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Ups and Downs

It’s been a wild start to the year and much of the news, especially over the past month, has been all about politics. Now, I know I’m supposed to steer clear of politics, but I can’t help myself. Both the local and national media have been obsessed with all things political. And who can blame them? With the release of the Mueller report and a riveting local election, there has been little appetite to talk about anything else.

It has certainly been a great time to be Donald Trump. Robert Mueller released his report to Attorney General William Barr on March 22, but the redacted report was not released to the public until April 18, nearly a month later. During that time, Trump and his supporters celebrated his “complete vindication” in the investigation into his alleged ties with the Russians and charges of obstruction of justice. Since its release, Trump has been, shall we say, less enthusiastic in his praise for Mr. Mueller’s report, but no less determined to stick by his “total vindication” claims. In fairness, he is probably right to believe he has dodged the Mueller bullet.

Another reason for Mr. Trump to be happy is the renewed vigor of the stock market. Even after recent losses due to faltering trade negotiations with China the Dow Jones has consistently closed above 25,000 since February. The strong economy, and the 40% hardcore support Trump has had through good times and bad, would probably be enough to make any sitting President feel good about the world. Whatever else can be said of Donald Trump, the economy has performed well throughout the first years of his presidency. Whether or not he deserves credit for this performance (of course, he thinks he does), voters tend to stick with the status quo when the economy is doing well.

But is it? The answer is not as clear-cut as it would seem.

If you live in the Megalopolis of the Northeast, along the Pacific Coast, or in the booming cities of Texas and the Southeast, and especially if you have a college education, then you are probably doing pretty well. But if you live in the industrial Midwest, the rural South or much of small-town America, then you may feel differently.

As always, the Chicago area straddles the two extremes. We just learned that the metro area has lost population for a fourth year in a row with 22,000 fewer people in the 14-county metro area now than there were a year ago. This population loss appears to be picking up steam with each passing year. Much of this loss has been driven by an exodus of African-Americans who have given up on the entrenched segregation, economic devastation and violence that plagues many of the communities in which they used to live. Meanwhile, downtown continues to boom with high-rise after high-rise going up to accommodate all the Millennials who seem to still be moving into the city.

The middle class, we have learned, fled Chicago long ago. Today, the city is an affluent core and North Lakefront, surrounded by a mix of struggling to flat-out devastated neighborhoods mostly south and west of the city center. The contrast between the gleaming towers of the downtown and Lakefront stand in stark contrast to the deprivation that is typical of so much of the rest of the city.

Which brings us to the 2019 elections right here in Chicago. Lori Lightfoot rode a wave of voter discontent right up to the 5th Floor of City Hall, beating a roster of the famous and the powerful to become Chicago’s next mayor. Her message of change was exactly what a shockingly broad cross-section of the city’s voters wanted to hear. Her margin of victory was nearly three-to-one against Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

She will have her hands full trying to knit the city back together again. Perhaps her most important job will be to give more Chicagoans at least a few reasons to stay put and build their futures here. It’s an almost unimaginably difficult job. I wish her success. In no small measure, the city’s future depends on it.

Steve Cain is Secretary of RPBG. He writes articles and compiles content for our quarterly newsletter. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of RPBG and its Members.



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