Most Evil Op-Ed Ever? Writer Wishes For Katrina-like Storm to Hit Chicago
This afternoon, the Chicago Tribune published an op-ed by Kristen McQueary that made the mistake of doing what Donald Trump has been doing over the past two months: it put the dog whistle down and laid out, in explicit terms, what the far corporate right really thinks when it's not speaking in code and PR double speak.
In a rather unlettered piece, McQueary openly, and without a touch of irony, wishes for a massive Katrina-like storm to wreak havoc on the Windy City to expedite her deluded libertarian fantasy she saw play out in New Orleans 10 years ago:
Envy isn't a rational response to the upcoming 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
But with Aug. 29 fast approaching and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu making media rounds, including at the Tribune Editorial Board, I find myself wishing for a storm in Chicago — an unpredictable, haughty, devastating swirl of fury. A dramatic levee break. Geysers bursting through manhole covers.
A sleeping city, forced onto the rooftops. That's what it took to hit the reset button in New Orleans. Chaos. Tragedy. Heartbreak.
The piece has the apocalyptic fever pitch of Revelations with none of the subtlety. It continues:
That's why I find myself praying for a real storm. It's why I can relate, metaphorically, to the residents of New Orleans climbing onto their rooftops and begging for help and waving their arms and lurching toward rescue helicopters.
Except here, no one responds to the SOS messages painted boldly in the sky. Instead, they double down on their own man-made disaster.
It's a sentiment not uncommon on the corporate right. The idea that Katrina was a sort of biblical flood that washed away liberal excess in New Orleans is taken as gospel by conservatives and corporate Democrats alike. Even Obama's Secretary of Education got into a bit of hot water when he said in 2010 Katrina was "the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans."
He later walked back the statement after a torrent of backlash, but his point was clear: mass tragedy provides an opportunity for corporate forces to expedite the raiding of public trusts and circumvention of democracy and collective bargaining. A recent tone-deaf tweet by the New York Times even insisted the foodie culture was "better" after Katrina. Needless to say this left a bad taste in several people's mouth, going viral for the wrong reasons:
But McQueary's piece is far worse. Praising a devastating storm that killed 1,800 people as a net positive is already a terrible thing. Expressly wishing for a devastating storm to come along and wipe out the third largest city in America so one can expedite a Randian end times is positively psychotic. In an attempt to be polemical, McQueary exposes the dark heart at the core of what Naomi Klein calls "disaster capitalism." For these people, it is not a thought experiment, it's not rhetorical, it's real. They truly believe that largely black, union-friendly cities would be better off in the long run handing over the reins of their local governments to technocratic, largely white neoliberal systems. To them, the tragedy of Katrina wasn't the mass displacement and death of thousands, it was that it didn't happen soon enough.
Just two weeks after Katrina, when 96% of the corpses still remained unidentified and the Superdome was, according to FEMA, a "toxic biosphere," Koch-funded Freedom Works published an op-ed in the National Review calling the storm a "golden opportunity" and insisting officials use the ensuing chaos to push for massive corporate overhaul of the New Orleans education system.
The tragedy of the storm provides America with a golden opportunity, and the answer lies in the tens of billions of dollars of federal emergency spending. Let's create emergency school-choice vouchers for the children displaced by Katrina.
Arch-libertarian Milton Friedman followed suit weeks later in the Wall Street Journal:
Most New Orleans schools are in ruins, as are the homes of the children who have attended them. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.
Later that fall, as tens of thousands of largely poor and African-American New Orleanians were scattered throughout the Gulf states trying to stay alive, the largely white Louisiana legislature called an emergency session and passed Act 35, dissolving the New Orleans teachers unions, and with the stroke of a pen changing the definition of a "failing school" from a test score of 60 to an arbitrary 87.4. This allowed the state-run Recovery School district to take over 107 out of 128 schools overnight, thus beginning the extremist corporate realignment McQueary so idealizes. No meaningful debate, no referendum. Like that, the face of New Orleans would never be the same.
These op-eds aren't just whimsical thought experiments. They're trial balloons that lay the groundwork for later radicalism. They not only normalize the exploitation of tragedy as a virtue, they dehumanize those disenfranchised by these attempts to do so. If they seem intuitively vulgar it's because they are. They attempt to condition us to this type of sociopathic corporate thinking and to begin seeing our fellow citizens not as individuals, not as human beings, but as speed bumps getting in the way of "progress."