Essay: RNC Was City Leaders' Decision, Our Burden
Officials let us down every step of the way for 2020 event
THERE WILL BE no calls for unity from me. There will be no "whataboutisms." I have heard from the other side, and it is a side for fools.
When Mayor Vi Lyles and the six members of the City Council who voted to host the Republican National Convention in 2020 tell us this is a time for unity and civility, when they say they welcome the chance to show off our Southern hospitality, they are putting the onus on me to extend the olive branch.
They have invited groups of people the Republican Party has welcomed over the years. People who believe we should arm toddlers. People who believed Sandy Hook was a hoax. Neo-Nazis. White nationalists. White supremacists. Whatever other distinctions we are supposed to make rather than just simply calling racists, racists.
Alex Jones, who believes the killing of 20 schoolchildren and six adults was a false flag, will report outside your favorite uptown bar. David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the KKK, will acquiesce to selfie requests on Tryon Street. Richard Spencer, the featured speaker at last summer’s rally-turned-deadly-riot in Charlottesville, will greet his hotel valet with a Nazi salute.
Our city's leaders have invited multiple foxes into the henhouse. And they want the hens to hold the peace.
That the public wasn’t heard from until last week was a failure by the mayor and the council—both Republican and Democrat, yes and no voters alike. Multiple council members lamented not opening the floor to the public earlier, but that was the burden of the council and not the people. No matter how engaged residents may be, the intricacies of a national convention bidding process weren’t taught in civics class. It was called a 3-and-a-half-hour debate, but it was a debate in name only. I listened to several convincing arguments that should have swayed leaders against bringing the RNC here, but six council members voted yes and the mayor had her yes at the ready in case of a tie. I believe the 6-5 vote had been decided well before the mayor had the chance to buzz the first speaker off the podium.
It was democracy for the sake of democracy. It was democracy theater.
Later, Republican councilman Tariq Bokhari made the wild and dubious claim that seven cities were “interested in” and “went after” the RNC. This was meant to help people believe Charlotte wasn’t the only dog in this. To know that there was some competition and we came out on top is a narrative that helps only two parties: those in leadership positions here who voted for the RNC, and those in the RNC.
I cannot say definitively that what councilman Bokhari said was a lie, because he says he knows the seven cities but is bound by confidentiality (which is odd because the RNC announced interested cities in 2016 and the DNC announced interested cities this year). I can say that councilman Bokhari played a game of semantics. There likely were cities that at least entertained the idea of hosting the convention but never had enough hotel rooms to accommodate the RNC. Leaders from other cities did go to an interested parties meeting, and that appears to be where their interest waned. There is no evidence that any other city actively participated in assembling a bid in earnest.
Without knowing Bokhari’s secret list, the Observer found seven cities that could, at one point or another, be considered “interested” and debunked Bokhari’s claim. He battled back by saying the premise was “loose” and called the story “irrelevant.” One step more and he’d be following the leader of his party in calling it “fake news.”
Except it’s not fake news. It doesn’t make sense logically. Were there seven other cities that all had great levels of interest that Bokhari, and only Bokhari, knows about? Certainly not, and once he got caught playing word gymnastics, he opted to leave social media platforms indefinitely. The truth is that no other city made a bid. Charlotte won a race against itself.
There is no doubt that Charlotte will experience an economic boost from hosting the convention (though I warn against devoting too much energy to nebulous “economic impact” numbers). What concerns me is what Charlotte will have to pay, and not in dollars.
I do not expect our city leaders to be psychics, but I do expect them to properly evaluate the current political landscape, project two years into the future and then decide whether this is worth putting our city reputation—and, more importantly, its residents—through. That thought was espoused by only one council member in January with the other 10 in favor of bidding for the RNC, according to the Observer. Republican councilman Ed Driggs admitted if more had joined the obvious call to protect the city’s citizens from the jump, “we wouldn’t have gone for it.”
“When they go low, we go high” made us feel good morally, but it failed as policy. Democrats, in part, lost the executive and judicial branches of federal government (and even more ground in the legislative branch) with that thinking, and Charlotte leaders just used that losing logic to bring the RNC here. Politics is not a manners competition.
Charlotte is majority-minority, and in two years from now we will host many people who are the chosen enemy of the majority of our residents. The people who wish to (and do) take away voting rights, civil rights, marriage rights, women’s rights and rights simply to be.
This is the most civility you’ll get out of me.
Jonathan Jones is a journalist in Charlotte. You can follow him @jjones9.