Halftime at the RNC

Taking a moment back home to think about what I’ve seen so far at the Republican National Convention…

It’s hard to say, actually, what’s happened. On one hand, it’s been a fairly uneventful 48 hours in downtown Cleveland. (I took the train into downtown at 6 p.m. Sunday, and, apart from a few hours of sleep last night, I’ve been around Public Square or East Fourth or Quicken Loans Arena or the office on Bolivar ever since, filling the time via one-note conversations with what have become recurring archetypal characters here.) On the other hand, this is the epicenter of the eerie political front that we’ve been watching blow inland for the past, what, decade or so? Whatever the Trump nomination means, it’s happening here.

For about an hour earlier today — Day 2 — Public Square became a weird fortress of fringe groups vying for camera time as police officers did what they could to literally separate everyone into their own little spaces. One could have called it “heated” for a moment when punches were thrown shortly after Alex Jones arrived with his cadre, but, really, it was quite inert. My buddy leaned over at one point and said, “This is some really tense boredom.”

A far cry from the specter of violence and riots that haunted every mention of the RNC, to be sure. Which is fine, really, but it certainly leaves thousands of out-of-town media types looking for the slightest provocation to film. Apart from a fairly compelling Tamir Rice-related soliloquy on Public Square earlier, I haven’t seen any notable protest rhetoric at all. It’s mostly Westboro dipshits and the like, proclaiming somethingorother in the name of Jesus. It’s extremely trite nonsense that, for lack of anything else happening, gets the attention of roving reporters. (I did see a photo of someone in a polar bear costume on East Fourth with a sign that read: “What Will You Do To Save Me?” That was the one climate-related thing to my eyes, and I kinda wish I had run into that guy.)

(Which brings up another thing, real quick: I saw this guy walking another guy on a leash like a dog. He was singing and asking people to kick his dog. “Make America great again? Make my dog great again!” “It’s not politically correct, because life isn’t politically correct.” Every time he said “Donald Trump,” the man-dog barked. It was one of the weirdest things I’ve seen in my entire life. That was Monday morning — the first notable moment after hitting the streets around 11 a.m.)

But it really is just a frenzy of cameras pointing at one another, waiting for something to happen. When a basic Trump-Hillary argument approaches even low-level screaming, the cameras and phones rush forth to gather that sweet, sweet content.

So that’s outside, among the people. Inside is a different story. That’s where the delegate gentry are charting a course to the future and flaunting what they hope might be a return to conservative rule in this country. I ducked inside for some of the Monday night speeches, and I was taken with how brutishly paranoid and violent they were. This is a national political convention, and the bulk of first night’s discourse revolved around how the inevitability of murder at the hands of an undocumented immigrant. (One of the speakers was actually introduced to the crowd as “a victim of illegal immigrants.”) The speeches invoked fairly graphic descriptions of death and violence — although everything was strained through a filter of nonchalance, as though the thousands of us inside the Q were simply gathered around the dinner table of a conservative in-law on Thanksgiving. This — the “Hillary for Prison,” the “All Lives Matter,” the “U-S-A” chants — this is standard fare for an alarmingly large part of the U.S. population. It’s kinda fucked up, because: a) It’s rooted in fear and b) It’s not even fun.

Two more days to go, and then we waltz into the DNC and, ultimately, toward November and beyond. I’ll be pouring the tequila at Casa Isabella with all due enthusiasm throughout all of it. Stop by for a spell, and we’ll toast the weirdness together.

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