Most cities recognize that a national party convention is a big deal. Major political figures, including a possible president, visit the metropolis. Thousands of delegates arrive, ready to nominate and, even more, celebrate. A swarm of journalists envelope the proceedings. No story is too small to become an exciting scoop for the Fourth Estate.
Lobbyists play host while attempting to tap into the new power lines. Groupies, activists, and acolytes take up temporary residence, hoping for a celebrity sighting or meaningful experience. Representatives of the other side come too, some with malicious disruption on their minds.
In short, a political convention is hard to miss.
Except, apparently, in Cleveland.
I recently viewed the website Destination Cleveland. There’s no mention of the Republicans coming to town. Not one, at least that I could find.
Admittedly, there’s a lot happening between July 18 and 21, when the GOP convention will be in session. Lady Windermere’s Fan is being presented by the Mamai Theatre Company. There’s a glass art exhibit at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Steel Magnolias is playing. The Cleveland Museum of Natural History is hosting The Power of Poison exhibit. There’s “family play” at the Talespinner Children’s Theatre. The Galleria is hosting lunchtime concerts.
These undoubtedly are all worthy events. Still, you would have thought that the Republican cavalcade, especially one led by Donald Trump, would warrant at least one line on the website. True, the main event is by invitation only. But there will be a lot going on to see. Just ask all of the groupies, activists, and acolytes who will be in town.
It made me wonder where Destination Cleveland was based. Cincinnati, perhaps? This other fine Ohio city hosted the 1976 GOP convention and might not want to share the limelight. I imagined Cincinnati’s finest surrounding Cleveland with crime scene tape, shooing away tourists while saying: “Nothing to see here. Move along. Nothing to see.”
But then I checked the address and found that the website was indeed based in Cleveland.
So I looked up the City of Cleveland online. The convention doesn’t make the calendar there either. Of course, the convention isn’t an official city hall event. But city fathers might want to spice things up. Only five events are scheduled for all of July: Sustainable Cleveland Quarterly Meeting, Night Market, American Solar Challenge, Race for Home, and a recurring Turning Wheels Roller Skating.
The website does include articles mentioning the convention, though only five since last October. The most important noted the $100 million federal grant shared by Cleveland and Philadelphia, which is hosting the Democratic National Convention. Mayor Frank Jackson thanked Congress and said the funds would provide a “safe” convention.
Yet nowhere does the city explain what it’s doing with its share of that money. When interviewed on television city officials have seemed a bit complacent, even insouciant, about the convention, barely a month away. For instance, the police chief assured listeners that officers had horses and bicycles, which would help them get around.
Cleveland is unlikely to be like any other recent convention, however. Or certainly any recent Republican convention. Perhaps the most likely model is the 1968 Democratic gathering in Chicago, in which the city became a war zone.
We’re already seen the left use violence against Trump supporters in Albuquerque, Anaheim, and most recently San Jose. It doesn’t matter whether you like Donald Trump or not. People have a right to hear him speak. Yet left-wing thugs have been seizing control of the streets from the police.
Maybe Cleveland has a special plan, something like “double secret probation” in the movie Animal House, to deal with potentially thousands of violent protestors hoping to disrupt the GOP convention. Perhaps the city simply hopes everyone will forget!
Alas, that’s not likely to happen.
If the left makes a show of force, the city had better be prepared. If protestors succeed, the conspiracy-minded might conclude that Mayor Jackson, a Democrat, planned it that way to embarrass the GOP. But Cleveland’s reputation would suffer far more. And well-publicized disorder actually might convince average Americans that they need a strong leader like Trump.
The U.S. has much at stake in this election. It is essential that we protect the right of Americans to freely choose our leaders.
We may not like the outcome — dissatisfaction with both presumptive presidential nominees is at record levels. But we cannot allow those who choose violence to win.
Cleveland is about to become democracy’s front line in America. Whether or not tourist websites mention the convention, the world will be watching to see if the U.S. can peacefully elect its next president.
Ken Blackwell is a senior fellow at the American Civil Rights Union.