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Former White House Chief of Staff and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel visits WSJ at Large with Gerry Baker at Fox Business Network studios on August 01, 2019 in New York City. (Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Choosing Pugnacious Bully Rahm Emanuel for Ambassador to Japan Is Ridiculous

The very idea of this man being ambassador to quite literally anywhere is laughably absurd.

Rex Huppke

 by Chicago Tribune

Former Chicago mayor and noted profanity enthusiast Rahm Emanuel has been nominated by President Joe Biden to be the next ambassador to Japan.

That sounds like a "Saturday Night Live" skit. Like hiring a three-legged bull with anger issues to serve high tea at the Ritz-Carlton. Like trying to calm a riot by tossing a few dozen rabid squirrels into the fray.

Take 10 minutes to laugh hysterically at the idea of Emanuel being a diplomat and then surprise everyone by doing the right thing and rejecting this cynical, ludicrous idea.

It also sounds like another fine example of a political figure failing up. And it's an issue that has led progressive groups and politicians across the country to express outrage at Biden's decision to nominate Emanuel to such an important diplomatic position.

"Rahm Emanuel was a disaster for the Black community in Chicago," said Dellmarie Cobb, a longtime Chicago media and political consultant and owner of the public affairs firm The Publicity Works. "The remnants of his administration are still very much evident and we're still living through them. So the idea that someone like him, who was a complete failure as a mayor, would be rewarded with a high-profile ambassadorship or anything in the presidential administration is just unbelievable."

Cobb is involved with a progressive activist group called Roots Action that has launched an email campaign to encourage U.S. senators to vote "no" on Emanuel's nomination. The group created a straight-to-the-point webpage——that allows people to email their state senators and say, in part: "Emanuel has a long record of being extremely undiplomatic, abrasive and contemptuous of humane values. His record as mayor of Chicago, where his administration oversaw the coverup of the horrific police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, is especially troubling."

Amen to that.

Emanuel's transparent coverup of a video that showed MacDonald being shot 16 times by former Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke—now rightfully in prison for murder—should have ended his political career. It cratered Emanuel's poll numbers at the time, with a Chicago Tribune poll in early 2016 finding that nearly 75% of Chicago voters "do not believe the mayor's explanation of how he learned of the details of McDonald's shooting death" and "more than two-thirds say the mayor was not justified in withholding the shooting video."

If that were it, it would be bad enough. But there's a laundry list of other decisions Emanuel made that, for many, put him at or near the top of the list in any discussion of the city's worst mayors.

He closed dozens of schools in predominantly Black communities across the city. He shut down half the city's public mental health clinics, targeting locations largely on the South Side. He pushed back hard against police reform for much of his two terms, and oversaw two of the city's most violent years in decades.

And he did it all with kindness!

I'm kidding, of course. Emanuel was, as he always has been in public life, a pugnacious bully. Which makes the very idea of him being named ambassador to Japan—or ambassador to quite literally anywhere—laughably absurd.

The word "diplomacy" and the name "Rahm Emanuel" are like the north-seeking poles of two powerful magnets, repelling each other with tremendous force.

"Japan is the third biggest economy on the planet," said Norman Solomon, national director of Roots Action. "There are a lot of tensions in Asia. Nobody can plausibly claim that Rahm Emanuel has qualifications in his knowledge of Japan or in diplomacy. Who would ever accuse Rahm Emanuel of being diplomatic? So what's the basis for this appointment?"

Oooooh, I know! It's because Emanuel is a longtime fixture in the Democratic Party and Biden, who knows Emanuel from President Barack Obama's administration, and other Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and probably Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth are trying to help him rehabilitate his image because politics is a gross, horrible game played by powerful people who do favors for each other. (Pretty sure I nailed that one.)

Many of the senators who will be asked to confirm Emanuel as ambassador co-sponsored the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which, among other things, would keep a mayor like Emanuel from, say, delaying the release of a police shooting video until after his reelection. So good luck squaring that circle, senators.

"Even accounting for the sometimes absurdity of politics, this is pushing the envelope of absurdity," Solomon said. "Could you really satirize better than Rahm Emanuel being named a top diplomat?"

No, I could not. And I do a lot of satirizing.

Cobb said Biden's nomination of Emanuel was a slap in the face to many Black voters in Chicago and across the country.

"It was Black voters who took Biden over the top," she said. "He would not be president if it weren't for Black voters. So this is an insult to Black voters everywhere, not just in Chicago, to put someone in such a high-profile position whose actions with Laquan McDonald alone should be disqualifying to ever hold a position in anyone's administration."

Please continue, Ms. Cobb: "He wants this ambassadorship because he's trying to rewrite the next chapter of his life. But his reputation was that he's like the Terminator, not someone who's diplomatic. This is who you want to send to a foreign country as a diplomat for America? A person who not only has a reputation for being harsh and vulgar but also takes pride in that reputation—embraces it?"

Those are quite reasonable questions, and the senators who will consider Biden's nomination of Emanuel in the fall should weigh them carefully, take 10 minutes to laugh hysterically at the idea of Emanuel being a diplomat and then surprise everyone by doing the right thing and rejecting this cynical, ludicrous idea.

Copyright © 2021, Chicago Tribune
Rex Huppke

Rex Huppke

Rex Huppke is a Contact Reporter at the Chicago Tribune.

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