I am writing this as we drive into Cleveland on a dark, damp Monday morning. Photographer Jimi Giannatti and I are two of the thousands of people descending upon Cleveland in time for the first day of the Republican National Convention. Later this week, reality TV personality and real estate salesman Donald Trump is expected to be officially crowned GOP nominee for President.
Full disclosure: I oppose the candidacy of Donald Trump and everything it has come to stand for. Back in March (ancient history in the current news tempo) I protested loudly and visibly against Trump at his rally in Tucson. I was assaulted
violently by one of Trump's supporters and the video of the attack went viral, forever changing my life and the life of the man who assaulted me. Trump just kept rolling until he had conquered internal GOP opposition to his candidacy and secured the required number of delegates for the nomination. All of which has led Jimi Giannatti and me to be traveling at high speed in the looming darkness outside of Cleveland, on our way to report on the convention for the Tucson Weekly
Around 9 a.m. Sunday morning the horrific news broke that six Baton Rouge police officers had been shot by a gunman wielding a rifle. Three of the officers died, adding to the five killed in Dallas two weeks ago, in the process managing to add further volatility to an already kinetic security situation at the convention, which is being staged at the Quicken Arena downtown. The head of the Police Officer's Union in Cleveland sent a letter to Ohio Governor John Kasich pleading with him to suspend Ohio's open carry law for the duration of the convention. Kasich immediately refused, saying he does not have the authority to circumvent the open carry laws in his own state, further increasing the dominant hold the 2nd Amendment has over all other Amendments and considerations and rights, including the right to life.
Governor Kasich's refusal to act ensures that people will be allowed to openly carry rifles and handguns anywhere they please during the convention, outside of a small security zone in the immediate vicinity of Quicken Arena and within the arena itself. It is notable that Kasich himself was one of Trump's opponents for the GOP nomination and is reportedly not attending the convention or endorsing Trump for President. Governor Kasich's personal safety is not at risk, which puts him in stark contrast to everyone who will be attending either to support or oppose or report or provide security during the proceedings.
No political neophyte in American politics has had the sort of impact that Trump has had in terms of sheer amperage and hysteria and coverage. Where Trump goes, protesters and supporters and the media follow. Perhaps the only guarantee at this convention is the presence of people protesting against Trump. I have attended three Donald Trump rallies before this convention and spoken with many people, supporters of Trump and those who protest against him. The protesters come from an extremely diverse set of backgrounds. There is no "generic Trump protester"—this is actually true of his supporters as well, contrary to the perception among those who have not actually talked to any Trump supporters.
Most Trump protesters I have spoken with express some level of fear and rage over Trump's incendiary attempt to bully and bluster and lie his way to the presidency on a platform of raw, unfiltered populism and racist dogwhistling tactics. Alternatively, there seems to be literally nothing on the list of things Trump could do or say to turn his hardcore supporters away from him.
Much has been said of the protesters, some of it has even been accurate. In this kind of volatile, high-stakes political situation, I would never expect Trump's most rabid supporters to take a measured evaluation of what motivates people to risk so much to oppose the man they see as America's savior. We are living in a multiverse of alternate realities, and there is nothing obvious which can be done or said to convince each other of the salience of opposing views. Trump's people are voting Trump, Hillary's are voting HIllary, Bernie's people are (still) visibly outraged, and a vast swath of people in the middle are either ignoring the situation completely or waiting to decide who to vote for on some criteria which will presumably present itself before the election on Nov. 8.
The backdrop of this convention is almost incomprehensibly complex and frustrating to sane discourse. Each day brings a fresh violent incident which only furthers the chaos of the moment. Where does it all lead? This basic question has been asked rather often but is impossible to answer until the events of the next few months unfold. The process of politics in this country has become a grotesque media spectacle. Trump is the carnival barker, Hillary his foil. Neither of them could possibly win without the other. Whatever happens in this election, the basic centering instincts of the country have begun to unravel, and on we all go divided from ourselves and each other, wondering what may happen next.