"Come to Cleveland, they said! There'll be riots, they said!" Apropos of nothing, a young man in a pickup truck was leaning out his window, shouting this at me as he drove by with a big, goofy grin on his face. It was only day two of the Republican National Convention, and so far the biggest story aside from Melania Trump's possibly-plagiarized speech was that everything was going along with incident.
And so it's continued. Outside the convention itself, an assorted collection of protesters, pranksters, zealots, and cranks filled the streets with spectacle. Members of the media and locals out for the show trailed them with iPhones pointed and boom-mics looming. On the immediate outskirts of this melee, a variety-pack of police from around the country hovered. For every activist, there must have been three reporters. For every reporter, there must have been a dozen cops.
Yet as I'm writing this—just about an hour or so before Donald Trump delivers his convention-closing speech—there have only been a handful of arrests, few notable confrontations, and no real physical violence. "I'm bored," or "there's nothing to do," journalists can be overheard saying constantly, with slight variations, before adding—with varying degrees of sincerity—that it's an encouraging sign for society, at least.
Demonstrations have been spirited but peaceful. The police have been, by all accounts, overwhelmingly chill and friendly. They shake hands with convention goers and complement passers-by on their ensembles. They chat with local activists about Cleveland's problems. They crack jokes. They apologize if they brush into people while passing by. I even spotted one uniformed officer standing on a street corner sipping a Great Lakes beer.
For a city that looks at first glance like it's under military rule, it's pretty remarkable.
I wonder if the officers have been scared. I've found myself moving quickly away when I notice I'm lurking a little too close to a gaggle of officers. With the recent unprovoked hunting of several crowd-control cops in Dallas, the specter of sniper fire doesn't seem totally paranoid. It's had to have made many of them touchy. And touchy cops are dangerous cops. With this in mind, their composure seems even more commendable. Even the cold, black, anti-authoritarian hearts of my libertarian friends and mine have been a bit touched.
Everyone was worried this would go differently. Everyone was warning: "Chicago, 1968!"
So what went right? We'll get 1,000 think-pieces about this in the next few days and weeks. I don't presume to have a big-picture answer. But one thing I've noticed is that the atmosphere here has become more relaxed as the week wears on, even as the security stakes get, arguably, higher. Fear and violence breed fear and violence, but in Cleveland, we've seen the opposite: a people and police force that came in on high-alert increasingly softened as tales of the kumbaya vibes spread via word-of-mouth, Twitter, cable news.
As Donald Trump delivers his convention speech tonight, the text of which is largely focused on fighting crime and making "America safe again," I wish everyone in America could have seen what those of us in Cleveland this week have seen. Trump's convention speech, with its lies and half-truths about homicides rising, the Obama administration's "rollback of criminal enforcement," the so-called war on cops, an America in chaos and under siege, and many more such dog-whistles designed to instill fear and bitterness in U.S. citizens, makes for good reality TV. But if there's anything U.S. citiznes have learned from the past two decades, it's that's "reality" TV bears only a marginal relation to reality.
America is safer and less violent than ever. America is more tolerant than ever. Most people—including cops, including protesters, and perhaps even including journalists, are basically good. And nobody is (as Trump suggests) being murdered because of political correctness. Let's not let Trump and his entourage's quest for ratings blind us to the truth, bind us to fear, or keep us from realizing that while America might have a lot of room for improvement, its greatness will never grow by giving people more reasons to hate than hope.