The Cleveland convention was supposed to be the most eventful since the vaunted 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago — the one that ended in violence and clouds of tear gas and Allen Ginsberg leading protestors in various Hindu chants.
And, to an extent, the Cleveland convention was indeed eventful. It featured Ted Cruz’s rebellion against the party’s nominee, leading to him nearly being booed off the stage; the increasingly bizarre Melania Trump plagiarism scandal; and one of the more memorable speeches from a nominee in recent years. But one thing pundits predicted couldn’t have been more wrong: that the Cleveland convention would see violence on the scale of those heady Chicago days in 1968. It was the stuff of media dreams: a contentious convention inside the arena and plenty of police brutality and dramatic images on the streets outside, captivating the country for a week. They got the first part, at least.
Reality didn’t meet expectations. The city of Cleveland deployed hundreds, if not thousands of police officers; if agitation was ever on the cards, that massive police presence staved it off. Cleveland police arrested only 23 people over the four days of the convention: Compare that with the 2004 Republican convention, the most turbulent of recent years, where 1,800 people were arrested in New York. This puts something of a dent, I’d say, in the 2016-is-1968 thesis, at least for now. It might also say something about the ability of large numbers of police officers to stymie would-be violent protests. Or maybe those protests were never going to happen in the first place and were just the stuff of Twitter fantasies.
As a brief side note, it seems likely to me that the Democratic convention could be the site of more violent agitation than the Republican convention was. The reason for this is that the Democratic convention will play host to far more Bernie Sanders supporters than the Republican one did, and the primary season has shown that Sanders supporters tend to be a source of agitation . The protest-cum-riot against Trump in March in Chicago, for instance, consisted largely of Sanders supporters. This is all, of course, mere speculation, but it does strike me as a likely outcome, particularly if some Sanders supporters are still discontented with the selection of Clinton as the Democratic nominee.