Blessings in the Lessons from the RNC

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Cleveland has not been what I expected it to be, and I think I’m okay with that. This past week, Wake the Vote has been busy at the Republican National Convention. Cohort members attended panels that ran the gamut from poverty and education to bipartisan criminal justice reform and the new Republican foreign policy. I came into the week anxious about being in the hub of a city I was sure would be bristling with conflict barely contained. While there definitely was tension between different groups of protesters downtown, the friction was nowhere near the levels of violence and intimidation that I’ve watched unfold in cities where Donald Trump was having an event. The RNC was not like any other Trump event though, it was a veritable showcase of political pageantry that featured the spectacle that is Donald Trump. The city of Cleveland was prepared for the violent clashes that were anticipated, police officers came all the way from Texas and California to supplement the security efforts around the convention. Anti-Trump protests were a lot smaller than I expected them to be, and they were entirely peaceful and sometimes even silent. I felt a queasy sense of unease as I watched policemen corral protesters and direct them where to go with a hard voice that conveyed no empathy and very little patience. I think the protests were smaller than expected because many in the anti-Trump movement were struggling in quiet resignation to acknowledge that a thousands gathered to nominate a bigot to represent a major political party in a presidential election. I felt waves of guilt as I awkwardly maneuvered my way downtown in my Wake the Vote T-shirt emblazoned with the Republican symbol of an elephant. In the face of those protesting, how could I walk down the street with a symbol of support for someone who so blatantly disparages marginalized groups? The RNC was a strange week because the nomination of Donald Trump felt surreal. I was able to conduct interviews on the streets of Cleveland and talk to people about why they supported Trump. The narrative that I heard most frequently is that Trump was far from their first choice, but because he is the party’s nominee they would support him. It was fascinating to me that partisanship can so completely rule a person’s political decisions. Many felt bound by party loyalty even in the face of a candidate they did not agree with and could not confidently say they endorsed. The Republicans that I interacted were ostensibly reasonable, and many articulated pragmatic policy solutions that I found myself understanding. This was in stark contrast with a Republican nominee whose policies have thus far proved to be disorganized and problematic at best and incoherent at worst. My experience this week in Cleveland has been one that taught me more about my feelings towards the Republican party than the actual nominee himself. Donald Trump may be all bluster, but the groundswell of support for him came because he tapped into the frustrations of middle class white people and fear mongered his way to the podium on Thursday night when he accepted the nomination. Before the convention started, I had hope that the desperate last effort of reluctant delegates to change the rules and nominate anyone but Trump would be successful. In hindsight, I’m glad it wasn’t. I may hate everything that Donald Trump stands for, but there are so many people that are willing to vote for him and support his policies that he cannot be ignored. Now that he’s officially the nominee, it’s time to really start evaluating the events that brought the country to this moment. The protests may not have been what I expected going into the RNC, and that’s okay. There are more ways than one to combat forces like Donald Trump, including going to the polls in November. Shout out to Cleveland for the surprises, there are blessings in the lessons.

Erica Jordan

 

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