An Englishman In Cleveland: What The Republican Convention Means To A Brit Who Has No Idea What’s Going On


CLEVELAND, Ohio – Police from this deprived “rust belt” state wander the streets in teams of eight, armed to the teeth, smiling at the passers-by who routinely thank them for their service. In the shadow of the Baton Rouge cop killings, the policing in Ohio is almost paramilitary, and the cops themselves are treated with the reverence of soldiers who have served in a foreign conflict.

Whether this is a reflection on how America is being ushered into an era of unprecedented state-sanctioned militarisation of its police, or due to the now unavoidable perils of radical Islam and the trappings of mass migration (probably both) is irrelevant. It is here in Cleveland, a town most famous for a formerly fat comedian and a basketball player we’re all supposed to have heard of.

For the few who might get the reference, this is like Conservative Party conference on steroids. For the lucky amongst you who don’t know what that means, imagine a prison populated by journalists and politicians, with an on site casino and a huge number of curiously dressed delegates.

In its entirety, this is what makes American politics so awe-inspiring and horrific at the same time. It’s not bad, it’s just… different.

Show business is perhaps the best way to describe what is going on here. Beautiful from the outside: the vivacious, Slovenian former model Melania Trump stirring up trouble with her speech on Monday night while her husband enters the arena like a WWE star.

And what better theme music to underscore all of this than Queen’s ‘We Are The Champions’ – a song written by a gay, Zoroastrian British man who was born in what is now Tanzania?

Eclectic is an understatement. And even though just one full day has passed here in Cleveland, it is evident that Mr. Trump and his travelling fans (otherwise known as delegates) have injected some real life into an otherwise dour Republican Party.

Critics will misunderstand what’s going on here. From the fracas on the convention floor yesterday to the gang of colourful characters in attendance en masse, this is a repopularisation of the party that lost so much of its appeal between the Bushes and Mitt Romney.

Right wing interns and staffers stomp around the cobbled pavements as if they’re wearing high heels for the first time in their lives, while media row continues to bustle with journalists, some of who have spent the best part of their careers trying to avoid a Trump nomination (they’re kids –– geddit?)

And despite their insistences that Melania Trump plagiarised Michelle Obama, or that there was a minor dispute on the convention floor – the majority of the convention so far appears to have gone without a hitch.

Earlier today, again against the backdrop of recent police shootings in the U.S., Reuters reported gunfire aimed at a police transport van. Cue a few seconds of panic followed by mass indifference. Americans are used to bad guys having guns. The difference in this country is that good guys have them too.

And perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the talking points of the convention unrelated to events inside is Brexit.

People want to know how the vote was won. They want to know what lessons they can learn from Nigel Farage and the Leave campaigns that delivered such an unexpected victory against the political, media, and big business establishments. And they want to know how they can, like the Brexiteers did, make their country whole again.

And the truth, and the takeaway from this event so far, is that the populists cannot afford to blink.

And in the same way we had the establishment Vote Leave campaign in the UK decrying Nigel Farage and the hard line Brexiteers, Trump has the #NeverTrump crowd who tried and pitifully failed to derail the convention yesterday.

What’s clear from speaking to attendees at least, is that the battle on Mr. Trump’s side has been won. Now the fight is against Hillary and the pro cop killing activists she has sought so hard to placate.

What the Republican Party really needs to be asking of the American people is: “Who do you think are the REAL extremists, here?”