and working class Americans most impacted by the two-tiered justice system. He was hired to help the professional-managerial class — highly educated doctors, journalists, lawyers, professors, and other affluent professionals — navigate the tumultuous political landscape.
As Charles Derber and Yale R. Magrass have written, this class is part of a new aristocracy in the United States. It perpetuates itself “through inbreeding, professional educational credentialing, and residential segregation.”
The members of this class sometimes challenge the very systems of inequality that privileged elites enjoy, yet they also tend to disrespect less educated poor and working class people, who feel put down by their pompous assertions of cultural authority.
These are the accomplished readers of The Atlantic, who Emanuel hopes will help him from being dragged down by his disgraceful record as Chicago mayor.
Emanuel and the professional-managerial class will comfort and reassure each other with plenty of delusions. The biggest one they will cling to is the notion that their political ideas have not been completely repudiated by shifts within the base of the Democratic Party and among the wider American population.