Editor’s note: I’ve been working on this every Saturday morning for about a month—long enough that I don’t honestly know how good it is, only that it’s not as good as I intended for it to be. Based on the response here, I may consolidate it into one piece and publish it on Medium.com on July 4. (I have a predilection toward writing something heavy about America for the Fourth. See “An American Prayer: In Conversation With My Dead Father” from a few years ago. And see here. —DM)
CHICAGO — My nephew Danny lived in Chicago for a long time and has since moved to Colorado. He recently texted me a picture of a shirt. “Was inspired to buy this t-shirt yesterday after a comment from a gentleman working at Cabela’s.”
I immediately thought about buying one for myself, but realized it would be a strange thing to wear here in Chicago.
But after years, now, of feeling a sad bewilderment at the gathering American hostility toward what I consider to be America’s most American city—I let myself feel the truculence of that t-shirt. And then I wondered if there’s something more constructive that I might say to the gentleman working at Cabela’s, who casually and confidently disparaged Chicago to someone he didn’t know.
I don’t want to address the political candidates and TV propagandists who have campaigned over the last 15 years to portray Chicago as the epicenter of every type of American filth, from political corruption to community organizing. As a writer, I know why they’ve done that. They want the country mouse vote and the suburban vote, so they need to tell an urgent ongoing story of urban wickedness. “American cities” are a bland composite character; “Chicago” makes a more vivid villain.
This Independence Day weekend, I want to talk to Americans who heard that story so many times that they’ve come to think unthinkingly of Chicago as a symbol of everything wrong with the country they love.
I want to talk to the gentleman who works at Cabela’s.
(To be continued tomorrow.)