I can’t decide if we’re any better off politically as we stagger from the teens into the twenties. Credit: doug mcgoldrick; Iowa Democratic Party; Pete Souza; Shealah Craighead

As one decade turns into the next, I find myself struggling with one of the great existential questions of our time: Which version of “Betcha By Golly, Wow” is best—the Stylistics’s or Prince’s?

Answer? Neither—it’s jazz guitarist Grant Green’s version.

That’s not really the most vexing question on my mind. I’m just ducking and dodging the fact that I can’t decide if we’re any better off as a civilization as we stagger from the teens into the twenties.

Yes, folks, I’m dealing with the transition from the end of one decade to the start of another. And before I try to answer my question, I must make a confession. As a lefty covering Democrats in the neoliberal age of Mayors Daley and Rahm, I’ve had to spend the better part of the last 30 or so years battling doom and gloom.

But I’m going to try to look on the bright side, starting with national politics . . .

So, even though our president is (allegedly) a lying rapist who stole money from his own charity and cuts taxes on the rich and slashes food stamps and looks the other way as the earth overheats, I will advance the argument that we’re better off today than at the start of the decade when Barack Obama ruled the land.

Yes, I voted for Obama—twice.

But having finally got around to reading some books about his presidency, I’ve come to the conclusion that, in retrospect, he was an accommodationist who sold out many Democratic values in his illusory pursuit of bipartisanship.

Even now he counsels restraint and advises Democrats not to be too “woke”—as if the alternative, being asleep, has worked well for Obama voters.

In short, my argument is that Democrats are better off vigilantly defending their values in a fight with a despicable Republican than watering them down to accommodate the nervous nellies in a Democratic White House.

How’s that for looking on the bright side, even if I’m not sure that I really believe it?

On the local front, well, think of it this way . . .

I know of no Democrats who are helping Donald Trump pay less in property taxes by appealing the assessment on his tower. That’s in contrast to most of the decade when Alderman Ed Burke used his clout as a property tax lawyer to win thousands of dollars of savings for Trump.

So that’s good—right?

Nor is the current mayor throwing billions of tax dollars to Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, in the hopes that he brings Amazon, the world’s richest company, to town. Like the last mayor did.

More progress, people.

On the other hand, the current mayor did look the other way as the last mayor rushed through City Council approval of $2.4 billion in TIF money for Lincoln Yards and the 78. And she sent in city lawyers to kill the lawsuit that was intended to kill Lincoln Yards.

So the jury’s still out on whether Mayor Lightfoot will keep her promise not to waste public dollars on projects that don’t need public dollars.

Back to the bright side . . .

Every mayor has pledged to do what they can to bridge the gap between the poor and rich. And yet the gap continues to widen as Chicago becomes more expensive and more poor people leave. Especially Black people.

The last mayor didn’t seem to think that was a problem. The current mayor does. Or says so anyway. So that’s progress.

Also, the current mayor’s not closing mental health clinics and then having police spy on protesters. Like the last mayor did.

On the other hand, she says we’re too broke to reopen the clinics he closed. You know, it’s like one foot forward and one half step back in the fight against gloominess.

On the sunny side, our current school CEO is not facing prison time for stealing money from the schools. As Barbara Byrd-Bennett did back in the Rahm years. 

Byrd-Bennett pled guilty to helping a couple of scam artists win more than $20 million in contracts to operate a principal training program that no one needed, asked for, wanted, or benefitted from.

In return she was to get kickbacks from the scam artists. Something she needed because she had “tuition to pay and casinos to visit,” as she put it in an e-mail.

It’s going to be hard to top that scandal.

On the other hand, former police chief Eddie Johnson recently got fired after he was caught getting plastered in a bar, making out with a woman who was not his wife, and then falling asleep behind the wheel of his car.

Or maybe he wasn’t asleep. Maybe he was in the throes of romance with yet another woman—also not his wife.

Mayor Lightfoot says she’s investigating. I think I speak for all Chicagoans when I say that’s one police report everyone’s looking forward to reading.

Say this about our scandals—at least they’re getting more interesting over time.

Hold it! Just got a press release from Mayor Lightfoot. She says she found the money to open neighborhood library branches on Sundays.

Also, she’s doing away with fines on overdue books. That’s especially good news for me as I’m overdue on at least one book I checked out about Obama.

The decade began with Mayor Rahm proposing to cut hours and fire employees at neighborhood branches, until an uprising of north-side library users prompted him to declare: What kind of fucking losers still go to libraries?

Well, he didn’t really say that. Though it sounds like something he might say.

Anyway, as one decade flows into the next, let’s appreciate that we have a mayor who appreciates libraries. At least she learned from the last one that there’s hell to be paid for closing them.

That’s me—always looking on the bright side.  v