GOP Convention nurtures nonsense, but outside, people talk issues

This story was written by Larry Rubin, Patrick J. Foote, and C.J. Atkins.

CLEVELAND, OHIO – Inside the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump made himself “grate again” on our nerves.

Outside the convention hall, people were interesting, thought provoking and in some cases, inspiring.

The first time Trump came on stage, it was with highly orchestrated special effects, appropriate for a presidential candidate hiding his actual goal: capturing the White House to institute polices that would further enrich billionaires like himself.

He walked onto the convention platform from the rear, emerging through a cloud of artificial fog. Through the magic of stage lighting, a shining halo surrounded his silhouette. As the music swelled, a podium slowly rose from the ground as Trump came into sharper view.

All of this was for the purpose of Trump giving a speech to introduce his wife, Melania, who, in turn, gave a speech introducing Trump. (Later, it turned out that whoever wrote the speech stole a lot of it from a speech given years ago by Michelle Obama.)

The show went downhill from there.

Speaker after speaker offered no plans for alleviating today’s ongoing economic crisis.

Instead, in lockstep, they attacked Hillary Clinton, blaming her for every problem facing the nation, problems which were actually created by the right wingers the speakers represent.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a top leader of the Republican Party, was particularly virulent. He screamed and flailed his arms for nearly 20 minutes as he lied about Clinton’s record.

“I was waiting for the men in white coats to drag [Giuliani] off,” wrote Daniel Hubbard in the Huffington Post.

If the convention itself was a showcase for viciousness, nonsense and thoughtlessness, people outside the hall were serious about trying to grapple with important issues.

Veteran for peace

Lou Pumphrey, a Cleveland native and a veteran of the Vietnam War, stood where passersby could see him in full uniform holding an American flag with a peace sign.

He told us he goes wherever “there is a need for a counterweight voice for peace” and that there is no place where such a voice is needed more than at this Republican convention.

 “Sometimes people thank me for serving my country,” he said. “I tell them I did not serve my country. I served the war-mongering, profiteering politicians who run the country.

“I tell them that the people who really served the country were the doctors, nurses and mental health practitioners who worked to heal the bodies and psyches of servicemen and veterans.

“We need a president,” he said, “who understands that war is the last resort after everything else is tried to solve differences.

He added that if we had socialism in the U.S., we would have peace.

“Socialism parallels the teaching of Jesus, that we should all take care of each other.”

Fear pervades delegations

Ken Hosner, an alternate Republican delegate from Michigan, collects historic political memorabilia. He set up a stall to sell his wares on a street near the convention hall.

Hosner, who likes to be called “Mr. Button,” told us he has attended 16 national political conventions, both Democratic and Republican.

“This convention,” he said, “is unlike any other – in a horrible way.”

The reason this convention is so “horrible,” Hosner explained, is because delegates are living in fear of the public and of each other.

“We have been told not to wear our badges in public,” he said, “because someone might attack us and steal them.”

He said he’s heard some delegates are carrying guns, and that makes him afraid.

“Guns, alcohol and politics are probably not a good mix,” he concluded.

Teamster for Trump

Gahan Haskins, a member of the Teamsters union from New York, stood alone in Public Square in the midst of speeches, rallies and demonstrations promoting just about every possible point of view.

He proudly wore a tee shirt saying “Teamsters for Trump.”

We asked Haskins his opinion about how unions would fare under a Trump presidency.

“Great,” he said, “because Trump will bring business and money back to this country,” and union members can always negotiate better contracts if the companies for which they work are doing well.

We then asked Haskins how he thought Trump will bring business back to the U.S.

He said that he believes Trump will require that Americans own the companies that do business in America and that those companies will be required to hire Americans.

We pointed out to Haskins that Trump has many businesses overseas and often brings in foreign workers to build his projects in the U.S. at rock bottom wages.

He replied that Trump operates like all American businessmen, that he’s a “member of the club.”

“But,” Haskins added, Trump “is calling out the members of the club,” exposing the way they are hurting American workers.

Trump is doing this, Haskins believes, because now that he has all the money anybody can use, he wants power. To get power, Haskins said, Trump will change his current business practices and promote programs that help American people.

Haskins did not discuss Trump’s anti-union record nor the fact that by being a billionaire he already has tremendous power.

He said he was disappointed that Obama had “blown his mandate” and did not include universal health care in the Affordable Care Act.

Haskins said he is sure that if Trump gets a big enough mandate from the American people he will carry through with his promises.

One of the most important of those promises, Haskins said, is banning “illegal” immigrants, who Haskins believes are stealing American jobs and driving down wages.

“Socialism sucks”

Cleveland’s East Fourth Street is the media capital of the world this week, with dozens of television, online, and print outlets setting up headquarters here. At one end of the alleyway, MSNBC’s mobile studio features interviews with many of the GOP big shots.

Every time the camera lights  came on, Devon Mirsky went to work.

Raising placards over the crowd behind the TV guests, she made sure her message was beamed out to audiences across the nation. “I love capitalism!” one said. “Socialism sucks!” proclaimed another.

She was sent to Cleveland from Los Angeles, she told us, by Turning Points USA. Working as the Pacific West regional director for that organization, Mirsky said she wants to “spread awareness that there are young people who actually do like capitalism.”

The idea that all millennials are “feeling the Bern” isn’t true, she said, although she admited her free market faith is a tough sell on campuses these days.

“Liberal college professors demonize capitalism and tell students that it is just about exploitation,” Mirsky said, whereas the reality is that “big government is the cause of problems like high tuition and no jobs.”

Her employer, Turning Points USA, claims that its mission is to educate “students about the importance of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.” Headed by 22-year-old Charlie Kirk, the group boasts a presence at more than 800 colleges and high schools and a national staff of more than 100 people. Footing the bills are a number of high-rolling Wall Street financiers, tech entrepreneurs, and none other than Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner.

Other backers include conservative organizations like National School Choice Week, Heritage Action for America, and the Ayn Rand Institute. As of 2015, the annual budget for this capitalist-loving crusade was over $1 million.

Turning Points USA is a classic Astroturf operation.

There is a Potemkin Village network featuring hundreds of chapters, a cadre of paid national staff fanning out across the land, and a core group of big-money backers looking to promote a “grassroots” movement to destroy the welfare state, cut taxes, and boost profits.

Mirsky told us she is “passionate about free markets.” She is a foot soldier in this make-believe army of fiscal conservatives. Stopping socialism earns her a paycheck.

Here in Cleveland, at the Republican convention, she’s found a receptive audience.

The lonely labor activist

Just outside the foreboding gate leading to the Republican convention hall, we ran into an unfamiliar site at the Republican convention: a union member proudly sporting his union’s shirt.

Tyson Geiser is a member of United Steelworkers and has worked at Cooper Rubber and Tire in Finley, Ohio for 5 years.

“That’s my job,” Geiser said. “The steelworkers is my livelihood. They let me contribute to the union movement.”

He was in town to cover the events for USW Local 207’s newsletter.

Geiser, a Bernie supporter during the primaries and “ultimately a Clinton voter,” is nervous about the “30-40 percent” of his local who he estimates support Donald Trump.

“Trump’s messaging on trade is working because folks aren’t thinking logically. All of Trump’s suits are made in Malaysia.

“He should talk to Sherrod Brown about getting his suits made in America,” said Geiser. He was referring the Keystone Tailored Manufacturing plant, a union shop in Brooklyn, Ohio.

Can’t knock the hustle

Mr. Button was not the only one selling political memorabilia here. There were dozens of tables manned by individuals looking to make a buck off of the excitement of the convention. Some of their buttons, bobbleheads, shirts and custom printed whoopee cushions will undoubtedly end up in museums.

Neal Zipser, an entrepreneur from North Carolina, was selling two of his creations, “Ralph A. Rendum” and “Phil A. Buster,” a stuffed donkey and a stuffed elephant who tell dirty jokes when you squeeze them.

“I’m a Republican today and I’ll probably be a Democrat next week,” Zipser confessed to us. As for his clientele in Cleveland, Zipser described them as “tight fisted.” 

It was hard to tell which of the many vendors sincerely believed what their wares read, but hiding your political stripes is all in the “art of the deal” for these diligent opportunists. Politically, Zipser “leans conservative,” he said.

He told us he’s particularly upset with the “lack of action” from Washington addressing the recent killings of police officers.

“Donald Trump would have responded better,” Zipser told us. “Would it have inspired more violence? Maybe. But I want more support for law enforcement.”

Even with his conservative leanings, Zipser isn’t thrilled about Trump’s candidacy.

“Trump wasn’t my first choice and may not be my last. Honestly, I’d rather have four more years of Obama or Obama for one more year while the parties try again.”

“Solidarity Forever”

While Gahan Haskins, the teamster for Trump, was singing his candidate’s praises in Public Square, a group of young members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) were singing union songs nearby.

The singing was cut short when Alex Jones, a far right talk show host, rushed the stage and tried to knock them to the ground. Jones is known for his conspiracy theories.

The police quickly separated Jones from the singers and the hundreds of people gathered in the square outside the Republican convention resumed their discussions, grappling with issues and ideas that were being ignored inside the convention hall.

Photo: Veteran for peace Lou Pumphrey, Capitalism booster Devon Mirsky, Teamster for Trump Gahan Haskins.  |  PW