We got downtown early and parked at a lot a half mile from the Q – giving us the chance to walk through public square on the way. Half a mile away there were a few signs of protests, but many merchandise tables – all selling ridiculously offensive shirts (e.g., front: Cruz Blows; back: Hillary Swallows). I think I saw one table selling items for protesters and a handful of tables hawking Black Lives Matters t-shirts which would have gotten you lynched if you wore one into the Q. And of course Cavs gear–I think I can buy a Cavs shirt at three roadside stands on my drive home from work.
I had read a little about “public square” – that there were lines of cops separating opposing protesters; I wanted to feel the tension in the air. But no. It was a let-down. There were some protesters, but there were a lot of cops. A lot of cops. And the protesters weren’t the kind I was expecting. I was thinking Westboro would be spewing hate and “peaceful” protesters would be shouting inane, vague threats. The protesters were just a motley crew of unorganized kooks – the guy dressed like a Muslim (in the Bugs Bunny mold) with a blow-up doll attached to his waist and some anti-Hillary sign on his chest, the funny signs of locals like the “Make the Browns Great Again”, and the religious nuts like the holy biker praying on his knees in the fountain. But each of them would perform for the cameras – striking a pose while a dozen cameras snapped away without actually putting out a message. Really the cops were the most interesting thing to see there; they stood in lines at 3 separate places keeping no one away from anyone, joking with each other and anyone who wanted to say hi. If there had been more food it would have been a festival.
From there we walked down to 4th street, which is the Landsdown Street of Cleveland – lined with bars and closed to traffic. Here things got slightly more interesting. Since this was the only way to go to get to the convention it was a little like we were on display. We walked in a crowd of suited Republicans wearing passes. There was no question where you were going or why. At this point we were Republicans – Trump supporting Republicans. The protesters turned from attention seekers to the cause heads. I heard everything from “Trump is the Devil” to “Meat is Murder” which was actually a nice throwback. As an aside, Republicans are the kinds of people who don’t respect lines – there was a lot of shoving and cutting to get ahead. I don’t suppose that should be surprising, but still worth noting.
4th street gave way to the main security entrance, which is just as thorough as any maximum security prison should be. We funneled into a metal tunnel where 3 people can walk abreast surrounded by the interlaced metal grating you’ll find used on a grill surface at Southern barbecues. That tunnel is half the length of a football field before you get to the security tent where you pass through a metal detector and they take your 1″ Swiss army knife from your key-chain. Then you’re on the inside. It’s like the world died and left the hollow people to repopulate the earth. Republicans only from this point on. I was expecting the Trump crowd – steeped in Appalachia in my mind, but it was all very establishment. I’m sure we brought down the median income. But they were polite and tried making awful conversation which we managed to evade. Some perceived we didn’t belong, but they left us alone and we did the same.
We made it to our seats after the national anthem and halfway through what I thought was the first speech, but was actually the opening prayer – only the closing amen tipped me off. We sat 5 rows from the farthest wall and about 6 stories up from the floor. It was comforting. G.E. Smith and his band entertained the crowd between speeches and old women with make-up caked on danced the way black people think white people dance. Those around us looked like they were GOP lifers – suited up, reading Breitbart or the Wall Street Journal on iPads or their phones. The women wore tight dresses appropriate for an inappropriate business dinner. There was little energy in our section. It was as good a place to be as any.
Then the speeches started. Jerry Falwell Jr. was an early contributor. The crowd mostly ignored him, people talked through his entire speech and milled around which is understandable since he’s a terrible speaker. His biggest cheers came during his call to allow religious organizations to take part in politics and how non-religious universities were brainwashing America’s youth into liberalism. As a product of the machine he wanted to tear down, I found myself disagreeing with him.
Then, in some order, we saw a former Ohio State football player whose spinal cord was severed and had a 1% chance to ever walk again – did, by the grace of God alone (no credit to doctors, the healthcare system, or scientific advances). His odds were the same odds that Trump was given last year. Coincidence? The implication was that it is not. He started his speech talking over the crowd and ended it with their attention so he was a success. He finished by introducing Fran Tarkington who talked in sports metaphors and was entirely forgettable aside from mispronouncing “Bill Belichick” when trying to talk about the greatest coach in history. For some reason it sounded like “Vince Lombardi”but his core message landed – that the GOP had to come together like a team to get the win. It was surprisingly well received given that it was the last night of the convention. It just seemed late for a call for unity.
The overall flow was like fighting a nap,underwhelming, but qualified speakers lulled the crowd and then energized, enthusiastic speakers woke us up again. A black reverend took the stage and was electric. As he started, I immediately liked him – his intonations delivered energy and his message was positive. But he kept speaking. He spoke until he was firmly demonizing Hillary, just like many others would. He was the first I remember who pushed “All Lives Matter”. The crowd loved him, but I couldn’t help seeing him as an Uncle Tom. Why can’t a Republican crowd handle a message with a caveat? “The police need our support, but we need to ensure they police everyone equally.” Finally he left.
A string of female Republicans spoke and mostly blended together but for a few details. Their messages were generic and on point. Blackburn from Tennessee had a comforting drawl that was homey and accessible, but got in the way when she tried to speak quickly to land a blow on Hillary, the evening’s punching bag. She was hit for everything real and imagined. Benghazi and emails, Bill’s policies and the economic ruin he brought us, Wall Street run amok, immigrants killing our pretty white girls, the list goes on. Mary Fallin reminded us that Oklahoma is a state and apparently being elected there is an accomplishment. She came from little to govern little which strikes me as a small accomplishment. She was forgettable and I’ve forgotten what she actually said, but I imagine it wasn’t nice and I want to say there was some pro-life message in there but perhaps that’s the Oklahoma tie-in. Dr. Lisa Shin told us her immigrant tale of how the system can work for a poor Korean family. She looked like she was going to cry at any moment and she pumped both fists while her elbows remained glued to her hips.
Between speeches, short documentaries of the Legend of Donald Trump were played on the jumbo-tron. All with the same story, only told by someone else – his son or a series of business associates. I learned he came from little and saved Manhattan by building while the world was going to hell. His first building was sold to him because the sellers saw something in him they didn’t see in anyone else (I’m guessing millions of dollars) and he transformed that building through business acumen and sheer willpower (failing to mention the illegal actions taken against the tenants at the time). Former employees shared their experiences where Trump gave women a job and paid them to do it. I was struck by how many were more attractive than average and thought that may have played a part in it. The message was clear – building is the same as running a country and Trump is the best builder there is.
Priebus came out to cheers and garnered more cheers while saying nothing new. He assailed Hillary, he made it clear Trump was the country’s only possible savior. I think he was the first to emphasize the importance of winning to make sure new justices would be conservative justices. He left the stage and I was glad. The crowd was properly fired up after his speech.
Peter Theil came out either before or after Priebus and spoke for Silicon Valley despite being a venture capitalist and a member of the Facebook Board who hadn’t really been responsible for innovating anything other than being able to identify things as innovative. He’s also gay, which shows that money trumps social politics. He praised Trump’s business acumen and ability to create jobs without mentioning his bankruptcies or the many people he ruined along the way. He also spoke of the failing of government from a technological standpoint. I learned that America’s fighter jets can’t fly in the rain which struck me as a terrible oversight. I also learned that the government uses software that doesn’t work which struck me as interesting given what I read about the incredible technology the GOP uses when gerrymandering. All in all, he seemed every bit the son- of- a- bitch I’ve read about.
Tom Barrack was the sole speaker who I legitimately liked throughout his speech. He spoke in stories starting with how he prepared for the speech by getting the advice from a mentor of his. He should remember that he’s like the deceased at an Irish wake – he starts things off, but no one expects him to say much. His mission was to humanize Trump and if you didn’t know anything about Trump he would have been successful. Trump talks to people where other bosses wouldn’t. Trump tells people they’re special. Trump takes people who are struggling and lifts them up for a day. Trump is a heck of a guy. He also talked about how Trump got the better of him on a deal and he’s sure Trump will get the better of other countries when making deals. Which might be nice until you read any story about the discontented former business partners of Trump. I’d rather not have China, Russia, or even Estonia holding a grudge over Trump making a deal that ruins their country.
Thankfully Ivanka was the next speaker, meaning the night was nearing an end. I always begrudgingly thought she was beautiful, but her speech left the impression that she’s a monster. She was poised and controlled throughout her speech. Her enunciation of each word showed years of sitting in front of a mirror talking to herself to make sure she revealed nothing of herself. She spoke of her father as a loving and caring father who took pride in his family and was an egalitarian in business. He hires women, he pays them just as well as he pays men. At the same time I thought she might eat her young and her message was lost while I imagined the terrifying things she must have done.
And then she introduced her father. He was charismatic. He spoke at length. He was self- effacing at times. Early in his speech I found myself liking him. But he continued speaking. I was shocked at what his position shares with mine. Our premises are the same. Student debt is a problem. It is important to make child-care accessible. Healthcare does need to be available to more people. Gay and trans-gendered Americans should not be persecuted. But then he vaguely spoke of his solutions to these problems and I was lost. Where it could fit, he pushed deregulation, the old Republican standby. Where Republican strategies didn’t fit he offered his ability to make deals, and when in doubt he’d simply “protect American interests first”. Through it all, he scared us. The future is bleak and only he can save us from the otherwise inevitable. He spoke of the great amount of compassion he has for everyone – African-Americans, Muslims, Asians, Hispanics, everyone – but then he stepped back by saying, “But I have compassion for Americans first!” Which is to say he’ll treat everyone fairly as long as their interests aren’t in the way of White people. He is the most compassionate. He spoke of the need to respect the police and allow them to do their jobs, with no interest in reform, and people cheered. At one point a brave protester interrupted his speech and everything stopped while they were dragged out. “And how about them police? Aren’t they wonderful?” He spoke of bringing manufacturing jobs back as though we can the 70’s are the future and automation isn’t regularly practiced. And on he went. He read periods, pronouncing them “Believe me” and I stopped believing him. All he saw for the future was a mirage propped up by insisting it would be so. He used leaps in logic to make it seem real and the crowd went along for the ride. After witnessing him last night, I’d say he stands a chance. But you have to remember that the room was an amalgam of the worst people I’ve ever met. Fools who believe comforting lies or opportunists who think he’s better than losing.
Then the balloons dropped and we could leave. We went back through the security tunnel and into the real world, but this time I was labelled a Trump supporter by the protesters still waiting for us. I liked the simple advice of some that I’ve “made a terrible mistake” but I hated the stares of people who were simply angry. I wanted to tell them that I agree and that I’m on their side, but there was no point. They wanted to be angry at someone and that night it was me and my lanyard so I let them be angry.
The highlight on the way out was seeing Vermin Supreme milling about the crowd. It was comforting to see the familiar nut-job. His rubber boot doesn’t look like it breathes. I’m sure his head smells terrible.