It was a collection of political moments absolutely stage-managed by a party which, in this period of most apparent racial discord, is backing a candidate who has been accused of feeding and fueling the very same. There's nothing new or unusual about the curated quality of the 2016 convention. But there is something about these particular stage directions that are worth noting.
It was no mere accident that three black men, two of whom hail from not at all politically important or even competitive places, were found and put on the stage in prime time to say things that reflect the views of white conservatives who comprise the far right end of the Republican Party. The party with so little voter diversity that four years ago it issued a kind of political Amber Alert calling on its operatives to get about the work of looking for black, Asian and Latino voters managed to somehow, someway, find three black men Monday night to champion ideas far, far more common among white Americans, particularly Republicans.
In a Monmouth University poll released Monday afternoon and conducted July 14-16, public opinion researchers found evidence of rising cross group concern about race relations. But they also found this:
- A majority — 52 percent — say that police are no more likely to use excessive force in a given situation regardless of whether the culprit is black or white, while 34 percent say they are more likely to use excessive force if the person is black.
- Among those who say police are more likely to use excessive force against a black person are 77 percent of black voters, 38 percent of Hispanics and 25 percent of whites.
- A majority of voters (53 percent) say that race relations have worsened since Barack Obama became president, which is up from 45 percent a year and a half ago.
- Among white voters, 59 percent say race relations have become worse and 9 percent say they have gotten better. Among black voters, 37 percent say race relations have become worse and 8 percent say they have gotten better.
Even without that data in mind, that a sheriff and registered Democrat from a Midwestern county of just under 1 million people, in a state with less than a dozen electoral college votes, laid claim to one of the very first prime time speaking slots on the Republican National Convention's opening night should have raised some eyebrows.
Then Clarke quickly made it plain why that happened. This Democrat is a Fox News favorite and on the RNC stage because he was willing to argue that Black Lives Matter isn't just a protest movement or even an imperfect collective sometimes raising questions about imperfect cops but to insist that its activists are anarchists bent on the destruction of society, law and order and the enemy of unquestioned policing and the police hero-worship Clarke claims as his professional bounty.
Those are ideas that had they left the mouth of the a white, Republican law enforcement official who no doubt exists somewhere in this country, commentators and reporters mobbing the scene would almost certainly have characterized as insensitive or indifferent to the 2.5 times more likely risk of death black men face if they come in contact with police. Some might even have labeled them hostile to democracy and potentially racist. But since they came from Clarke, well, they basically went unquestioned.
Clarke may sincerely believe them. But to do so, he really must ignore the absolute fact that there are no rights currently enjoyed (with only the occasional coverage of a low-tier cell network) by people of color in the United States for which there was not a movement launched, a battle waged, many protests organized, lawsuits filed and, yes, riots launched. It is a fiction that the country's slow progress toward equality is a simple and natural feature of our collective bent toward kindness.
Clarke's were arguments few but the already converted could accept as grounded in reality. That's particularly true given that Cleveland itself is a city where in a park a 12-year-old-boy with a toy gun was shot and killed by a police officer. The area's prosecutor worked hard to prevent that officer from facing any kind of charges at all.
That incident and others like it are precisely the reasons that the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter exists and morphed into a real world movement. It's black lives — yes black lives — in this country that have been in sustained peril of unprosecuted harm caused by those with power for well over 200 years. And, it is black lives — not those of men and women of all races who opt to don blue uniforms — that when taken face dissection in a way that suggests a kind of algorithm for how much the rest of us should bother to care. The acts of two men of questionable mental health with guns who targeted police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas, do not alter this long and bloody history. And, by the way, including a small passage of a Martin Luther King Jr. speech in an address that attempts to ignore all of the above does not change objective reality either.
But in truth, Clarke was really only part of this remarkable show.
Shaw, the justifiably angry father of a dead 17-year-old killed by an undocumented immigrant, also stopped by to share his views. Like so many, many more white Trump voters across the country who keep telling pollsters of their disdain for illegal immigrants, for Shaw the most logical focus of his enmity is that undocumented immigrant and the Obama administration, which he holds responsible for conditions that allowed that person to enter the United States.
Notably, his focus was not the gun that this particular undocumented immigrant had or the ease with which he could come to possess it, gang violence in Los Angeles or anything else in this situation.
Here's the key section of what Shaw said:
In 2012 we finally had our day in curt. The DA proved that Jazz was murdered because he was black. ... It was also proved that the killer's gang targeted black males. You'd think Obama cared and black lives mattered. No. ... Only Trump called me on the phone one day to see how I was doing. Only Trump will stand against terrorists and end illegal immigration. ... Build the wall. Only Trump mentions Americans killed by illegals.
Boom, like Clarke, Shaw embraced a set of ideas about illegal immigration, and immigration policy that are far more common among a subset of white Republicans. But should anyone try to dub them racist, xenophobic, reactionary or something else, Trump now has the ultimate hand of cards to play. Jamil Shaw, black man, agrees with Trump and considers him a friend, is backing Trump's campaign and repeating Trump's claims equating illegal immigrants with crime.
And there was Darryl Glenn, a Republican Senate candidate from Colorado, who took the stage to, among others things, lament growing racial division and or tension in the United States and lay the blame at President Obama's feet.
Yes, as it seems every Republican wants to make sure America is aware, theirs is the party of Lincoln. But far more recently, it's been the party of Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Donald Trump. But alas, according to Glenn, America's racial problems were either born or grew far worse during the Obama years.
That is a claim that Glenn actually made on a national stage in a country where a future president and the author of the Declaration of Independence — a document full of graceful expressions about the inherent rights of mankind — owned slaves.
The trio of black men who offered up their extreme views on race matters Monday night were living set pieces in a stage play where the message is: These ideas may sound, look, smell and seem divisive. But these men said it, so they must be all right.
Three more nights of the RNC and its political magic remain.