Nobody’s safe at the RNC
‘Make America Safe Again.’
That was the theme of the opening night of the 2016 Republican Convention, with such luminaries as Duck Dynasty star Will Robertson taking the stage in place of Republican grandees who have steered clear of Trump’s toxic platform.
It raised the inevitable questions: safe from what? And safe for whom?
For people of colour, Native Americans, LGBT people, minorities, migrants and anyone with the presumption to be poor, this country has never been safe.
Americans are afraid. This is what I’ve learned since I stumbled off the world’s hottest inter-city flight on Saturday and into this terrifying theatre of the id. Almost all Americans are afraid, for a variety of different reasons, but the fear is the constant. The talk is not just of terrorism, but of terror itself, free-floating, of insecurity and humiliation for which the presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, offers respite if you are straight, white and right-thinking.
“Securing our borders” is the talking point. A major topic of the day is the terrorist attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya, with which the Tinfoil Talk Radio constituency is unaccountably obsessed. The swivel-eyed hypotheses attached to the tragedy range from “the terrorism aspect was covered up to protect Obama’s reputation in an election year” to “the whole thing was a CIA plot.” It’s mentioned time and time again, in an open appeal to the conspiracy theorists and post-birther wingnuts who are part of Trump’s core vote.
Safety, by coincidence, is the major theme of the barrage messages I’m receiving from concerned friends and colleagues who know I’m here in Cleveland. My safety, specifically, given the theatrical predictions of tear gas and police horses charging mobs of armed protesters that preceded the whole circus.
These warnings were an effective deterrent for the thousands of journalists from around the globe who are in town this week, in the same way that an ‘explicit content’ sticker is an effective way to stop teenagers downloading music.
My journalist friends have spent the past two weeks fielding texts from parents, friends and editors pleading with us to ‘stay safe’ and discussing whether we’ll need body armour. Most of us are here, at least in part, to see something kick off. So far, nothing has. Mum, you can stop worrying: I am entirely safe, at least physically. There’s even complimentary coffee for the press, provided by our good friends at Google.
I am in no danger apart from the prospect of mild caffeine poisoning, and the extant threat to my emotional equilibrium posed by being trapped in three square miles of sanitised city-centre on near-military lockdown with 50,000 Republicans, political reporters and the Westboro Baptist Church.
Instead, every coffee shop along Euclid avenue has been repurposed as a creche for media people trying to eke copy out of the lack of street action. Many of us are safer than we hoped. Or are we?
Inside the convention hall, as reporters watch on screens from the hospitality area, the assembled delegates vote on a Republican platform so rancid with bigotry that it threatens to split even the right-lurching party base. The platform that the presumptive nominee will be encouraged to take forward to the general election combines Trump’s rambunctious Nationalist Capitalism with old-school anti-choice, homophobic heartland evangelical conservatism.
And all over town, a populist psychopath with a personality so obviously broken that it looks presidential is being celebrated as a future leader of the world’s leading superpower.
If you came looking for violence — well, here it is.
There has been precisely no violence by protesters and very little by police.
The most noteworthy anti-Trump actions were a city-wide coordinated hand-holding event, and a mass naked photoshoot whose many press releases were clearly scripted by a hippy regretting his or her life decisions.
The violence is where it always is at events like these: inside the hall.
It’s on the stage. It’s inside all of us, including those who came here to bear witness, by dint of complicity.
It’s an ideological violence, bloodless in both senses of the words, but no less terrifying for it. Former Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell, a Benghazi campaigner and Trump true believer, was the broken clock telling the right time twice a day when he told delegates and the world: “To the next generation — your war is here. Your people are afraid. Who among you are going to stand up and take the fight to the enemy? Because it’s here.”
Nobody here is safe from forcible enlistment in this culture war. Not the delegates, not the reporters, not the handful of protesters in the square, not the people of Cleveland, and not the millions around the world watching American politics disencumber itself of reason in realtime.
This is not a forum for debate. It is a padded room where a lot of people in suits have been deputised to have an orchestrated meltdown in front of the world’s cameras, like an overgrown toddler weeping and bawling and ranting insensibly from an overdose of shame and sugar.
Welcome to the scream room. None of us are safe.