My dad is a New York State delegate for Trump; when he asked me to come to this year's Republican National Convention as his guest, I was thrilled at the opportunity to witness some grotesque political theater in person.
By the second day of the convention, however, some of the novelty had worn off. Although there had been some truly thrilling moments—I ate breakfast next to Newt Gingrich, who resembles an adorable beach ball in the flesh!—I was beginning to feel exhausted. Mostly, I was tired of all the "USA! USA!" chants.
On Tuesday morning—a few hours after Melania's plagiarism controversy, which literally no one at RNC cared about—I awoke in Cleveland and mentally prepared myself to re-enter the fray. (Read the first part of Lara's RNC diary here.)
Tuesday, July 19, 2016: Convention Day 2
Over coffee in the hotel lobby I overhear some delegates at the neighboring table discussing Melania's plagiarizing scandal. Their vibe seems to indicate that it is being blown way out of proportion, another liberal media takedown.
I ask my dad what he thinks. He, to my surprise, also does not seem to think it's all that big a deal, maintaining that these are common words, generic phrases, etc. I challenge him by insisting that while indeed the words may be generic, it is the assembly of those words, for sentence after sentence, that is troubling. He retorts by asking me if including, "My fellow Americans…" in a speech would count as plagiarism. I am genuinely horrified, and decide to retreat quickly from this conversation.
I am rushing over to the convention to get there in time to see the roll call for nomination. In the elevator I meet the single cutest little old lady I have ever encountered in my life. Her name is Ruby, and she is a delegate. She is five feet tall and wearing exclusively lime green.
Ruby asks why I am here and I tell her that I am accompanying my father. She loves that, and tells me, "The problem with America is that nobody has a dad." She then proceeds to hold my hand while telling me that I have to come visit her on the Upper East Side when we go home. Grandma Ruby, as she has insisted I call her, is in her nineties, and I learn that she has been to something like ten conventions.
The roll call for the nomination, while tedious, is actually rather powerful to watch, as it is extremely performative and also quite patriotic. Each state is called upon to confirm their delegates' pick. There is a rumbling around me that the convention organizers are ordering the roll call so that the New York delegation gets to be the state that tips Trump over the edge of the required delegates for nomination.
I notice that there is no graphic on any screen anywhere in the convention that indicates how many delegates Trump is accumulating. Why is this whole thing so poorly designed?
This is really dragging on. When each state pledges their delegates, they get a moment to say something cute about their state. That was sweet for the first seven or so, but now I am bored and want to get to the big moment. I have no idea how much longer we have to go because like I said THERE IS NO GRAPHIC TO TELL ME.
Okay, here we go. Don Jr. is coming out to be the person that gives his father enough delegates to secure the nomination. I can see Grandma Ruby on screen! She's so tiny! This must be so exciting for her
Jesus Christ. The second the words came out of Don Jr.'s mouth, the place erupts in elation. The graphic on the screen now reads OVER THE TOP! and Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" is turned up all the way to 11. Everywhere I turn, people are swaying along.
A woman two rows behind me is crying.
I'm leaving to go to a LGBT GOP party, and I spot two more people crying tears of joy. Yikes.
There are anti-gay protestors here. This is the most uncomfortable and unsafe I have felt since I have been here. They are yelling profanities at everyone who walks by. I see that one of them, the ringleader with the bullhorn, has something strapped to his waist. I can't tell if it is a gun. There are cops everywhere.
I'm in the corner of this bizarre LGBT party filled with straight dudes who just love Milo Yiannopoulos, and I find my thoughts drifting to Tiffany Trump. Can you imagine how nervous Tiffany Trump must have been? Poor, poor Tiffany Trump. She is younger than I am. Seems like she has only fairly recently been brought out by this campaign. I consult the internet to see the consensus on her performance. Mixed feelings. A for effort.
Wednesday, July 20, 2016: Convention Day 3
Holy shit, I am hung over. My father and I go downstairs to the lobby hotel to have lunch. I'm going to hurl. We order two club sandwiches. This is my fifth club sandwich since arriving, and this one is particularly horrible. I take about three bites before I give up. The delegates at the neighboring table seem judgmental. Little do they know that my room adjoins with the party suite and I know exactly what they are up to in there (mostly, yelling until 3 AM). People in glass houses…
E 4th Street, the street that leads you to the entrance to the convention, is littered with merchandise. Every imaginable Trump slogan and picture is silkscreened onto Haines T-shirts. Bobble-heads are selling for twenty a pop. You can even take a photo with something called "Dryer Lint Donald," but I pass. I admire a "Bomb The Shit Out Of ISIS" shirt and consider buying it before I am told it is $20.
I'm back at the convention after a much-needed afternoon nap. I cannot stress this enough: This event is bloody exhausting. My body is already crumbling and I have over 24 hours left. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and I am doing it all wrong.
As I am exiting the restroom, a girl stumbles into me and nearly falls over. When she looks at me to apologize, I can smell the booze on her breath. It's 9 PM. This is, truly, the Republican PARTY.
Because the three bars in the media center are closed in an effort to get people in their seats inside the arena, I park it across from the Facebook hub, where they have a massive screen live streaming the convention. It's 40000 degrees outside, but I don't want to go back in there. A montage called "My Father Donald Trump" is playing on the screen. Eric, Don Jr., and Ivanka are glowing about their wonderful, loving, accomplished father. Curiously, there is no sight of Tiffany. Poor, poor Tiffany.
"HELLO RNC! EVERYBODY IN THIS PLACE LET ME HERE YOU SAY TRUMP! YEAH! TRUMP! YEAH!" screams the singer of the RNC house band. The camera cuts to old white people moving and grooving.
Does Mike Pence even have eyes? Can someone find me the eyes on that man's face?
Eric Trump sounds like Owen Wilson when he gets on stage. "WOW, WOW, WOW," he repeats. An alternate delegate friend I've just made thinks he is drunk: "He has had a few too many," he tells me. Eric Trump has ridiculously white teeth. He calls himself a millennial in the speech. How old is Eric Trump?
Eric Trump is 32. That's not a millennial!
Newt is on stage now! It's not a beach ball! It's a blueberry! Newt Gingrich looks like a blueberry!
Okay, it's official: I love Newt Gingrich. This is officially the most surprising epiphany of the convention. I look at his Instagram, and his bio reads "zoo lover." I don't care about his beliefs or opinions. He's a zoo-loving beach ball blueberry. I almost start a chant. Newt! Newt! Newt!
What is it about Mike Pence's face that I hate so, so much? Does Mike Pence even have eyes? Can someone find me the eyes on that man's face? Mike Pence is unbearable. I feel bad for his poor wife and daughter, who have to stand next to Melania and Ivanka. Exhaustion is hitting me like a truck, and Mike Pence is helping to lull me to sleep.
Thursday, July 21, 2016: Convention Day 4
After a leisurely morning, my father and myself are now at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame for delegates' day. The security is insane; it is equal to if not more secure than the convention itself. I guess that Cleveland has its priorities straight.
They've set out cookies for us. They're stale.
Okay, that is it. If I see one more person in a "Hillary for Prison" t-shirt, I am going to throw myself in front of oncoming traffic.
A bird just died, dropped out of the sky, and landed within inches of me. A bad omen or what?
The restaurant where my father and I are eating dinner has a special RNC cocktail list. Drinks include "The Dirty Hillary" and the "Great Wall of Trump." They both sound bad.
My father has traded me his floor pass so that I can finally get down there and be in the thick of it all. The energy down there is a thousand times more electric than anywhere else in the convention. I decide to forgo sitting down with the New York delegation in favor of wandering around. As a born and bred New Yorker, I am not often overwhelmed, but in this environment it is impossible not to be. I am asked four times by security guards if I have credentials to be down here. Men with big cameras keep bumping into me, offering no apology. I last about twenty minutes on the floor before I rush to the exit.
Roughly 9:00 pm
I've traded credentials with my father again and am back in my assigned seat. The band is playing an original song called—you guessed it!—"Make American Great Again." The lyrics, from what I can make out, are: "We're gonna make America great, make America great again! Gonna make (MAKE!) America great, make America great again!" I spot some people on the floor dancing with great enthusiasm. My second-hand embarrassment is skyrocketing.
In my seat and watching Ivanka. Ivanka really is good. She keeps touching her hair, though, which bothers me.
I wonder to myself if Donald loves Ivanka more than Don Jr.—obviously he loves her more than his forgotten children, Eric and Tiffany. Ivanka says some great stuff about the wage gap and how Donald will support working mothers, or something. It's all bullshit, of course, but it sounds wonderful.
The Donald. There he is, in the flesh. The leathery, orange, freaky flesh. I can't really find the words to articulate just how insane this is in person. The people around me are behaving like 16-year-old girls seeing The Beatles for the first time. My ears are ringing. Half the crowd is chanting "TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP!" The other half is screaming "USA! USA! USA!"
Having watched so many other speakers over the last few days, it has never been more obvious to me that Trump is an atrocious public speaker. I can't tell if that is because I hate his cadence or the way his mouth moves. Is this up for debate? Are there people out there who believe he is a great orator?
HOLY SHIT! Trump actually made me cheer! He said that our airports are basically third-world countries! I am up on my feet! Make LaGuardia Great Again!
Trump looks like he has hemorrhoids under his eyes. I get a text that his mouth looks like an asshole. I get another text, this time accompanied by a screen shot, "look at those teeny weeny small dick fingers." Many texts are flooding in now, all of them exclaiming, "I can't believe you're there!" I can't, either.
The woman to my left has been fairly quiet throughout Trump's speech, but she is getting more and more animated as Trump starts discussing China. She turns to me, unprompted, and says, "I was on the fence, but this has totally convinced me!"
At one point I exclaim that it is time for him to wrap it up, at which point she turns to me and, gasping in horror, inquires, "You're…not into Trump?"
There is a man behind me who is, probably, the most annoying one I have encountered at this convention. He is an alternate delegate from Washington, I think, and he will not shut the fuck up. He is repeatedly yelling, "THANK YOU. THANK YOU SO MUCH MR. TRUMP. I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. THANK YOU." When I ask the woman to my right if she could take my photo, I realize, out of the corner of my eye, that this guy is also taking a photo of me. Gross.
All right, we are about 16 hours into this Trump speech and he is just now talking about his childhood. I wish Ivanka was the presidential candidate; she is so much more tolerable. I honestly cannot listen to him for another minute.
The crowd is, arguably, even worse than Trump. I am so disturbed to see fully-grown adults behaving this way. I'm certain that without all the pauses to allow for this crowd to go fucking nuts, this speech would have been about 15 minutes long.
I get a text from my mother: "This crowd looks like sheep… and he is leading them to slaughter."
This crowd looks like sheep… and he is leading them to slaughter.
I walk out minutes before the balloon drop because being in that room makes me feel as though I am falling into a deep pit of insanity. I watch it from the massive screen in the outdoor area (there is alcohol here). It looks anti-climatic.
Trump should have hooked up better outfits for the Pence family.
11: 47 pm
I encounter a white man with dreads. Bro, aren't you at the wrong convention?
I look over my shoulder and see another dancing old white man. Oh, that's my father. We decide to have a drink. We are both relieved this madness is over.
I think that, in the end, this convention pushed us into two different directions. My father was moved by Trump's children; because of that, I think, he is feeling more comfortable with casting a Trump vote in November. During his speech, Mike Pence exclaimed, "You can't fake good kids!" My dad agrees.
As for me? I am more confused than ever. Coming into this, I had assumed that everyone I would encounter would be ignorant, bigoted, and unbearable, but most of the people I have met have seemed like genuinely bright, empathetic, open-minded folks. How disorienting is that?
I am walking back to my hotel alone through the streets of Cleveland with a dead phone. People are still packing up their merchandise stands. Cops are still lurking on street corners. Delegates are all stumbling back to their respective resting places. As I am turning the corner to my hotel I pass by an older sleeping homeless man who—I shit you not—is in a Hillary For Prison shirt. I can't wait to go home.