We aren’t living in America

Once in a while in America, we get a small taste of what it would be like to live in a place that wasn’t “America,” with whatever small shred of freedom, due process and limited government we think that’s supposed to entail.

Unfortunately, our tastings of this non-America are fairly regular here in the Windy City, thanks to Richard M. Daley, mayor.

In the middle of the night, Daley sent his goons in — under police escort — to rip up the runways of Meigs Field, a small airport in downtown Chicago. Here’s what it looks like now.

The action left 16 private jets stranded on the taxiway with no way to leave.

No one knew about it. No one was consulted. No announcement was made. Asked whether any of the City Council’s 50 aldermen had been consulted about the move, Daley answered, “No. Not yet.”

It’s no secret that Daley’s wanted for years to make Meigs into a park, but he gave up that dream in order to get a deal with former Gov. Ryan to expand O’Hare (and build another airport in Peotone). Now that the federal legislation to cement that deal appears dead, Daley has reneged.

Surely, any hopes of his supporting a Peotone airport are gone now too. Not that expansion opponnents ever thought otherwise. Daley’s arguments about expanding O’Hare — that it was necessary to increase flight capacity — ring hollow now that he has singlehandedly decided to shut down an airport that handled 30,000-plus flights a year.

Yes, that’s a blip on O’Hare and Midway’s radar, but the principle is the same. Daley wants what he wants, when he wants it. Only occasionally and seemingly accidentally does what he want actually coincide with the public good.

Daley claims he had the legal right to do what he did (for homeland security reasons, he said, because in the time I worked and lived downtown since Sept. 11 all people ever talked about was how petrified they were of the little planes taking departing from and arriving at Meigs Field). And that may be so.

That one man can essentially decide the fate of an airport is in itself a problem. A reporter asked him at his news conference yesterday — where Daley looked more uncomfortable than a recovering alcoholic in a bar on St. Patrick’s Day — whether his storm trooper tactics were necessary to avoid a prolonged legal fight.

“You answered your own question,” he said. “I’m not going to answer that question.”

That’s not the way decisions should be made in America. But this ain’t America, is it? This is Chicago.