Move along, folks - there's little opposition to see here
Published 20/07/2016 | 02:30
Welcome to the Trump convention. Not the Republican convention: the Trump convention. And all he hath wrought.
On Monday night we watched a former Calvin Klein model warn us against socialism, Rudy Giuliani transform into Grandpa Simpson, and Donald Trump emerge from the smoke machine fog like a contestant off 'Stars in their Eyes'. "Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be... a presidential nominee!"
He introduced his wife, Melania. Yet another former model. She was as beautiful as this convention is ridiculous.
Some things you need to know. It's hot here in Ohio. Really, really hot. Cleveland's outskirts, where I'm staying, are a queer mix of industrial and rural; I spotted a deer wandering across the railway tracks.
As you enter downtown, the buildings shoot up to the sky and the temperature grows more oppressive. Sunday night there was a terrible storm. Monday morning, the air was close and wet.
The entrance to the convention hall is down a long, narrow alley full of TV cameras and pork rib restaurants. It's filled with preachers screaming about Jesus. I met a fat man with a thin man on a dog leash - the thin guy was walking around on all fours, barking.
The fat guy screamed: "Kick ma dawg for Trump! Kick him, y'all!" I have no idea what the point was. There doesn't have to be one. People have come here to be heard, no matter what they're saying.
I took a detour down to the riverside, where there was an America First Unity Rally. Trump rallies are unusual because even the pro-Trump speakers get shouted down by the pro-Trump audience.
The host, a large Iowan in a cowboy hat called Ken Crow, was trying to talk and a black guy started drowning him out by yelling: "Build that wall! Build that wall!" Mr Crow shouted back: "It's a long day, patriot. Don't go horsesh*t."
Mr Crow was joined by a lady with an extreme tan and very blonde hair in a small skirt that kept lifting in the breeze. "I can feel a Marilyn Monroe moment coming on!" she joked. Luckily, she said, she was wearing panties underneath.
These are people who were with Trump from the very beginning, the people who - in their own words - cling passionately onto guns and bibles. Nothing wrong with that.
I go to Mass every Sunday and I'm pretty smart with an air-gun. What's striking among the America First crowd, is their sense not of potential - that old American dream - but of anger at the attempt to take away what little they have.
Mr Crow told us about his first meeting with The Donald. He'd asked Trump why he was running and Trump said: "Why do you think I'm running?" Crow replied: "To preserve what you've built." And Trump said: "To preserve what everybody's built."
Note: preserve. Not build more, not expand, not create - but preserve. You might argue that Trump is conservatism in its purest sense, the sense of being about conserving the best of the past.
I've been a US conservative convention-goer for eight years and I can tell that a change has come over them. You used to hear a lot about defending the Constitution and shrinking the government. Not any more.
The people who are interested in those things are here. On Monday afternoon, God bless them, they tried to kick Trump off the ticket with a rules challenge on the convention floor. They failed and stormed off. They never had the numbers necessary to do it and the Republican establishment has reconciled itself to Trump anyway - so no dice.
I visited the Never Trump HQ and it was, at that particular moment, just two guys with laptops. Nevertheless, while the anti-Trump forces are small in number they are powerful with the punditocracy and the talk shows are brimming with movement intellectuals denouncing the nominee of their party.
This creates the false sense that the Republican opposition is way bigger than it really is. For a sense of how Trumpism has captured the heart of the GOP, one only had to watch Rudy Giuliani's remarkable speech - which capped an evening of anti-foreigner rhetoric that included two army guys detailing how to kill an enemy combatant. Giuliani was all teeth and fists. Mad as Hell. Not. Going. To. Take. It. Any. More. The convention loved it.
How strange to see people I know, and rather like, transformed suddenly into an audience of pure rage - people who are middle-class, small town, hard-working, Christian. I cannot stress how pleasant the Trump supporters really are to speak to.
But presented with the possibility of Hillary Clinton entering the White House they become wild and angry. One can feel the philosophical disagreements with Trump just melting away.
So any real opposition will come from outside the convention, and that's where things get scary. The cops are policing the demos with a rapid response team that rides around with guns and mace on black bicycles - like postmen in the age of the apocalypse - and they generally outnumber the protesters.
The saddest sight in the world was an individual Muslim woman in the main square pleading through a microphone that she was an American, too. Around her was a ring of cops on bikes, holding back about 12 Christians shouting that Mohammed is the Devil.
Back down the alley leading to the convention hall, I ran into Geert Wilders - leader of the Dutch far-right. He said Trump was the kind of "strong leader" that Americans and Europeans are looking for.
What happens when the Black Lives Matter folk arrive in big numbers? The liberals, the hippies, the environmentalists, the people who believe they can bring down Trump by showing him up by encouraging violence?
I await their arrival with genuine fear, and with - dare I say it - nervous excitement.
Someone has to dissent seriously in Cleveland. Someone has to say Trump is wrong. (© Daily Telegraph, London)