DNC Day 1 - White Rage, White Tears

"They crying 'cause they can't get they life right".

Going from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland to Day One of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Monday July 25th gave me a perspective I hadn't anticipated. I came away seeing more than a few similarities between Trump's hard-core supporters and those of Bernie Sanders. Other observers, including Donald Trump himself, have noted affinities between his and Sanders's outsider appeal, but it wasn't until I plunged into Bernie World on Monday, speaking with his people, marching with them, feeling their body heat, that I saw deeper, darker chords of kinship between the two groups of political "superfans".

The DNC was a highly scripted affair, and Day One in Philly was to be Bernie Day at the big show, the day Bernie Sanders was to speak in prime time from the Wells Fargo Arena, repeating his endorsement of Hillary Clinton as the first step to bringing about "party unity" for the Ds, that essence rare beloved of pundits in convention season. The wound or rift in the party caused by Bernie's "revolution" would be opened, acknowledged and sutured by 11PM.

The day didn't begin well, with Bernie's own delegates booing him at a pre-show meeting where he urged unity behind Hillary Clinton. Saint Bernard of the holy cause was a sell-out? Outrageous! The number two primary vote-getter rolled into town with 1,893 delegates, including 47 super delegates (to Hillary's 2,814, including 609 super delegates. The total needed to win the nomination was 2,383.) What this meant on the convention floor was that more than a third of the people there would be Bernie loyalists, even with Hillary's nomination a foregone conclusion. About the actual Bernie delegates in the hall, more in later posts, but the pain and outrage among Bernie's wider "people", with their hats and shirts and signs and their goddamned drum-circle drums, was palpable everywhere I went in Philadelphia on Monday, resentment a smell in the air. 

On top of this, the big oops moment of the convention had happened the day before, Sunday, with the release of Democratic National Committee emails which, while they contained no proof of any overt act to block or harm Sanders's primary chances, still showed there was no love for the Johny-come-lately Democrat from Vermont among party insiders. They showed disdain. Chief disdainer DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz had been forced to step down by the revelation, though her name was inconveniently printed on each and every one of more than 100,000 credentials badges for the four-day convention. For Sanders's supporters, this was almost-too-delicious/outrageous confirmation of the "rigged game" Bernie had been talking about throughout his campaign. 

So by late afternoon, out in the street, the Bernie bros and Bernie sisters were on the march. I joined them as they marched the roughly five-mile route down Broad Street from City Hall to the Wells Fargo. This was, at least from a practical perspective, not the best idea on this particular day. A promised, slow-moving "heat dome" had arrived, (from Cleveland, in fact) and broad, treeless Broad Street was an anvil hammered by the July sun. We were all feeling the burn. Still, there were thousands of marchers (I estimated more than 5,000), and from millennials to grandmas, most I spoke to were cheerfully prepared for this grueling, Lawrence-of-Philadelphia 8K; they had sun block, they had good shoes, they were hydrated and would continue, responsibly, to hydrate, and, most importantly, their cause was the right one. How could they not march in protest of so monumental a fraud, of so despicable a betrayal?

"Hell no, D-N-C, we won't vote for Hil-la-ry!" was their chant, mild as revolutionary slogans go, but loudly shared, somewhere on the spectrum between a shout and a fine white whine. And it was a largely white crowd, not quite hitting the absolute zero point achieved the previous week by the Republican delegates, but close. There were lots of feels on display, and with the walloping heat and the growing humidity, the whole march often had the feeling of a big, group cry in a sweat lodge. With polls showing 90% of Bernie voters prepared to vote for Hillary in November, I asked these marchers, this seeming hard-core, about their apparently unreconstructed stance. "Never" said more than a few, "I'll never vote for her". Hillary was "corrupt", a "criminal", had "stolen" the election, was "just as bad as Trump" or, for a few, "worse than Trump".

I asked about Trump. Wasn't he a scary racist? An existential threat to the Republic? Wasn't it high time for the D-Team to, you know, make the plan, build the van, go after the bad guy and win? A large number refused to be taken in by this line of argument, asserting that there were more important things, from a, you know, moral standpoint than defeating Trump and Trump-ism. Tara, 48, who said she'd come "all the way from Minnesota" told me "that's what they want you to think. Trump's bad, but you have to make your voice heard. Hillary and the DNC stabbed Bernie in the back, we never had a chance." When I pointed out that Hillary had, in fact, received four million more votes in the primaries, she shot back "in a fixed election", her logic seeming to be that it was fixed because Hillary won because it was fixed. Will the circle be unbroken?

Reinhard, an older man from New York who didn't want give his age but walked faster than I could easily keep up with asked me "You think we can't see who's behind this? She locked up the super delegates, she has the banks, Wall Street, everybody. She's everything wrong with this system, we have to start all over again." Did she have anything to recommend her over Trump, especially in the wake of his dark and frightening acceptance speech the previous Thursday in Cleveland, I asked. "Nothing" he said.

In Cleveland, the Rs had painted Hillary as nothing less than Dr. Fu Manchu, an arch-criminal, had lustily chanted "Lock her up! Lock her up!" Here on Broad Street, she was also seen as a prodigy, a Napoleon Of Crime and Author Of Evil. The Bernies and the Trumpists had this in common, though the Bernies framed their hatred of her with less of a misogynist swagger.

As Bill Clinton was to point out on Tuesday night, with her record and experience, it's hard to run against the real Hillary Clinton, so the Republicans made a cartoon of her and ran against that, but the "Crooked Hillary" cartoon was alive and well among the "progressives" on Broad Street as well. Some carried signs decrying her one-time support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, (though the Democratic platform, Hillary's platform, now opposed it) some said "Count Every Vote", as if, with some notable exceptions, that hadn't, in fact, happened, resulting in Hillary's decisive (but not on Broad Street) primary win. One young Bernie bro (a young black man, one of three I saw in the march) carried a sign that read "Nominate Hillary? #DEMEXIT".

Many of the Bernie-ites I spoke to expressed a sense of being "disenfranchised", of not being "listened to" or "respected". The dangerous question of "respect" had also been big with the aggrieved Trumpen. When I asked the Bernie-ites if they'd had the chance to vote and they answered yes, I asked how that could equal "disenfranchisement". Their answers became vague, and they fell back on Hillary's "corruption". Their feeling of injury was core-strong and in many cases, argument-and even reason-proof. In this grievance and whine, I heard echoes of the people I'd met in Cleveland, the "We-The-People" people who wanted "their" country back. Something promised was not delivered, an entitlement was reneged on, and the kids were hurt. And angry.

I was surprised by the overt hate on display, and the hurt. Someone had wronged these people and was now, outrage of outrages, being rewarded for it. Later that night, my sister-in-law put on her best blaccent to describe the tears in the street. "They crying 'cause they can't get they life right", she said. She could have been speaking of the people I met in Cleveland. 

The thousands of pro-Bernie protesters oozed down Broad Street to gather at last outside the gates of the Wells Fargo Arena, to gather at the more-than-reasonably-safe-bomb-distance-away spot designated for their protest, the spot separated from the vast arena parking lot, and therefore the delegates, by the kind of fine-meshed, heavy-duty riot fencing I first saw in Cleveland. Once assembled there, all they could do was to look like the great unwashed, to bang their drums and make noise, a stage, speakers, microphones having been ruled out. The weather was growing tropical-heavy, full of danger. After hours on the march in the sun, the heat and the smell of the crowd was piercing, and the collective sound they made had the plaintive, lowing notes of cattle in a stockyard.

Meanwhile, the washed, the credentialed few poured into the hall for the first night's proceedings, many of the Bernie delegates wearing, quelle courage, the cute green Robin Hood hats given out earlier in the day. To enter the convention they passed through airport-style security courtesy of real TSA agents, and walked the hot, soft asphalt of the Wells Fargo's vast parking lot. Baltimore Mayor and rising star Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, filling in for the disgraced Wasserman Schultz, (two last names being an apparent requirement for the gig) gaveled the Convention to order. The program included the lyrical, black-girl-magic of Michelle Obama and, as promised, as 11PM approached, the old-testament-via-Coney-Island thunderings of Bernie Sanders himself, who closed his speech, in what passed in him as a kind of softening:

"It is no secret that Hillary Clinton and I disagree on a number of issues. That’s what this campaign has been about. That’s what democracy is about. But I am happy to tell you that at the Democratic Platform Committee there was a significant coming together between the two campaigns and we produced, by far, the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party. Among many other strong provisions, the Democratic Party now calls for breaking up the major financial institutions on Wall Street and the passage of a 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act. It also calls for strong opposition to job-killing free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Our job now is to see that platform implemented by a Democratic Senate, a Democratic House and a Hillary Clinton presidency – and I am going to do everything I can to make that happen.

I have known Hillary Clinton for 25 years. I remember her as a great first lady who broke precedent in terms of the role that a first lady was supposed to play as she helped lead the fight for universal health care. I served with her in the United States Senate and know her as a fierce advocate for the rights of children.

Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president and I am proud to stand with her here tonight."

At this, a groan went up from the Bernie delegates in the hall, and a massive groan went up from the unwashed mass at the gates in the heat outside, and the skies blackened and a sudden, old-testament rain roared down and sent everyone running, rain black as tears chasing them, sheets of rain slapping the streets of Philadelphia in seeming reproach, although of what or of whom I could not be sure.

The disturbing echoes I'd heard on Broad Street before the skies opened would stay with me for days afterward, the echoes of the sacred cause betrayed, of the stab in the back, of entitlement disappointed, the buzzing echoes of hate and outrage that crackled like lightning between Cleveland and Philadelphia. We know from history's terrible example that this unreconstructed, unassimilated resentment is the soil of fascism. Do we have the will or the power to stop its fruit from growing?

Pro-Bernie protesters take to the streets on Day 1 of the DNC in Philadelphia. There actually are one or two black faces in this sample. Video by Tony Puryear.

DNC Photostream Part 1

My pictures from the RNC were in black and white, as was everything else about that convention. Color seemed like the way to go for the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 25-28, 2016. The event drew a rainbow of beautiful faces, and the hot, moist air of Philadelphia had an uncanny light. 

DNC Day 1: The new skyline of Philadelphia. As in a lot of American cities, developers here are falling over themselves to plant tall buildings in the ground before the recovery runs out. Thanks, Obama.

DNC Day 1: 30th Street Station.

DNC Day 1: So I get an Uber from 30th Street, and I roll up to the Logan Hotel on Logan Square to pick up my credentials. Hotels like this, usually there's a bellman to greet you or open your car door. This is who greeted me in the car port of the hotel, literally the first hand I shook in Philadelphia. #42 was suave in his blue suede shoes and in a good mood, doing what loves best, just hanging out, pressing the flesh, much to the consternation of his Secret Service detail, above left.

DNC Day 1: Sign posted in the lobby of the Logan. Lists like these get longer every year. Having been produced by the Democratic National Committee, this placard carries the union label.

DNC Day 1: The bitch of this convention is that the venue, the Wells Fargo Center (the Dems would gather in a place named for a bank) is far from the center of town, held at arm's length, as it were. The hotels, the late-night parties and the daytime action are in the hotels downtown, but the arena is a 20-minute subway ride away on the Broad Street SEPTA Line.

DNC Day 1: On the way to the subway, a huge sculpture represents democracy as clusterfuck, democracy as heroic struggle. "Government of the People" is by Jacques Lipschitz, bronze, 1976, at the Municipal Services Building on Broad Street. This mighty sculptural group is 30' high. Of course when I walked by, there was a protest going on. 

DNC Day 1: Puerto Rican diaspora organizations were marching against the recently enacted "Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act", or Promesa, and its establishment of a financial oversight and management board for the island. The activists demanded independence for Puerto Rico, and accused the United States of "submerging Puerto Rico in an illegitimate debt of $70 billion" and wanting the people of the island to "pay with their blood" through Promesa. I looked in vain for a Democratic delegate at the protest.

DNC Day 1: Philadephia's SEPTA trains are trying to tell us something.

DNC Day 1: So I get on the subway to the Wells Fargo Center, and who should I see but my old homeboy, former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa? This must be my day. Hizzoner and I share a name, (he began life as Tony Villar, from City Terrace on LA's East side) and a favorite restaurant, Chaya Venice. I believe the attractive woman behind him was trying to act as though she was not, in fact, with him (the Mayor is engaged to be married again, but not to her). I kid, I kid the Mayor.

The Philadelphia Police and the Secret Service get on the train at the next-to-last stop. Everyone without DNC credentials must leave the train before it takes off for the Wells fargo Arena stop. When I got to this last stop, when I emerged from the ground, this is what I saw: My old friend, the high-tech Secret Service fencing from Cleveland, and thousands and thousands of Bernie Sanders supporters chanting just outside the perimeter.

Positively 4th Street

Downtown Cleveland is sliced and diced by miles of temporary fencing, sturdy, black and terrible. This is not your ordinary chain-link. It is, rather, military grade. The mesh is fine, the framing expensive. You could not climb it if you wanted to, and it's not going anywhere. Like the Cleveland PD's new, black beetle body armor, this stuff is the Darth Vader shit. It's the kind of thing you expect to see in Gaza, not in front of the Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland, Ohio welcomes you.

In surreal juxtaposition to this positively Palestinian block-by-block, intersection-by-intersection partitioning of space, the positively giddy Republican delegates on 4th Street, the reclaimed urban restaurant row leading up to the "Q", are having a "positive experience", as one of them explained to me. This is the party street, home to two restaurants by TV chef Michael Symon, the House of Blues and 20 more bar/restaurants just like them, serving the same warmed-over ribs and two-for-one drinks. MSNBC has set up not one but two live broadcast booths along 4th street, and the lights and the color and the drinks make this three-block strip the place to see and be seen. If politics is show is show-biz for ugly people, this, surely, is their comic con. 

It's a very, very white scene, with what little color there is supplied by the black and brown officers of the various police agencies who are such a huge presence here. There are black and brown servers, cooks and dishwashers in the restaurants. There are gaggles of black street vendors selling Trump t-shirts and hats, Trump bobble-heads and Trump posters. When I asked one of them how they could support Trump, he answered simply "he's not getting a dime from this, I'm supporting me". Fair enough, these young brothers are on their grind, and a month ago the shirts were all LeBron and the Cavs, now it's what's selling this week. There are black, hispanic and Asian delegates, and I've even seen one or two. Before I leave Cleveland, I hope to speak to one.

And there's the color supplied by me, black secret agent T, light-skinned enough that I get answers other folks may not, and that's always fun. So I spent part of Day 2 of the RNC down on 4th Street, down on the party street, asking as many delegates as I could, and the ones I spoke to were all white, a simple question: Despite the high spirits here in the street, How can you stand the racism? How can you stand to be associated with Trump and what he represents?

"We're having a positive experience" one young woman told me. Yes, some things about Trump were "a little extreme", but she said the party was uniting behind him (as we spoke a tally of the states made it official, Trump is the nominee) and people "feel good about that, about moving forward". I tried to make her hear the word again. What about the racism? "I think people make too much of that, I think they want to bring race into everything". When I replied that Trump brought race into his campaigns, with his remarks about Mexicans and Muslims, she smiled "But see, Mexican is not a race, that's what I mean". She had me.

Several others acted as if I hadn't used the "r" word at all, and they spoke of the need to "stop Hillary". "She'd be a disaster", one told me. "Is she a racist?" I asked. Again, they told me Trump might not be "perfect", but he would stop Hillary, again, these were people who didn't want to hear or say that word.

None of my conversations with the delegates were confrontational. In each case I explained that I was a journalist covering the big show, I gave them my card, which identifies me as "writer/journalist/cartoonist" Tony Puryear. In all cases the delegates were pleasant, happy to be asked their opinion, happy to be asked a question at all. Some asked if I wanted to talk to their friends, too. I did. After a while, I must admit, I found the pleasant tone of these conversations infuriating.

I also admit I brought assumptions and preconceptions to party street that were way off base. I assumed that for at least some people there'd be a gap between them and their candidate. I assumed that there were "decent" people among the delegates, as I assume there are everywhere, and that this decency would create a space of, I don't know, embarrassment or shame between them and the overt bigotry and hate-mongering of Trump. Well, there were "decent" people, but with whatever guile or charm or cleverness at my disposal, I couldn't make them fess up to even a tiny bit of the shame I was expecting to find, and after speaking to a score of them, I realized I was wrong in thinking it had to be there. It just wasn't.

Some, of course, rolled their eyes in a common acknowledgement of "hey it is what it is". He's a buffoon, they'd concede, a freak show, a clown. That was a bit embarrassing to educated or achieving or relatively hip people such as themselves. I began to realize that a lot of these Republican delegates, and many of them were young, even millennials, were the educated or achieving or relatively hip people in their worlds, presidents of their high school classes, state senators, people who watch the Food Network (many brought up Michael Symon, avatar of a certain kind of worldliness, I guess). I'd keep trying to bring the question around to the racism, how did they feel, personally, about that? They couldn't or wouldn't speak about themselves, but many assured me Trump, (and by extension, they themselves) "could not be racist", or "not really", anyway. Two reminded me Ben Carson supports him. Many told me they had "black friends". Of course they did.

As I walked along Party Street, my fury grew. I was furious with these people. I was even more furious with myself, in my new role as a journalist. I'm failing to do the gig. What stunning revelation do I have for my readers? Republican delegates are white? They are, in the main, shameless about Trump's racism, and therefore theirs?  This country is as divided as downtown Cleveland, with miles of fencing separating us, and it's not going away. I came here to protest against Trump, and I came here to bear witness to what's going down here at ground zero. There have been precious few protests or protesters, more on that in my next post, and as for bearing witness, I'm realizing I'm asking the wrong questions.

 Living the dream on Party Street.

Living the dream on Party Street.

 "I'm supporting me."

"I'm supporting me."

 Chris Cillizza of MSNBC live on-air from Party Street.

Chris Cillizza of MSNBC live on-air from Party Street.

 #dtf@rnc

#dtf@rnc

 A lonely stand in a white, white space.

A lonely stand in a white, white space.

RNC Day 1 Photostream Part 2

Color.

 Blue state/red state.

Blue state/red state.

 Joyce Brabner, the wildly brilliant and immensely practical woman who dreamed up and pulled off Comixcast 2016. A Cleveland native, she is a comics writer and the widow of Harvey Pekar.

Joyce Brabner, the wildly brilliant and immensely practical woman who dreamed up and pulled off Comixcast 2016. A Cleveland native, she is a comics writer and the widow of Harvey Pekar.

RNC Day 1 Photostream Part 1

First day in Cleveland, a lonely, noir-ish town in bright Summer sunshine. A lonely, noir-ish town temporarily full of watchful cops and giddy Republicans. I was struck by the light and the emptiness here; I'd never seen a big city with so few residents, with such an eerie silence to it. I saw it downtown, and I saw it in the city's Chinatown. Of course, Detroit and other rust belt cities have experienced the same harsh downsizing, but there is a sadness to Cleveland that won't quit.

 Airport schwag. Not union made.

Airport schwag. Not union made.

 Airport train station. Republican delegates do not ride the subway.

Airport train station. Republican delegates do not ride the subway.

 Rolling in to fortress Cleveland and the Quicken Loans Arena.

Rolling in to fortress Cleveland and the Quicken Loans Arena.

 Fortress Cleveland - Indiana State Police at Tower City Center.

Fortress Cleveland - Indiana State Police at Tower City Center.

 A protest march through Chinatown following a performance by Chuck D and Prophets of Rage.

A protest march through Chinatown following a performance by Chuck D and Prophets of Rage.

 Superior Avenue, Chinatown, Dead empty at 3PM, still waiting for the recovery.

Superior Avenue, Chinatown, Dead empty at 3PM, still waiting for the recovery.

 Cleveland PD in their new District 9-looking drag.

Cleveland PD in their new District 9-looking drag.

 Believe in Ohio, believe in Dahntay.

Believe in Ohio, believe in Dahntay.

 But don't believe the liberal media.

But don't believe the liberal media.

 A city of walls and barricades.

A city of walls and barricades.

 Chinatown.

Chinatown.

My Kind of Town

So I'm In Chicago, and it's the calm before the storm, and I thought I'd visit Grant Park. Grant Park, where Chicago held its funeral for Lincoln, Grant Park, where Barack Obama made history on election night, November 4, 2008. Grant Park, the scene of some of the bloodiest street fighting ever seen in an American city. In August of 1968, this was ground zero for a protest against the Vietnam War that had been building all that long hot Summer, the Summer when King was killed, when a second Kennedy was killed. This was where Mayor-For-Life Richard J. Daley's Chicago Police Department staged what commentators at the time called "a police riot", beating and arresting young protesters during the Democratic National Convention, one of the first such spectacles to be broadcast live on TV in this country. Chicago has always been my kind of town, a noisy, protesting town, but the violence of '68 was something new and dangerous.

I'm thinking about Grant Park, and Chicago '68 because tomorrow I'll be in Cleveland.

The violence here in Chicago, again violence by the forces of law and order, and its gripping, moment-by-moment prime-time televised version, sent an ugly frisson of fear through the American pysche that Summer. Fear is always useful to somebody. In '68 that fear helped to doom Hubert Humphrey's chances of winning the presidency, and thus paved the way for Nixon and his years of darkness. In truth, no Democrat short of the late Robert Kennedy could have distanced himself enough from Lyndon Johnson's stupid, useless war to have a chance of winning, least of all Humphrey, Johnson's sad, smiling, clueless veep. Though the police committed the violence in Chicago, the anti-war movement took the blame, and Nixon won the fear vote decisively. He won on a platform of, wait for it, "law and order".

Looked at this way, the demonstrations did not shorten or end the war; far from it, they had the opposite, unintended consequence. From this point of view, all those long-haired heads got cracked in vain. Daley, who had ordered up all those cops and Guardsmen to ensure "his" convention would go off as planned, suffered his own unintended consequence when he and his legacy were instead ruined by the result. Wikipedia tells it like this:

"When asked about anti-war demonstrators, Daley repeated to reporters that "no thousands will come to our city and take over our streets, our city, our convention." 10,000 demonstrators gathered in Chicago for the convention, where they were met by 23,000 police and National Guardsmen.

On August 28, 1968, around 10,000 protesters gathered in Grant Park for the demonstration. At approximately 3:30 p.m., a young man lowered the American flag that was there.The police broke through the crowd and began beating the young man...The police assault in front of the Hilton Hotel the evening of August 28 became the most famous image of the Chicago demonstrations of 1968. The entire event took place live under television lights for seventeen minutes with the crowd chanting, "The whole world is watching"."

I'm thinking about Cleveland, where thousands of protesters are expected tomorrow, and throughout the week of the Republican Convention.

According NBC, "there will be close to 3,000 police officers in the city, including officers from Columbus and 70 other police agencies around the country. Police anticipate large organized protests as well as smaller pop-up protests.Electronic highway signs leading in to Cleveland tells visitors to call the FBI if they see something suspicious. Parts of the city look like it’s preparing for a cage match with miles of eight-foot-high fences meant to help police control crowds of protesters."

With everything that's happened in the world recently, Dallas, Nice, it will be all too easy for someone, somewhere, to try to exploit the climate of fear, as Trump is doing and has done successfully for the past year, fear of the other, fear of the future. Then there's the fear of violence arising in Cleveland. These fears almost give our planned protest a bad name. Should we not do it? Since announcing my plan to go to Cleveland to cover the protests there and to Stop Trump, I've gotten more than 20 private messages from friends urging me to "be careful" or to not go there at all. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't taken on just a little of that climate of fear myself. And for what? If the Chicago protests actually failed in their mission, why protest at all? After spending time in Grant Park, though, I started thinking in a different way about Chicago '68 and Cleveland '16.

The Chicago protests did not, in themselves or by themselves shorten the war, it's true, but seeing them on TV, seeing kids being beaten by cops in prime time helped millions of people to question trusted authorities like Daley, Johnson, the Chicago PD and the Democratic Party. This was of the essence of the '60s, when the legitimacy of institutions and leaders came crashing down, often through their own lies, short-sightedness and stupidity. Johnson et al were revealed to have no clothes, and the echoes of that revelation still reverberate in a healthy way for a supposed democracy.

When we take to the streets in Cleveland tomorrow, and for the next four days, we may not stop Trump, our demonstrations may have unintended consequences no one can foresee, but one thing we will surely be doing is refusing to give in to fear. We will give a resounding answer to anyone, in future generations who asks, as we ask of pre-Hitler Germany, "didn't anyone try to stop him?" Thousands of us are coming to Cleveland to call out Trump and Trump-ism as the dangerous, fascist phenomenon they are. Cleveland, often derided as "The Mistake by The Lake" is also home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We will not give in to violence or fear, but we will make a mighty big noise. We will see to it Cleveland rocks, and this week, it's my kind of town. 

A Nightmare On Elm Street

"The Wild Wild West Will Blow You Away!" - Sign on a cowboy boot store, Elm Street, downtown Dallas.

When you visit Dallas, Texas, three salient facts immediately become apparent: First, you are in a small town, or rather a small city with a surprisingly small downtown for a "metro region" of 1.3 million, for a fat spot on the map whose name looms so large in the American psyche: "Dallas", the television phenomenon; the iconic Dallas Cowboys, "America's Team"; Dallas, November 1963, these are all signposts of a certain important city of the mind. In much more prosaic reality, you can walk from one end of the downtown to the other, if you walk slowly, in a matter of 30 minutes, as hundreds of Black Lives Matter protesters in fact did on the evening of July 7th, 2016, their route taking them within two blocks of the biggest, let's be honest, the sole tourist attraction in the over-optimistically named Big D, and this is the second fact: There is nothing else worth seeing in this stubbornly one-horse town besides Dealey Plaza, the Texas School Book Depository and the legendary, if disappointing grassy knoll, collectively the site of one of the truly grievous wounds in American history, the original Nightmare On Elm Street. Here, with a uniquely American juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane, the hushed "Sixth Floor Museum at Dealy Plaza" shares the old book warehouse with the offices of "Big D Fun Tours", your host for "The Award-Winning JFK Tour", which they bill as "The Best First Thing To Do In Dallas", apparently because "only" just wouldn't be as much "fun". Across Houston Street, the decidedly not-so-fun Dallas Holocaust Museum abuts a popular cowboy hat and boot emporium called "The Wild Wild West", whose website somewhat chillingly proclaims "The Wild Wild West Will Blow You Away". And here, our third fact emerges.

Dallas, Texas is the West, unmistakably, unrepentantly, a city of white Stetsons and open-carry gun laws, a Cormac McCarthy cow-town soaked in violence and pregnant with dry-heat mayhem, a city where even the annual college football classic is called the Red River Shootout. A rough, frontier justice has always obtained on these streets, and Chairman Mao's maxim that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun may well have been focus-grouped right here. If Houston smells like oil and Austin smells of weed, what you smell on the dusty streets of Dallas is gunsmoke.

On November 22, 1963, the story goes, a coffee-jittery young ex-Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit, leading to Oswald's being chased to, cornered and captured in the Texas Theater™ as, on the big screen, Audie Murphy played himself in the true-life film "War Is Hell". The gun used to kill Tippit was found on Oswald, and by that night, the accused cop-killer was the prime suspect in the day's other big gun-down. Had he acted alone? As part of a conspiracy? Two days later, on November 24th, Oswald was killed in Dallas PD custody, gut-shot by small-time strip-club owner and pimp Jack Ruby, whose single, lucky, oh hell, call it magic bullet severed Oswald's aorta. Simpler times.

Oswald, like John Kennedy before him (and Ruby, in 1965), died and was pronounced at Parkland Memorial Hospital. Their secrets, in life as dark and rich as cherry Coke, vanished with them, wisps of blue smoke over the chaparral.

On the evening of July 7th, 2016, the story goes, a 25 year-old Black Army reservist named Micah X. Johnson opened fire on police at a demonstration to protest the police killings in Louisiana and Minnesota of two Black men in as many days. It was a bloody affair. Twelve officers were shot, five were killed. Johnson, a veteran of our adventure in Afghanistan, seems to have known his way around a long gun and a high concealment. As reported in The Huffington Post, "Johnson’s military training helped him to shoot and move rapidly, “triangulating” his fire with multiple rounds so that police at first feared they were facing several shooters." Fears of a multi-person hit team, coordinated, secret and still at large, gripped the city.

The morning after - The Associated Press

Unlike his predecessor Oswald, a couple of blocks and a million years away with his ancient, bolt-action carbine, Johnson, possessed of frightening, Texas-sized amounts of the best in modern firepower, died at the scene. He didn't even make it as far as a police station. Instead, in a true American first, he was killed by a drone strike, killed by a robot with a pound of C-4 explosive in its aluminum crab-hand, the first domestic criminal suspect on record to be dispatched in such a gruesome, 21st Century fashion. "Negotiations had failed", Chief David Brown of the Dallas Police told reporters. The suspect, Johnson, was hiding behind a brick wall in a parking garage, singing and taunting officers, and "negotiations had failed."

"Negotiations had failed". A world in that sentence, and a new, if not brave one. There was no capture, no arrest, no Miranda, no bill of indictment, no trial, no plea, no conviction, no sentence, no appeal. The entire mechanics of our criminal justice system were short-circuited by a crude, bang-on-a-stick technique, frequently employed but rarely spoken about, that our fighting forces overseas in the Wild Wild East use to kill Haji, when he's dug in, when he's around the corner, when he's being a fuckin' asshole and won't come out. When "negotiations have failed". The good thing about Haji is that he has no ACLU, nor a Bill of Rights, nor a movement claiming his life "matters". He may be safely exploded out of sight, without fuss, in any one of a number of wars that are themselves well out of sight and astonishingly fuss-free. This ad hoc, on-the-ground drone warfare isn't even counted in the Pentagon's estimates of nearly a thousand "official" US drone strikes in the past ten years, but it's on our collective hands just the same. 

Downtown Dallas, Texas, July 7th-8th, 2016

It's a truism, known to writers of TV cop shows the world over, that a cop-killer, once cornered, doesn't last the night, doesn't make it to the closing credits. The men and women in blue, their comrades' deaths fresh in their minds, their "blood up", will administer "street justice" with a hail of lead before the sun rises on the hard, hard city. In a cruel twist of fate, Chief Johnson's own son, David Jr., killed a Texas cop back in 2010 while high on PCP, and was himself killed in a shootout with police that very night, in accordance with the iron rules of the narrative. The Western variant calls for the shootout to take place out in the main street, which, conveniently in this case, was where the action actually was.

Micah X. Johnson, desperado, Wild West bad man, and a black life who suddenly mattered, certainly fit the profile. His last stand seemed tailor-made for this familiar story beat, till Chief Brown, a black man himself and a noted reformer who'd made history in reducing the use of force by his department, made another kind of history by approving the unprecedented use of a Remotec Andros Mark V-A1 robot, normally used to safely explode bombs. The Dallas PD armed the robot with a bomb to literally blow Johnson away. Wild Wild West, indeed. Had Johnson acted alone? Was he part of a terror cell? A conspiracy? As with Oswald, we'll never know. Safely exploded, Johnson's secrets, whatever they may have been, blew away with him.

When John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas, Malcolm X made the bitter observation that it had been a case of "the chickens coming home to roost", of the latent violence and the actual violence of American power turning to strike home at one of America's own. Terrible as his suspected crimes were, and let us grant that they were terrible, Micah X. Johnson, USArmy, Res. was one of America's own, too, but by the end of the night, he fared no better than Haji, safely detonated, out of sight. By crossing this new line, by executing via drone a criminal suspect, an American citizen, however heinous the crimes he was accused of, Chief Brown and the Dallas PD have brought the heightened, yet sanitized and out-of-sight violence of our foreign wars home to the Wild Wild West, and our country, today, is not the same.

 Micah X. Johnson, desperado, safely detonated.

Micah X. Johnson, desperado, safely detonated.