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CLEVELAND, OHIO—You know when you see a dog’s hair stand up on its back? When its kind eyes turn predatory? It’s an involuntary reaction, a mix of defense and aggression. The dog radiates a certain energy and you instinctively take a half-step back. Something is about to happen, and it’s going to go one way or another.
That was the vibe on the floor of the Republican National Convention last night. The energy inside Quicken Loans Arena was different than every other night of the week. It was angry. Seething. Dark.
The celebratory “U-S-A!” chants were whispers compared to the roaring “LOCK-HER-UP!” chants directed at Hillary Clinton. Did you see the copious amounts of “HILLARY FOR PRISON” shirts, signs, and pins? Or the delegate milling about the red-carpeted floor in the orange jumpsuit and mask? Or the members of the coal lobby holding clenched fists in the air above their hard hats?
G.E. Smith and the house band did their best to keep the wedding reception jams grooving all night, but even the closing couplet of “All Right Now” > “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” felt tense, the bass heavy and crunchy, the drums more pronounced than usual. The balloons floated down from the rafters, confetti followed, and yet this coronation didn’t feel like a celebration.
“I am your voice,” Trump promised during his 75-minute rambling speech about law and order and terrorism and “Americanism.” Country first. No more bad deals. Nobody’s coming in who doesn’t respect our values. Us. The whites who always had the power and temporarily lost it but now it’s time to get it back. Make America X Adjective Again.
It was different on the floor. People kicked balloons and popped balloons and let out deep-belly “WOOOO!”s. Not much hugging or crying. No real sentiment. There were battle lines drawn and battle cries heard—namely a fundamental repudiation of Black Lives Matter in the form of “All Lives Matter.” It felt like a high school football game. But instead of “HOLD THAT LINE!” it was “BUILD THE WALL!” (Which pretty much means the same thing, just at a different scale.)
I saw at least one kid propped up on his dad’s shoulder like Tiny Tim hitching a ride on Bob Cratchet. He waved a tiny American flag at the appropriate moments of applause, but he didn’t really smile. He couldn’t have been older than five or six. He’ll remember this moment, this night, no doubt, even if he won’t grasp what it means for another 10 or 15 years.