As the Republican National Convention gets underway shortly in Cleveland, Kyle Swenson explores the city's history of always looking for a fight and being at most two to three steps away from finding it.
Cleveland has always been quick to throw a punch. That’s not a homer tough guy boast. If I can lift a line from Jack Nicholson’s gangster boss in The Departed, I slander my own environment, and it makes me sad. But flare-ups of violence are status quo here, both if you dive into the historical record or consult your own eyeballed primary source memories of being ringside for bar brawls. That bruiser history is symptomatic of a civic arena marked historically by fractious competition and tension between groups, racial injustice, bad vibes pinballing all over the place. That track record will also tell you a lot more about the upcoming Republican National Convention than a busload of national pundits—particularly in the jacked-up political landscape that has draped the country in 2016.
Much of the prognostications about the upcoming RNC have been dooming and glooming over the possibility of chaos in Cleveland when Donald Trump accepts the GOP Presidential nomination. But those guesses assume the candidate himself is the wild card, the agent of possible chaos. In reality, the stage, not the players, is the x-factor here.
This is not to say my hometown isn’t full of lovely people. It is. But historically, Cleveland has been hot-wired with the kind of bad socioeconomic juju that not only has combusted regularly into violent public episodes, but also has fed local flirtations with homegrown fascism. Look at this history, you see there’s violence sitting close to the heart of depressed and distressed American metros like Cleveland. Look closer, you see that this energy is swelling behind Trump’s candidacy like wind filling a sail. Look closer still, get eye-to-eye with that history, and you’ll understand that despite his rise, Donald Trump has zero clue about the forces he’s set loose.
And those forces will indeed be loose in Cleveland this week. The problem is of course they've been swirling around this country for centuries now, and when they do explode, people get hurt or a lot, lot worse.
I really do think it's going to get bad in Cleveland. We just don't know how bad. But as I keep saying, should Hillary Clinton win in November, the people behind the rise of Donald Trump aren't going to magically vanish.
They've been here for a very, very long time.