The 2016 Republican National Convention. Don’t think of it as an archaic construct of the byzantine American electoral system designed to limit direct democracy and preserve the power of the oligarchic elites. Don’t think of it as a procedural laden cacophony of ayes and nays and roll calls and the bitter gaveling down of votes. Don’t think of it as a gathering of the forces of darkness plotting their overthrow of the barely functioning institutions of the American government.
As a Canadian traveling in a familiar but oh-so-strange land, I say, think of it as a cultural expression of the wonder that is middle America. Think of it as a festival of entitlement and the high-pitched umbrage of white privilege. At the very least, think of it as a chance to get to know Cleveland a little better.
Beginning July 18, Cleveland hosted over 50,000 out of town visitors, including 5,000 delegates and their alternates, thousands of other guests and hangers on, at least 2,500 police and security, swarming hordes of journalists from across the globe, low-wattage celebrities (two soap opera stars, a low-ranked female golfer who doubles as a swimsuit model and was fired from Celebrity Apprentice, and a past-his-prime television star from the 80s) and a noted Slovenian plagiarist. For four days, photographer Kyle Grillot and I wandered the city, drinking, eating, and talking to people: Republicans, Democrats, independents, and anarchists alike. We went straight into the belly of the beast and mingled with the delegates. We drifted through the pods of protesters. And we travelled off the beaten path to parts of the city where the RNC was an afterthought or a distraction. This is what we found.
Quicken Loans Arena
The arena in which the convention was held was a constant roil of bodies and sounds, with journalists lining up to interview the brighter, flashier delegates as they queued to eat at either the “GOP Bistro” or the “Republican Roadhouse.” Seriously. The food on offer is standard American fare (burgers, hot dogs, pizza, fries) for delegates dressed mainly in the traditional garb of Republicans. Most of the men were in blue blazers and creased trousers, their hair high and tight. The women sported well-tailored, modest dresses, and prim pearl necklaces.
There were some signs of life in the food lines. The Texan delegates had Lone Star Flag shirts, ten-gallon hats, and bright cowboy boots that clattered on the concrete floor. The Tennessee Delegates sported synthetic coonskin hats that were meant to honor Davy Crockett, but, if I’m being honest, looked a little more like a Trump-hair piss-take. Montana sent its people in denim vests. The Hawaiians had bright shirts and wilting leis. And amid it all were a few free-thinkers decked out in red, white, and blue from head to toe, or festooned with campaign buttons from long forgotten races. At least one man from Missouri dressed up as Abe Lincoln every day.