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CLEVELAND, OHIO—There are Secret Service agents in bulletproof vests peppered throughout Public Square. There are Cleveland police officers in riot gear, state troopers pressing index fingers to earpieces, undercover cops in black sunglasses trying not to look like undercover cops in black sunglasses. This is the same place where, earlier in the week, Alex Jones was “attacked by communists” (his words). This is where members of the Westboro Baptist Church have been pleasantly reminding us that “God hates fags,” and where human troll Vermin Supreme is galloping about with a boot on his head telling the God-fearers that they’re the ones going to Hell.
On Wednesday afternoon, a small group of middle-aged men identifying themselves as “Bikers for Trump” stand near the edge of the square as open-carry advocates in paramilitary vests lumber by. (Some strap handguns to their hips; others sling full-on AR-15s over their shoulders.) To be clear, none of the bikers have visible weapons on them.
“The gay group is over there,” Bikers for Trump organizer Bill Daher says in a heavy Midwestern accent. “This is the Jesus group.” He gestures to the left and crosses his arms. Daher, a 66-year-old retiree, can’t even ride on account of his open-heart and brain surgeries (he tugs his t-shirt down and brushes his stringy white hair aside to reveal both scars).
Depending on whom you ask, Public Square just underwent a $50 million, $60 million, or $70 million renovation. No one seems to agree, and everyone laughs at the fact that they finished it right under the wire before the RNC kicked off. Still, it’s a beautiful and functional space free of graffiti and bird shit and dried gum and all the other debris you’d expect to find in an urban park—particularly in Cleveland. The hyper-developed E. 4th street is just a few blocks away, the Quicken Loans Arena—ground zero for the main event—a few blocks beyond that. But even a short walk down Euclid will take you past wholly abandoned office buildings. Daher lives down in the city’s Slavic Village, “probably the most rundown neighborhood in the city,” he says. “A lot of people in my neighborhood are on drugs. White people rob each other, black people shoot each other.”
According to The Cleveland Plain Dealer, more than 3,000 of the 12,000 homes in Slavic Village are vacant, and as many as 400 are unsalvageable. The median home price in Cleveland is a mere $51,200, which, as Bloomberg notes is the second lowest among the largest 150 cities in the United States. These are the conditions that usually lure people to vote Democratic. So why is Daher so set on Trump?
“He’s not Hillary.”
Daher’s a lifelong Republican—save for that brief hippie stint out in San Francisco. “California’s crazy. People are nuts. No, I can’t really criticize it. San Francisco’s nuts. I was in San Francisco and it was driving me nuts. I said, ‘I gotta get out of here.’ I couldn’t find a job and I came to Cleveland, oh I could find five jobs.” Granted, that was back in 1971.
His mom sent him off to kindergarten with an “I Like Ike” button pinned to his shirt. “When I was 14 I listened to Barry Goldwater speak; he was one of the biggest losers the Republican party has ever seen.“
“No one democracy has lasted 300 years. When democracy becomes corrupt, it becomes anarchy. That’s what our country is reverting to—anarchy. I don’t know whether [Trump] would slow it down or push it. He’s not as politically adept as other candidates.”
Back in March, during the Ohio primary, Daher voted for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.”He’s a poor kid who was orphaned and he picked himself up from being an orphan to become governor,” Daher says. “He’s the kind of person who typifies Republicans; a man who’s a self-made person.”
Trump is not.
Kasich won Ohio with nearly 47 percent of the vote back then. But this week, he’s among the high-profile GOP’ers boycotting the convention solely on account of Trumpism and all the gold-plated baggage that comes with it. Whether Kasich continues to withhold his support in the general is another story. Daher believes that we’d be better off if the two final candidates were more moderate.”If John Kasich endorses Trump, Trump will carry Ohio,” Daher says. “If he carries Ohio, he wins. This has been a bellwether state. How Ohio went, that’s how the presidency went. We’re the middle of the country. I think people always vote their pocket book. Who would we want if we go to war? I think people would rather see a man. Look at England. Look at World War II.”
Daher’s eyes wander around the square. The California Highway patrol—one of several out of state groups here for supplemental support—marches through in full riot gear. In a couple of hours, a small group will sort of burn an American flag a few blocks away. Trump will circle the city by helicopter. Laura Ingraham will intentionally or not, throw out a Nazi salute. Ted Cruz will refuse to endorse Trump, then be booed off the stage. A kid will walk through Public Square with a sign that reads “Make America Vape Again.”
Then everyone will do it all over again for one more day, and everyone will pack up and leave Cleveland, and the the square will once again be empty.
“Our country is in a downward spiral,” Daher says. “I don’t know if any candidates can stop that. I don’t know if anyone besides Jesus Christ himself could save us. And if he did come back, he probably wouldn’t come back here. He’ll come back to Israel.”