The first day of the Republican National Convention passed only with new heights of bizarre offensiveness, but not violence. But there are still three more days to go.
Melania Trump looks like she plagiarized Michelle Obama’s 2008 DNC speech, Iowa Congressman Steve King went on MSNBC and said that white people have contributed more to civilization than any other subgroup, and a online livestream of the convention got taken over by a horde of antisemitic commenters. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani also said Trump would do for the US what Giuliani had done for New York City.
This is America in 2016 and no you are not having a nightmare. This is all real.
Wandering around downtown Cleveland, I ran into three other journalists making their way to a hub for anti-Donald Trump activists in a quiet residential neighborhood about a mile from Public Square, the center of pro- and anti-Trump demonstrations. There, about a dozen activists painted big banners that read “WALL OFF TRUMP” and “NO MAS TRUMPADAS” (Mexican slang for No more Trumping).
One of a Trump’s most atavistic, quixotic, primitive and pointless plans is a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Already, big stretches of the border have some kind of wall, and immigration checkpoints are present a hundred miles north of the border.
“When I’m traveling with my uncle, who has darker skin than me, we’re much more likely to get stopped,” said Rebekah Hinojosa, 25, who lives in the Rio Grande valley in Texas and came to Cleveland to protest Trump.
The present and past of the American southwest bears stark resemblance to Israel/Palestine, where one group overcame another by force in a war of conquest, then rendered their defeated enemies as second class citizens in a land land both consider their own. Spanish speaking Americans told me they suffer harassment by border police just for the color of their skin. It’s a similar story getting around the West Bank. A bus full of young Palestinian men is going to get stopped at a checkpoint while a taxi carrying Europeans is much less likely to receive the same kind of scrutiny.
Ernesto Lopez, 29, from Phoenix, was born in the United States but says police there will stop him and his whole family just because they look hispanic. He said that the walls as they are now don’t deter people from trying to cross, but just makes it more dangerous to do so. Hundreds of people die of thirst or heat trying to get through punishing desert.
“I think historically walls don’t work,” Lopez said. “People always find ways to get through the wall.”
He’s right. The world is littered with ancient walls that tried and failed to keep people out. Hadrian’s wall between the Roman Empire in Britain and the ancient Scots (Trump’s rock eating ancestors, and mine too) didn’t stop the Romans from dissolving into the mists of history.
“There’s a lot of death and suffering at the border,” said Xander Maxwell, 27, who mentioned the Israeli involvement in existing American border walls and Israeli companies involvement in building new barriers to keep Mexicans out.
Maxwell is from Arizona and works with a group called No Mas Muertes, distributing water along routes taken by people who cross the border.
“Walls just mean people have to cross at more dangerous places. But they wont stop, because it’s a matter of economic necessity,” he said.
Hinojosa said she can walk to Mexico from where she works in Brownsville, Texas and said it only stands as a “monument to racism.”
“There chain link, there’s stone, there’s a metal wall,” she said, describing something eerily similar to the diverse range of Israeli barriers.
“Do you ever feel that the American southwest is occupied territory that was originally Mexican and Native American but you have this whole group of people who have showed up and say ‘This is all ours now'” I asked.
“Yeah I think Texas is a great example of that. Texas is one of the few states where Latinos are the majority. But who has the microphone in Texas? It’s the white Republicans. It’s the white conservatives. People have this idea that it is the white conservative state. But the reality is we are occupied. The majority of people of color state, and we’re very much oppressed by a small elite group,” she said.
Later that evening, I went to the main drag near the convention and saw four kids wearing kippas and watching a television feed of speakers talking about how they would Make America Safe Again. I spoke to one of them Aharon Oiveral, 19, from Miami, about what he thought of Israel’s border wall. He is studying at a Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
Because I am doing an informal poll, I asked Oiveral what he thought of all the antisemites on the Trump bandwagon. He said what all the Trump supporters say: They aren’t Trump’s fault.
“They happen to like Trump for different reasons than I like Trump. They probably like Trump for his hard stance on immigration and that he doesn’t want Muslims in the country. The reason I like him is that Israel is obviously a very important issue to us. I’m saying that he isn’t antisemitic himself. His daughter is a religious Jew married to a very prominent Jewish family from New York,” he said. “They’re not his allies they’re his supporters. Jewish groups have a lot more influence than those groups.”
I asked Oilvera what he thought about the presence of the Soldiers of Odin at the convention. They’re a white nationalist group.
“Do their opinions actually reflect Trump’s? No!”
I also asked Oilvera what he thought of the Israeli border wall and Trump’s wall along the Mexican border. He heartily endorsed the Israeli one as a way to stop Palestinians from killing Israelis, but he didn’t feel as strongly about Trump’s.
“Maybe it will bring down crime some,” he said.
Let me tell you something, my non-Christian readers belonging to other Abrahamic faiths: The biggest danger to you, history shows, are Christians, not Muslims. The men and women who ran the gas chambers at Dachau and Auschwitz, most of them had been baptized and confirmed in either a Protestant or Catholic church. For Muslims and Jews, history suggests being wary of Christians far more than of each other. Believe me: whatever ire Trump and his followers are directing at American Muslims will eventually swing around to American Jews. White Nationalism is an equal opportunity destroyer.