Holy in Cleveland

Shaking hands in Cleveland

I blame Joyce. She opened a magical world to me and my Jesuit buddy as we waited in the line for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, which happened to be filming at the high school where I teach. She raved about this free, interesting world which had invaded the city on the occasion of the Republican National Convention. Politico was giving free massages.1 The Atlantic had congressmen and politicos discussing the issues over free lox, eggs, and mimosas.2 The Washington Post had taken over a pub to offer “Politics on Tap.” As Joyce mentioned the possibilities, I felt like Jasmine on that magic carpet ride with Aladdin.

I blame Joyce because I arrived at this RNC week, like many Americans, weary from the summer of Trump, the summer of violence. I would have fled Cleveland, like many locals, if it was not for my Canadian Jesuit friend who wanted to be in the midst of the chaos. As a public service, I thought I could keep him from being deported and catch a live taping of a TV show as a bonus. The enthusiasm of this stranger, Joyce, lit a fire inside of me.3 Maybe, there was something for me in Cleveland after all.

So what did I see in Cleveland? I saw Trevor Noah refuse to demonize Melania Trump because he did not want her plagiarism problem to distract his audience from the conversation of the issues. He and his guest, former RNC chair, Michael Steele did their best to nuance Trump.4 The next morning following the advice of our muse Joyce, we found ourselves with lox, mimosas, and Republicans at The Atlantic’s morning briefing.5 Mike Leavitt, former Utah governor and former head of the EPA under George W. Bush, tried to frame Donald Trump as an executive who would not push his own agenda but rather decide on the agenda of a Republican congress. Moreover, representative Tom Cole (R-OK) emphasized that whoever the next president would be, he or she would have to handle big structural problems, like our growing federal deficit. The political class seemed confident in the resiliency of the natural checks and balances of the system.

There was also a surprising amount of humanity on display. Locals walked around with instruments playing tunes at request. During lunch one day in Cleveland’s Little Italy, a tye-dyed tuba player gladly played us a song as he passed. I enjoyed the director of communications for the Rubio campaign, Alex Conant, talking about being authentic to your brand. His humility in admitting his mistakes took courage. I felt honored to march with Muslim doctors and their spouses on Thursday as they peacefully demanded to be treated with dignity and recognized for their contribution to our American life.6

The deep fear that was being sown by speakers at the RNC was not very present in the cafes of the elites or among many of the gathered masses in the streets. Instead, a strange, resilient hope pervaded. Even the police, a consistent cause of so much agony for members of our poorer communities, seemed to be figuring it out. Maybe, I’m delusional.7 Maybe, I drank too much of Joyce’s convention Kool-Aid. Maybe, I have too much confidence in our humanity, a humanity that will refuse to let our neighbors, our friends, and our parishioners be dragged from their homes and sent to another country. Maybe this American life of ours has taught us to put our foot down at times. Or maybe, I just can’t shake this resurrected Christ who refuses to let the darkness cover the light.

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Cover image by Matt Shiffler Photography can be found here.

  1. I do not think this actually happened.
  2. The Atlantic is offering another round of morning briefings at the DNC in Philadelphia. You can see the lineup and register (for free) here.
  3. St. Alberto Hurtado often told Jesuits to be “Un fuego que enciende otros fuegos.”
  4. Full interview here.
  5. We went on Wednesday. The full program can be found here.
  6. For more on them, read Michael Rossmann’s piece.
  7. “The miserable have no other medicine, but only hope.” –William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act III, sc. 1.

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