The Great American Election Catharsis Party

In Philly, MAGA dreams meet mathematical realities.

Hamilton Nolan

Photos by author

All day Thurs­day, a con­tin­gent of sol­diers stood on the steps of Philadel­phia City Hall. Real sol­diers, with desert camo fatigues and big machine guns slung rak­ish­ly across their chests. Through­out the after­noon, they milled about on the steps; they were still there in the evening, in front of the enor­mous iron gate lead­ing into the building’s court­yard, with a neat row of black riot hel­mets slung over the hand railing. 

They fit in. In Philly, as in oth­er big cities, vast swaths of down­town had board­ed up in antic­i­pa­tion of chaos and riots after Elec­tion Day. Even the WaWas were closed, turned into impen­e­tra­ble ply­wood fortress­es. The area around the sprawl­ing Penn­syl­va­nia Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, where the state’s votes are being count­ed under the scruti­ny of the entire world, was like­wise sup­plied with Philly police. There were police SUVs with flash­ing lights block­ing the streets, and police lin­ing the side­walks in front of the entrance, and rov­ing teams of bike cops cir­cling around and around in groups of 10 — the dorki­est expres­sion of state pow­er. For sev­er­al blocks out­side of the epi­cen­ter of the action, there were knots of police on every cor­ner. Most of them spent last night look­ing at their phones, like we all do when we are wast­ing our time. 

Because while all of the out­side forces may have been omi­nous — the rant­i­ng and des­per­ate pres­i­dent, his car­toon­ish team of enablers declar­ing false­ly that they couldn’t watch the vote count, the city lead­ers already on edge from months of anti-police protests, an entire coun­try bit­ing its nails to the cuti­cles wait­ing for the offi­cial word that the wicked witch is dead — the real­i­ty on the streets of Philadel­phia was: a par­ty. Specif­i­cal­ly, the par­ty was on the cor­ner of Arch and 12th Streets, right out in front of the con­ven­tion cen­ter, which had been trans­formed into one big metaphor. 

On the side of Arch Street clos­est to the con­ven­tion cen­ter was a pen made of met­al bar­ri­ers that was des­ig­nat­ed for Trump sup­port­ers. Yes­ter­day after­noon, that pen was filled by few­er than 20 desul­to­ry dead enders, all with a hang­dog expres­sion indi­cat­ing that they had, per­haps, expect­ed a big­ger crowd. There was a man in an Amer­i­can flag suit jack­et and match­ing cow­boy hat, and a man with a MAGA hat and a pony­tail and an Iron Maid­en den­im vest, and a man in Columbine-style black trench coat and boots and a mask with a skull on it. Sur­round­ing the pen were shoul­der-to-shoul­der reporters. It was, in essence, a zoo for angry white men. 

On the oth­er side of Arch Street, next to the Read­ing Ter­mi­nal Mar­ket, was a street par­ty. A DJ was play­ing dance music, and hun­dreds of peo­ple were danc­ing their ass­es off in the shad­ow of ban­ners that read COUNT EVERY VOTE” and BLACK VOTES MAT­TER.” On this side of the street, there were all types of peo­ple danc­ing. A 20-some­thing woman in a yel­low hood­ie who looked right at home danc­ing to club music; a blond sub­ur­ban­ite type in white jeans over­come with enthu­si­asm; DSA types, busi­ness types, home­less peo­ple, black, white, young, old. They were full of joy. The con­trast between them and the sullen, con­spir­a­cy-poi­soned crowd across the street could not be more vivid. 

As evening fell, the crowds ebbed and flowed, but the bal­ance of joy nev­er shift­ed. A cou­ple of anti-gay Chris­t­ian fun­da­men­tal­ists with mega­phones set up camp in the Trump area and start­ed mock­ing peo­ple in the crowd as fag­gots,” an appro­pri­ate eulo­gy for the Trump era. Mean­while, the DJ con­tin­ued, and a pro­ces­sion of speak­ers across the street led When we fight, we win!” chants, and the entire scene felt like a tri­umph of the human spir­it. All the cops stood around bored. It was a par­ty, and nobody need­ed the bouncers.

Overnight, after every­one out­side the con­ven­tion cen­ter except for the TV reporters had gone home, the police arrest­ed two peo­ple who had alleged­ly dri­ven in from Vir­ginia with guns and a plan to unleash an attack at the Con­ven­tion Cen­ter where votes are being count­ed in Philadel­phia.” Ear­ly this morn­ing, the Hum­mer that they had dri­ven was still parked by the curb on 13th and Vine. There were no police in sight. The car had sev­er­al Qanon-themed stick­ers on the tint­ed win­dows, and a dirty Amer­i­can flag hang­ing from the back. Like the Trump cam­paign, what­ev­er they had been plan­ning did not come to pass. As I watched, a Philly res­i­dent in a hood­ie walked up to the now-famous Hum­mer and gen­tly placed his large pet lizard on the hood, to pose for a few pictures.

Trump has lost. There has been no mas­sacre. Philly, and the lizard, kept their cool. Out­side, the par­ty is about to begin. We earned it.

As a 501©3 non­prof­it pub­li­ca­tion, In These Times does not oppose or endorse can­di­dates for polit­i­cal office.

Hamil­ton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. You can reach him at Hamilton@​InTheseTimes.​com.

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