Make America Cleveland Again: Paul Ryan, Chardonnay and the Magnetism of Conflict

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Politics! We’re delighted to bring you coverage from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, from which our intrepid reporter Tatiana Ryckman — who grew up in Cleveland, and whose family is still based there — will be bringing us daily dispatches on the mood of the city, the thoughts of its residents, and the action at the Convention itself. Today: What are the none-Trump people actually going to do?

While waiting for the bus, a server from one of the local restaurants tells me things feel safer than they did on Sunday, less tense. He mentions also that he served Paul Ryan a glass of chardonnay the day before, that Ryan’s eyes really are a stunning blue, and that Ryan posed for a group picture, “And then I saw the photo on Instagram!”

“The one with all the white people?”

“You’ve seen it?” The guy says, surprised, and adds that a face-matching app says he kind of looks like Paul Ryan… “And Brad Pitt.”

I get off at Tower City, just before the Stop Trump rally turns into the square. A blow-up doll floating above the protesters holds a sign that reads, “little hands, small mind = big asshole.” A woman carries a sign that reads, “Make America Kind Again.” Not far away a large, red-faced man in a “FEAR GOD” hat is yelling in the face of a thin black man that he needs to repent his sins. I think, great. I think, here we go. But at some point the Fear God hat wandered off, and another man yelled at the whole crowd until he and the black man hugged, and everyone lost interest.

Photo credit: Tatiana Ryckman

As Joseph White, a Case Western Political Science Professor, told me over the phone, “People are attracted to fights. They get involved, they pay attention to fights. Conflict is mobilizing. In the sense that conflict is a story. I think what’s said [at the Convention] will be a story, but that’s all going to get lost in the conflict.”

Kate Sopko, the artist behind the Fixer film series, hopes that won’t be the case. “Part of what happens for a Convention is [that] people need content. We knew this would be a huge media gaze … it’s part of what makes a city want to do this, because you get press. We knew that if we crafted important stories someone would pay attention. We need to have a deeper conversation.”

Part of having a deeper conversation, I realized while debating American history in the kitchen with my dad, is talking to people who have a different outlook than I do. So, on Sunday I went to a campaign event for Ohio’s Attorney General Representative, Republican Mike DeWine. Large banners hung in front of Anthony’s restaurant in Little Italy, boasting Republican support for Trump. Across the street at the event, local Republicans, who wouldn’t be named, were less enthusiastic. In fact, lack of Republican support for the assumed nominee has itself been a feature of the first day of the convention.

“They’re all voting for Gary Johnson,” A nameless Republican* told me when I asked what all the none-Trump Republicans are going to do. Stacey Polk, the Honorary Chairwoman of the Republican Party, reminded me that just because there is a presumed nominee, doesn’t mean the nominee doesn’t have to earn the citizens’ votes. She adds, “One thing I know for sure is change expected without effort is not reasonable.”

I found myself holding out hope that the very fact that everyone is worried for their party might provide an opportunity for both sides to scoot closer to the center. Joseph White is not so starry eyed. “The major effect has already happened,” he says of journalism and the political divide. “There’s no agreement about facts. Somebody says something and criticisms are not taken all that seriously unless they’re taken from my side.”

By and large my news-watching experience would support that. But when I’m talking to people, we don’t seem so far off. I wonder again about taking sides while watching the convention on the TV at Barrio, a taco restaurant downtown. I drink a Great Lakes beer and CNN describes the floor as “chaos.” Whatever gulf is assumed to exist between Republicans and Democrats, a rift is clearly growing within the parties themselves. A rift that seems so deep I begin to think the people inside the Convention don’t sound that different from the ones outside.

As evening approaches I head toward Bop Stop to watch the full screening of “Fixers.” In one of the short films Marvetta Rutherford says, in relation to lack of public transportation and infrastructure for low income Cleveland neighborhoods, “There shouldn’t be a tale of two cities — not in one city.” The premise of the films is to show conference attendees a version of Cleveland they’re not likely to see in the Quicken Loans Arena, a contrast that likely exists in attendee’s own towns and cities across the country. But the room is full of Clevelanders who want to know how conference-goers will get to see the film.

The practical answer is that it’s looping in the 5th Street Arcades (right by Barrio). It’s also online, for free, for anyone who has heard about it through NPR or NBC. But perhaps the more compelling response came from one of the six filmmakers associated with the project, Paul Sobota: “These films have turned a mirror on ourselves and made us ask, What do we need?” Perhaps — I think — my premise for this series of updates on how Cleveland wants to be represented to the world is flawed. Maybe Cleveland is busy thinking about Cleveland.

* Or, “unnamed moderate libertarian who, being stuck in a two-party system, occasionally associates with Republicans.”