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Friday, Oct. 27, 2017 12:19 pm

Columbus in Illinois

I addressed the problem of Columbus Day in “What Columbus Day means to us.” I decided write the column after rejecting performing some symbolic act by which I might commemorate Christopher Columbus and his arrival in this hemisphere, like sending some poisoned candies to the day care center up the street. I didn’t relish the prospect of explaining my motives to the cops, however, so I settled for writing a column.

My first choice was a piece drawing parallels between Columbus and Bruce Rauner. Both men set out on a voyage with little idea where he was going or the perils he was likely to face. Each fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the people he encountered when he got there and thus proved inept in his dealings with them; each man, frustrated by those differences, turned to bullying and threats of harm. The main difference is that Columbus wasted other people’s money, not his own, which proves that as an entrepreneur he was Rauner’s superior.

The “discovery” seems far away from Illinois in space and time, but Columbus’ bungling in the Caribbean was felt in this part of the continent too. The Europeans’ arrival unsettled, in every way, even Illinois a thousand miles to the west. the story of early Illinois, in short, was in large part the story of its settlement and unsettlement by waves of refugees in flight from the manifold calamities visited upon the continent by Signore Colombo, from epidemics and loss of territory, traditional crafts and social cohesion. I will leave it to readers to draw whatever parallels they think appropriate to today’s refugee debate. 


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