Sunday struggled awake to the news of another mass, targeted killing of police by a lone gunman, trained by the military and motivated by racial, anti-police anger. This time it was in Baton Rouge, one of those American cities that is a simmering racial flashpoint, as we’ve all learned in these last few hot, tense weeks. It already feels like we’re living in a documentary about that terrible year, 2016, where everything sped up, where the divisions between white and black, between those who believed in the police and those who believed the police were just a tool of oppression, boiled over. Where economic anger, racial hatred, xenophobia, and several strands of populism
It already feels like we’re living in a documentary about that terrible year, 2016, where everything sped up, where the divisions between white and black, between those who believed in the police and those who believed the police were just a tool of oppression, boiled over. Where economic anger, racial hatred, xenophobia, and several strands of populism distorted our politics. Reading the news has the uneasy feeling of watching that documentary, that every day is part of the central montage of an uneasy summer. We’re watching the flash points scroll by in real time, all leading up to that violent week in Cleveland, where the least-qualified and most dangerous candidate in American history grabbed his nomination, against a backdrop of horrible violence.
Obviously, as Sunday gave way to Monday, that hasn’t happened yet. But everyone believes it is going to. The Cleveland police certainly do, as Reason reports.
To prepare for that, Cleveland has reportedly purchased over three miles of “Blockader” steel barricades, plus over 3,000 feet worth of six foot-high barricades, over 2,000 sets of riot gear, and 10,000 sets of plastic handcuffs.
Almost half of downtown Cleveland, roughly 1.7 square miles, will be under major restrictions as the designated “event zone.” Within that area, according to the New York Times, everything from glass bottles and tennis balls to “large bags and backpacks, mace, loudspeakers, tents, coolers and canned goods” will be prohibited. The Washington Postnotes that it has provided a “standard kit” to its staff attending the RNC, including “helmets, gas masks and flak jackets,” but gas masks are among the items banned from the event zone.
That is, simply put, a police state. And maybe it is needed. There is no doubt that this year is a far angrier one than 2012, or even 2008, when the world was collapsing. We say every four years “this is the worst”, but things are qualitatively different this year. For one thing, you no longer have Barack Obama. For another, you have Donald Trump, and that leads to the question: what is legitimate protests in the face of a quasi-fascist, white nationalist campaign?
For many people, the only good form of protest is peaceful, maybe marching in the designated areas, maybe giving a speech to fellow freaks at some kind of jazz club, but preferably at home. Anything else — anything that smacks of violence, or even without humble acqueisence to the men in the riot gear, pushing back with their truncheons — is beyond the pale of reasonable discourse. This year, after the killings, the desire by the media and all the establishment for absolute calm will be even more severe. We’re too divided and too on edge, and the natural deference toward law and order will be a full-throated scream.
Even anti-Trump Democrats and liberals are hoping for nothing distracting in the streets, nothing to take away from the spectacle of watching Donald Trump become the candidate, hoping that the mere sight of that will jar people into awareness that this is really happening. And I’m in that camp as well. I’m hoping that the focus will be on the surreal nightmare that is the Trump candidacy, and not on juvenile anarchists thinking that smashing up a Starbucks is a counterstrike against Trump, or really against Trumpism (neither, by the way, is the naked woman protest, as the libertine Trump won’t exactly be scandalized. Still, highlighting female autonomy to the GOP is always a good idea).
But then, what is? This is a completely different candidacy than we’ve ever had, one that is explicitly trying to divide the nation into “us vs. them”, with “them” being everyone who isn’t white, Christian, and already a Trump voter. I don’t feel like we have a duty to treat this as politics as normal, to respect the process, and to assume that this convention is, well, conventional. I feel that the media, and the protestors, should do everything they can to highlight the grotesque nature of what is happening, and just how dangerous it is.
To me, I think that means following the letter of the rules, but not the spirit. Don’t bring in any restricted items, and don’t throw down the barricades, but protest everywhere. Make it so that people can’t go anywhere without seeing protestors, being strong and forceful, though not violent. Make every street corner an area for speeches. Make all of Cleveland one big bughouse square. Drown out the lunacy inside Quicken. Hold a mirror to the wild madness inside.
Because, to be clear, the violence that is spreading in America is reflected in the gaping, stupid mouth of Donald Trump. Elections matter, and he’s legitimized the howl. He’s the candidate of the authoritarian right. He’s the candidate of having armed goons and rabbled supporters brutalize anyone who dares question him. He’s the candidate of the truncheon and the flak jacket, of the newly-deputized posse, of the flurry of arms and legs pummeling the prone and terrified outsiders. He’s cranking the wheel on the projector, speeding up this documentary, to where all the images blur together. The people marching in the center of the frame move toward a lockstep while around them the film burns att he edges. It is his carnival, and the only response seems to be just as mad.
There are smart responses to Trumpism, and intelligent, helpful ways to protest this week. There are ways that can make everything worse, and heighten this unbearable tension. There are ways that can empower the candidate of “law and order” (his law, and his order). But when it comes down to it, there are no illegitmate ways to protest this candidacy. Its very existence is already a protest against reason and decency. It’s a savage axe-blow to the heart of the American experiment, and any reaction pouring from that supperating wound is justified.