HEEDING THE GHOSTS OF CLEVELAND

by Jnana Hodson

If anything erupts in Cleveland, we may see smoke harking back to the crowded hotel rooms of an earlier era. Or its blue-gray floating past us might be another specter altogether.

In selecting Quicken Loans Arena for what was supposed to be the coronation of Jeb Bush as its presidential nominee, the Republican Party had no doubt intended to do more than woo a crucial swing state in the November election. The spotlight would have been on the turnaround of a big city not long ago called “the mistake on the lake,” noting its 1969 fire on the polluted Cuyahoga River and the massive 1978 default on municipal loans as well as the struggles of its once-proud professional football and baseball teams. The mighty industrial hub had indeed fallen on hard times, especially as domestic steelmakers collapsed and turned much of the Midwest into a Rust Belt around the same time many whites fled the city for the suburbs, leaving a host of racial challenges in their wake.

Unlike Detroit, Cleveland can point to some progress, which will no doubt be touted. As for manufacturing, it’s bound to be another issue. The city’s once mighty corporations are largely gone. Ghosts of a sort.

There is an irony, though, when we look at the city’s history and the controversy surrounding the presumed nominee, Donald Trump. We’ve already heard rumblings about a brokered convention or of king-makers clustering over cigars in smoky hotel rooms to deal themselves out of a deadlock. Cleveland has a history there, with industrialist Mark Hanna recognized as a key Republican player. Will these ghosts raise their spooky heads?

In the years after the Civil War, Ohio produced seven American presidents. Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, William McKinley, and Warren G. Harding came from Cleveland’s half of the state, flowing into Lake Erie, while Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, and William Howard Taft came from the southern half, dominated by Cincinnati along the Ohio River. Two of those presidents were assassinated. Still, the Buckeye State was a beehive of invention and enterprise, positioned between the East Coast and booming centers like Chicago, Kansas City, and St. Louis to the west.

Hanna wasn’t the only big money player, either. Remember, John D. Rockefeller, co-founder of Standard Oil Co., grew up and lived here, too, and even after antitrust suits broke up his monopoly, the city was long the headquarters of petroleum giant Sohio (Standard Oil Co. of Ohio), before it got gobbled up by BP (British Petroleum).

Cleveland’s proximity to Pittsburgh meant the big players could indeed meet over expensive cigars. It was, after all, steel baron Henry Clay Frick, a Rockefeller aide, who said of Theodore Roosevelt after the 1904 election, “We bought the son of a bitch, but he wouldn’t stay bought.”

There may well be other ghosts. Robert Taft, the conservative standard-bearer from Cincinnati, for one, in his bitter loss to the more moderate Dwight D. Eisenhower – there’s always that question of ideological purity – or of Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare haunting the party and nation.

Of course, the very mention of loans in the convention site name itself will raise other suspicions. This thing keeps circling back to money, to say nothing of an inflated ego that brags of being loaded. Even Jeb and his record campaign treasure chest might be seen as ghosts running through this convention.

This is getting pretty ghastly, indeed. And we’re still a long way off from Halloween.

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