Green-shade lamps send light down onto black booths — black tables, black vinyl, black fittings — in the deeper darkness of the Ontario Bar and Grill, off 4th Street. The sort of dive if you lived in America you would just live in, with its long bar, attended by high vinyl-clad stools, banks of spirits with their metal teats piled in ranks afront long mirrors, old TVs on high shelves showing, this week, CNN and the convention and the baseball as well, and old beer ads, framed, everywhere, and a faux tiki roof extending the length of the bar.
Seventies hits, forgotten, play, the aircon thrums beneath. The place is mostly full today, convention refugees and regulars, barfly women wasting away in too-big sports shirts, and quiet big men sipping at bourbon in shot glasses. Your correspondent had set up at the Tilted Kilt, a big bar run on a Hooters-style deal, with waitresses running round in short schoolgirl tartan skirts, bare midriffs and white fresh-pressed cut-off shirts and push-up tartan bras. They carry trays of cold beer and vast steaks, swimming in butter. The whole deal was like you had died of congestive heart failure, and gone to Congestive Heart Failure Heaven. But they couldn’t pour a whisky.
“Bushmills, one rock” — meaning a double Seagrams, a single chunk of ice. How hard is that? Couldn’t get it. They drowned the golden stuff in ice, American style. In the Ontario, they poured and dropped in one smooth motion, and refreshed before you even knew you wanted a new one. The bar staff look like receptionists at a car parts warehouse , but that’s a measure of their professionalism. The Ontario for me.
Day four, last day of what has been, by common consent, a dog of a convention — one that Donald Trump promised would be some sort of spectacular reinvention of the convention form, some vast spectacle, and of course it’s been nothing of the sort and, unless something happens tonight, it will count as one of the great fizzers of the genre.
Coupla B-list TV stars, local party stooges, and the Trump holy family. It was worse than the average convention, which usually has a roll call of multiple amputee vets, 19-year-old CEOs who grew up in a drain, fat mid-westerners with stigmata, etc, etc; people who are deluded about the nature of their success and their salvation, but at least have a brio and a spirit to them, the raw stuff of the American dream.
If there’s a mood that marks the Trumpvention, it’s servility — a servility mixed with incompetence. One suspects that this is the Trump style — that behind this convention there are decades of people feeling cheated and ripped off, because he promised the world and then departed, leaving only a vague odour of farts and unpaid bills. This is what a Trump presidency would/will look like. The inauguration will be a fizzer — staring Jon Voight and Charo, with music by two-fifths of Blue Oyster Cult — with a shit speech by Trump about his resort and some recent enemies, and appearances by those of his daughters he most wants to root.
That will be the start of a period of total disappointment for those who most fervently supported him, as Trump’s attention span rapidly drifts; having won the presidency, he will have no interest in the tedious, grinding, dissatisfying task of being president. He’d hand it over to a committee, spend the next four years shaking hands and making pronouncements. Beneath him, free-market Republicans will simply run things as they wished. Won’t be the first time it’s happened.
From 1986-1988, Ronald Reagan, starting to succumb to Alzheimer’s, was simply a figurehead for a bunch of neocons. Hence Iran-Contra, and much more. The great advantage of Trump as president is that, whatever he does, he would create an enormous reaction. If he stepped up and became a protectionist president, repudiated the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and bullied Congress into changing its free market character, he would create an earthquake in US politics, the likes of which we have not seen for a century. And if he failed, and let the GOP just take it over, and push through another free-trade shit sandwich … well, the anger would be so great, that I do not believe any political system could contain it.
Before that, the convention again. Tonight, finally, it was rocking, the bleachers full of the good, bad and the ugly, the music rocking. It was the future here, it was everything you ever feared, it was a post-grammatical event, it was: fat boys dressed as elephants in red, white and blue; orange-tanned Texans in white hats dancing to smooooooooth crowds of white hats rocking along; it was fat couples in the fashions of 1964 yelling at each other (“I wanta steak dinner!” “I don’t know where we can get a steak dinner!); it was shimmering moving seas of red, white and blue, fields of white stars on blue on dresses; it was cops, cops everywhere, 16 different kinds of cops moving everyone inside and outside the arena; it was Ann Coulter stumbling into the Facebook hangout as fat Milo Y types besieged her (“omigod can I get a photo”), fascist fag-haggery; it was mobility scooters 10 deep at the vestibule of each row; it was 12-year-olds in straw hats and red-white-blue bowties with Trump badges; it was spontaneous outbursts; it was a huge black preacher on the stage, on the riser, saying “there is no colour, there’s only red, white and blue”; it was the smell of deep fat frying from the concession stands; it was the whole deep well of the arena suffused with triumphalism; it was bought woman in diamantes and their pale, soon-to-die husbands; it was good ol’ boys down from the mountains; it was the Trump voting boys from the sports bar here to yell “BOOYAH!”; it was Caitlyn Jenner telling everyone that “Donald Trump is good for women!” (his running mate is the most anti-choice governor in the US — will that call time on this touchy-feely bullshit?); it was the occasional old sad Republican veteran of a long gone party which fused, or said it did, free enterprise and global power with good governance and a commitment to human rights, watching it go down like you’d watch the house you built consumed in flames; it was the triumph of the right, their ability to conform to power, always, always, maybe not this time, who knows; it was BAD ROCK MUSIC BAD ROCK MUSIC GIVE ME YOUR HEART MAKE IT REAL OR ELSE FORGET ABOUT IT WAS DANCING AS MOVING FAT AROUND A CONFINED SPACE IT WAS AMERIKA IT WAS AMERIKA IT WAS AMERIKA!
So I had retreated to the Ontario Bar.
Why was I on this tangent? There’s some Trumpian blowhard at the bar, giving the whole line, and its mingling with my unconscious and coming out through my pores. But of course you’d hear the full Trump in a dive bar. Trumpism is a dive-bar philosophy, the sort of thing stewed up over long “happy” hours in rust-belt towns, in a sort of broken-down tavern that only survives by offering $6 pitchers of Bud Light, the beer that tastes the same going in as it does coming out. Every shout is a golden shower between friends. (Vale Michael Cimino, and cf the pre-Vietnam scenes of the Deer Hunter — just about the most electrifying hour of realist American cinema you are likely to see. Check it out, if you’ve never seen it).
Down the road, they’re protesting at Public Square, Christian nutjobs and libertarians yelling at each other, separated by multiple lines of robocops on pushbikes. The pushbikes are a nice touch. Black-clad fascism, greenwashed. Black Lives Matter protesters in Afrik-k-k-k-k-a T-shirts berating through the mics. There were some arrests yesterday, as the Revolutionary Communists — “Bob Avakian Thought is the Future of Humanity!”– burnt a flag and blocked the entrance to the arena for about a half hour. Props to them, but they’re nuts, a final cult, emerging from the burning carcass of a certain type of US far-leftism. It’s a measure of how old this has got that their contingent is largely ageing hippies, surrendering their tie-dye to the black sweatshirt of the Avakian movement. Something, anything, to keep the thing going.
But the fact that they’re the folks doing the disrupting is an indication of the problem. From the inside, the process has been disrupted. There is nothing to line up against, that is not, of itself, falling apart. The day was taken up with the parsing of Ted Cruz’s monumental speech last night, in which he did not endorse Trump, instead saying “vote your conscience” and was more or less booed off stage. The next day he doubled down, asking how he could possibly endorse anyone who had insulted his wife and father (the latter Trump accused, hilariously, of being a part of the JFK assassination. This election has had a Python-esque cast for so long that those of us who have been covering it for months have lost our ability to pick the more outrageous motifs from the simply insane.)
Was this a snub, another Trump fiasco, or a devious ruse? Cruz had a speaking slot due to his votes in the primaries. Team Trump pretended he had been given one by their graces. They had known for days he wouldn’t endorse. Was this a double-play, to maximise the conflict and division within the party? Or another fuck-up? Hard to tell.
Still, it made for an actual moment in the week. Something happened. Was it a wise move, or a suicide one? False distinction, in this glorious wreck of a party, this testament to the political id, gathered in a stadium for the world’s first mass self-execution. Take the Trump train. Take the Trump train to Jonestown, you useless fuckers.
The barflies of the Ontario know they are pickling their brains in moonshine, but at least they know. Down the road, some fantasy is winding to its close. To its close, because I cannot see how it could become more delusional, mythicised, post-political without becoming some sort of Charles Manson thing. More on the flip, on the website, after the Trump speech lands, after deadline. Signing off from the Ontario, where the white light pouring from the green shades is beginning to shake and shimmer …
*More from Guy Rundle after Donald Trump’s acceptance speech on the website this afternoon