I’m from Cleveland, where Republicans have nominated Donald Trump as their presidential candidate. Farce has not yet descended into tragedy.
The Barbarians are coming!
I was not alone in this thought when I learned Republicans were descending on my dear Cleveland for their presidential convention. The May film schedule for the Cleveland Cinematheque featured the ex-governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, his inflated muscles bursting in his role as Conan the Barbarian.
The Republicans are coming! So far there have been no riots in Cleveland, and as a native Clevelander, I am thankful. I have been expecting gunshots for weeks.
I have been surprised. Farce has not yet descended into tragedy.
On Monday, the first day of convention in Cleveland, while riding the light rail to observe an anti-poverty protest, I met the comedian April Brucker. She introduced me to her Trump puppet: Donald J. Tramp. As the familiar landscape of my childhood flew past our windows, she explained that she wants to make Trump more comical.
“He’s very scary,” she said. Brucker compared the braggadocio of Trump’s latest book, Crippled America, to Mein Kampf. To onlookers in the train, the puppet Tramp quipped about his wife, “I like the newest, cleanest imports.” (Donald Trump’s wife, Melania, was born in Slovenia.)
To one-liners like these, Brucker offered context. “People who have changed history are the non-violent protest movements,” she said. I sensed a desire on Brucker’s part to offer voters levity as an alternative to Trump’s hollow rhetoric.
(To satirize Donald Trump seems almost gratuitous: he is his own best self-parodist. Ironically, it perhaps the desire to cut Donald down to size that has fueled his candidacy. A recent newspaper article suggested that Trump decided to run for the presidency to win some respect after President Barack Obama had belittled him at a Washington Correspondents’ dinner.)
I left the comedian and her puppet downtown posing with police officers and a vendor of Trump whoopee cushions, and headed to an anti-poverty march.
I spoke with an organizer of the march’s social media campaign, Lily Robert, about the goals of the protests. “Poverty is an issue that needs to be talked about,” she said. “Even people on the left appeal to the middle class. The poor don’t vote.”
In a vacant field a 45-minute walk from downtown, a crowd a couple hundred strong gathered to listen to the group Prophets of Rage. “This song was used by the Bush administration to torture prisoners,” a member of the band said, referring to the presidency of George W. Bush. “Now we’re going to use this same song to torture Republicans with your help.
Then the crowd marched on the city.
Wearing a straw hat, a supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders, who was beaten in the Democratic primaries by Hillary Clinton, confessed: “I’m not involved unless it’s Bernie Sanders.”
A group held up a large sign with the faces of black Americans killed by the police and chanted, “America was never great.”
Further along, I fell beside a lanky man, muscular in his stride, who offered an astonishingly holistic view of the day.
“’Black Lives Matter’ is inevitable,” he said, referring to the activist movement against violence toward black people. “This protest is inevitable. So I’m choosing the more positive inevitability.”
He was conscious of how these diverse groups of marginalized people have been systematically ignored. Between two absurdities, he choose the audacity of hope.
(The views are the author’s.)
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Christopher Alexander Gellert is a U.S. writer who has worked in Chile and studied in France. His poetry has appeared in Belleville Park Pages and in Forth. He also writes critical essays for Soonest Mended. He soon will be moving to France to pursue a master’s degree examining the influence of literature on our inner lives. You can learn more about his project here.