I took the bus downtown this morning to Public Square, from my parents’ house on the inner West Side. I have taken that bus line down W. 25th for most of my life, and even though I’ve been gone four years, I’m still intimately familiar with every building, because really nothing changes that fast in Cleveland. Maybe there were one or two strip clubs I didn’t know, but they looked exactly like the ones they replaced, so what’s the difference?
I was brimming with excitement because I had just bought my full week convention bus pass on my phone, and I just had to show them a QR code to get on the bus, and also I didn’t even look up what time it was coming, I just went straight to the bus stop and waited and one came within 15 minutes. In the North Carolina town I live in now, the buses come once an hour and if you miss it, you’re screwed, so at least once a week I’ll go on a rant to my friends about how much I miss living in a big city with regular buses. The QR code was thrilling me, basically.
But then we passed the West Side Market, and I saw the first group of policemen, just standing around on the corner, talking to each other.
And later a squad car parked at an intersection, just watching.
It was kind of like that scene in Battle Royale where the bus of school children starts rolling past all these military checkpoints, but they’re all gassed, so it’s like watching a frog boil as the bus gets closer and closer to their destination and none of them realize the danger they’re obviously in. I felt like a frog boiling in that bus, waiting to see what downtown would actually look like.
The theme of today’s speakers at the Convention was Making America Safe Again. You know, from Muslims, and immigrants, and all those terrible agitators waiting to turn Cleveland into an inferno of paid pretend liberal hate. The headlining speakers included Trump’s immigrant wife, a couple of Benghazi vets, and Antonio Sabato, Jr. But getting the guy from General Hospital, or Mrs. Trump plagiarizing Michelle Obama on national television weren’t the most interesting thing that happened in the actual convention today. The anti-Trump delegates made moves to do a roll call, hoping to strip Trump of delegates, and were apparently handily defeated by Trump floor organizers. So, there’s that. Trump’s path is clear. The anti-Trump people were very upset. On TV, they said things like that votes were not being counted accurately, and that the establishment was doing the same old thing it always did– suppressing dissent. I wondered if they understood that’s how the rest of us feel all the time? About the same people?
Public Square when I got there around 11am was practically empty. The roads were blocked off, and the vendors were setting up tents full of Hillary for Prison t-shirts and kitschy pins. I wandered around E. 4th, where all the news outlets have set up their semi-permanent interview chairs, and finally back out to the Square. Three men were holding signs talking about sinning and death and gays and abortions, and they were standing there posing, as easily 30 news outlet photographers took photo after photo of them, like animals in a zoo.
That was the theme everywhere I went today– there were three media people for every person actually there to support Trump. My friend Don and I went down to a Trump rally by the river, which was sort of on a hill, and to reach anyone who was actually there to show support at a rally, you had to walk down through at least 500 feet of tripods and shiny-locked reporters. What was funny, though, is that all of us were kinda scared of the 60 people in front of us who were really there for the rally – nobody wanted to venture all the way down, so the media kept going to the low-hanging fruit of people standing right in front of them at the top of the hill. I got asked a few times if I wanted to give an interview, and I had to explain to them I was just there to observe like they were. I got asked more than a few times if I was from Florida– I don’t know what that was about, but also now maybe it might be code for “Do you wanna come back to my car and fuck?” You know, “Are you from Florida?”
That rally was weird. A 16 yr old girl sang a pop song she had written about Make America Great Again– it had very heavy synth– and then another older, blonde, blowsy woman was going to sing a hymn she wrote called Make America Great Again but someone had unplugged the computer, so she stood there for five minutes saying “Just plug the computer in. Someone unplugged the computer.” She made me think of Serena Joy from the Handmaid’s Tale. Then another older, blonde, blowsy woman got up and told the story of how one time her son had picked up a hitch hiker, because he was so nice and always thinking of others. But what he didn’t know was this guy was an illegal alien, and the guy beat up her son with a shower rod, strangled him, and then lit his body on fire in a field somewhere. Then she said something about how all those illegal aliens had 4 or 5 DUIS, but their bond was still 5000, which is like half of what it costs to bury a son. But all I could think was, if they got DUIs, wouldn’t we know they were illegal? Like, there’s a lot of paperwork with DUIs. That shit gets you in the system.
This whole time, standing on the river at this rally, all I could think about was how horrible most of their people were at public speaking – like they had somehow adopted Sarah Palin’s stunted exclamations as a new language. Getting a full sentence out of any of them was impossible, except for the Bikers for Trump guy who was definitely the most articulate, and Alex Jones.
Yeah, that’s right– Alex Jones spoke at an anti-Trump rally today about how globalization and the New World Order was being defeated, despite the fiends’ attempts at gun control and open borders, and how every brave little soldier there with a podcast or a community radio show was doing their part to not only Make America Great Again, but to let everyone know Hillary is actually a double agent for the Chinese and the Saudis. Then he encouraged everyone to make Hillary for Prison more popular than Pokemon Go. Good luck with that, Alex. A comedian, who I recognized from TV but could not name [It was Eric Andre -ed.], at one point jumped the stage and asked Jones to sleep with his wife, and to tell him what happened to the bombs in Tower 7. Jones didn’t miss a beat before he warned the entire crowd to ignore that guy. He is an agitator, he said, his voice shaking with rage, he is going to edit everything we say out of context. Then he tried to get the crowd to chant Hillary for Prison, but that just made it obvious how few people who were actually there for the rally, and the crowd died off after just a couple shouts.
Shortly after we left the rally, Don mentioned that all calls and data were being intercepted within the event zone, and that’s why they were using up all our batteries, and routing to a farther away tower. No one batted an eye at that at the rally. In fact, If they had known, they might have just stood there yelling things at their phone, like “Hillary for Prison.” I found it hard to believe an entire crowd of Tea Partiers were just okay with having all their data intercepted, but they probably just didn’t know it was happening. Which is always the scariest part about the Tea Partiers– not how racist or sexist they are, but how ignorant they are. I am much more afraid of stupid, scared people than I am of a bunch of old guys telling me I’m going to Hell.
Later, I asked Don if he had seen something on the RNC app schedule, and he said there was no way he was ever going to put an RNC app on his phone, and I was like, oh yeah, that’s a thing. He also told me he parked his car across the bridge, thirty blocks away, because he didn’t want it to get damaged if something went down, and I asked why he didn’t just take the train down. He said he didn’t like the idea of not having his car kinda close and accessible, if something went down. Fear is like that – it encourages contradictory actions.
Back up at Public Square, there were a few more people, but not many. The Westboro Baptist Church showed up for their fifteen minutes of public speaking time, and the Black Lives Matter kids were there to protest them, and a hundred bicycle cops stood around the stage forming a barricade with their bikes. Then, when they were done speaking, the protesters left, and the media people were all left milling around, staring at each other, looking for shots. They were like hungry carp in a tiny garden pool, just gaping and hunting and bumping into each other. A small kid was going around to all the parked sheriff and TV news vehicles, and selling boxes of candy out of a bucket for 2 dollars – they were the boxes of stuff you get at the dollar store, so he was obviously making a good profit.
We sat down in the mostly empty square, watching the food trucks, and this guy in a Flint baseball cap and boxing trunks came over to buy a cigarette from me. Of course, I refused to sell it to him– I only give my cigarettes away, because each one you smoke is one less I do, and we talked about how empty it was. “They’re all gonna come down when he gets here,” the guy told me confidently. “Right now, everyone’s being quiet, just seeing what the police presence is like, and where the weak spots are in the security, and the real shit will start after he gets here.” I asked him what he was in town for, and he told me that he had just come down by himself from Flint to observe. He wasn’t with a group, or friends, and when I tried to get him to tell me if there were Trump supporters in Flint, he waxed poetic about how scared everyone was in Flint, but eventually I got him to admit mostly everyone there was a Hillary supporter. I didn’t understand why he was so hard to get a straight answer out of, and later my friend pointed out that the guy was probably the one casing out the weak spots – that he didn’t know who I was, or trust me, and he wasn’t going to admit who he was, or who he was with, and what he was doing, or tell anyone anything they absolutely didn’t need to know.
I asked Flint Guy what he thought might make America safe again, and he said, “We are born feeling unsafe. So I don’t know why we’re trying to get back something we never had.”
One of the nuns passing out lemonade downtown told me that the nuns had set up by the entrance line to the convention, off E. 4th where all the fancy people were, and that over and over when they asked their question, “What are you afraid of with this election cycle?” the answer came back that they were afraid neither candidate was any good, and that they didn’t know what to do. I was disappointed none of them said they were afraid of poor people, because the class division between the perfectly coiffed Barbie and Ken dolls going to the convention, and the sweaty, dust-sheened jackets that had been dug out of basement closets for the rally was palpable.
We tried to go find something called the Save the Children 3D virtual reality exhibit, but no one in the address the RNC app gave me had ever heard of the thing. So in retrospect, we managed to not get kidnapped by a pro-life cult and sold into slavery at a Goodwill in Minnesota. That’s a win.
When we left downtown, we went to lunch at a little place I have loved since high school, and ran into people we knew, and got drunk on the patio outside, safely away from downtown, sharing our stories from the day. Simone kept saying there was a weird feeling in the air, like a hurricane watch. Her friend told her the Republicans kept coming into the shops on 25th and talking about how quaint they were. “We don’t need that shit. Get the fuck out,” she said. Don mentioned how he had given the homeless guy down at Public Square money earlier because “Dude, that is not your scene.” Yeah, don’t be down there homeless, we all agreed. They will fuck you up. We all drank a little too much, as we felt our own pits of fear slowly unknot in our stomachs. It was nice to be surrounded by our own kind. It felt safe.
One thing I heard at the Trump rally that stuck with me was “We’re not united by us getting something, but rather by us just getting a chance.” That’s always the thing, right? You hear it from felons and poor white men hanging outside gas stations in Appalachia all the time – if only I just had a chance, if only someone would take a chance and give me an opportunity, I would run with it. It’s as if the rhetoric flips on its head – though they profess to want a chance, they support the rich men who specifically take those chances away from them, because after they capitalize on that chance, they want to be just like them. And the same people rail against the descendants of the New Deal, even though those programs are specifically just trying to give them a chance, because after they get that chance, they don’t want to have to be beholden to anyone after. These people are voting in the best interest of their future rich selves, instead of in the interests of their current selves, and it hurts my heart to see them so wrapped up in their crazy Chinese double agent fears, because it must be such a lonely, threatening emotional place to live in. My friend mentioned that sometimes he thought Tea Partiers must be another species, the way they saw the world was so different, and I countered that the Tea Partiers were just really really drunk versions of ourselves – all our fears and confusions distilled into their purest essence, in this segment of our population that was essentially the canary in our coal mine. But as with really, really drunk people, I feel bad to see them stumbling around, I want to help them, but I also don’t want to get involved, because they’ll probably cry in my ear for three hours and then resist getting into the cab I’ve called for them, and once I open myself up to their need and loneliness, I’ll never get rid of them. They are all just so scared, and so lonely, but without the proper tools to articulate or address their fears. It’s heartbreaking, and also obscene and terrifying, because those people have a lot of guns.
I’ll leave you with this little ditty they were singing at the rally:
“While black lives matter,
So do blue.
While all lives matter,
So do you.”