Downtown Cleveland has been transformed into a giant green screen for the 2016 Republican National Convention. On it, is projected Donald Trump’s historic presidential run, the causes of groups ranging from “Bikers for Trump” and white supremacists to socialists and Black nationalists, and the fears of a country spiraling into a cauldron of simmering racial tensions and killing sprees by angry men with guns.
For this zenith of U.S. democracy, downtown has been swept of the usual inhabitants. Homeless have been told to beat it, tourists are too scared to visit the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and office workers have scattered to cafes to conduct their business for the week.
The predictions of chaos on the inside has come to pass, with members of the Colorado delegation walking off the convention floor. But outside, the promises of massive rallies of Black nationalists and 10,000 bikers for Trump has been a bust thus far.
The new denizens of downtown have set up concentric rings of security amplified by an intimidation campaign that has frightened off all demonstrators but the highly committed. The security apparatus includes 3,000 police from Cleveland and around the country, FBI, Homeland Security, Secret Service, fatigue-clad soldiers, K-9 units, and plainclothes agents with the build and beards of special forces. The clampdown is complemented by miles of fencing, concrete barriers, snow plows blocking highways, helicopters pounding the air incessantly, and layers of checkpoints.
The stars of the show are Trump and family, with his third wife, Melania, and four children slotted in as speakers. With four of the five living Republican presidential nominees avoiding Cleveland, Trump is relying on musty demagogues for his warm-up acts, like ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the 90s-era bomb-throwing speaker of the house Newt Gingrich, and deflated New Jersey bully boy Gov. Chris Christie, and C-list celebrities such as Scott Baio, Fran Tarkenton, and Antonio Sabato Jr.
The theme for Monday night is “Make America Safe Again,” which is code for spread fear again. Given America’s cultural bombast and military might, few realize how much fear dominates its history and everyday life.
America was founded on fear. Fear of natives, of slaves and Blacks, immigrants and anarchists, communists and criminals, drugs and sin, loose women and homosexuals. The fear has always been overblown, usually for political ends.
Fear took center stage during the opening night of the RNC, with speakers telling of their kids killed by “illegal aliens,” talk of Trump killing terrorists, met by cheers from the crowd, assertions America is in a war with radical Islam, yells of “Build that wall,” and roars of “Blue lives matter” in defense of police who are killing more than 1,000 civilians a year on average.
Since the violent police riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the quadrennial political conventions inhabit a vortex of protest, security and fear. This year, the feds used their psychwar playbook to heighten the fear at the RNC.
According to the Intercept and local activists, FBI and police last month conducted scores of “door knocks” to potential demonstrators, inquiring about violence. One activist claimed a SWAT unit raided his neighbor’s house when they didn’t find him at home. He said the feds were “shaking the tree,” sweeping up whatever information they could while spreading fear among activists in the process.
The intimidation worked. Activists say many protesters were so frightened they left town or are avoiding the military-occupied downtown.
Of more than half a dozen RNC-related protests and events during the weekend and on Monday, not one had more than 500 participants and most had less than 50. The biggest turnout was a few hundred at an End Poverty rally and march, which was outnumbered by police, and a similar-sized Citizens for Trump rally.
The latter was more of a fanboy festival for uber conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars, which also featured famed Republican dirty trickster Roger Stone and Milo Yiannopoulos, performing his “dangerous faggot” minstrel routine.
With thousands of media accredited for the RNC, reporters swarm crumbs of news like desperate ants. At an anti-Trump protest on Sunday, an energetic crowd marched through downtown, shouting militant chants like, “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!” They were bubbled by photographers and videographers who in turn were, wrapped by layers of police.
As the protest made its way to the security barrier outside the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where the opening night party was held, phalanxes of bicycle-riding cops would frantically surge ahead, lining the march, only to take off to perform the pointless exercise a moment later.
The march though, was only 150-strong at most and was so short it appeared over before it even began.
At the entrance to the party the rivulet of demonstrators merged with a stream of delegates, RNC members and guests headed to the party featuring a fossilized feel-good 70s act, Three Dog Night.
I asked delegates from half a dozen states, “If Donald Trump is going to make America great again, when was America last great?” Some chalked it up to Trump just mouthing slogans. Another said, “America is still great.”
Three, however, said America was last great before Franklin Delano Roosevelt, with one saying “that’s when the handouts began,” and another claiming America was last great under Calvin Coolidge because, “There was low taxes and lots of free enterprise.”
These are not long-suffering workers wounded by free-trade deals and nurturing racial resentments fed by Trump. They are the right-wing elite. None would offer the name of an employer, but they mentioned executive positions, working as professionals in health care and energy, high-level government posts.
“Make America Great Again” is a catchy slogan. But it’s merely code for make America white again.
Arun Gupta is a co-founder of The Indypendent and the Occupied Wall Street Journal. He is writing a book on the decline of America empire for Haymarket books.