[Political Asylum ]A Troubling Chant on the Convention Floor | Harper's Magazine

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[Political Asylum]

A Troubling Chant on the Convention Floor


We’ve received an overwhelming response to this blog post, which was written from the convention floor on Tuesday. As the post states, I saw delegates chanting “U.S.A.!” and silencing Puerto Rican committee chair Zoraida Fonelladas, who was trying to speak. It appeared to me and to those around me that the chant was being directed at her. Since the post was published, the Republican National Committee has stated that the chant had to do with a protest by Ron Paul supporters, and “not the Puerto Rico National Committeewoman.” I also received a letter from one of the delegates who said he was among those who started the chant. He confirmed that it was directed exclusively at Ron Paul supporters who were trying to drown out the proceedings with chants of “Point of order,” and that the “U.S.A.!”s had spread from there. “The fact that the USA chant happened while the lady from Puerto Rico was being introduced was just bad luck,” he wrote, “and had nothing to do with her.” He added that the intent was simply to “drown out the two obnoxious delegates” who were seated near him. I take him at his word, and thank him for contacting me personally to clarify the moment.—Jack Hitt

An unscripted moment happened late this afternoon that caused the assembled mainstream media to turn away in the hope that it would disappear. As I was standing in line for a sandwich next to an Italian and a Puerto Rican correspondent, a controversy was unfolding on the floor. The RonPaulites, whose furious devotion to a single idea have made them the Ellen Jamesians of the right, were protesting a decision by RNC officials not to seat members of the Maine delegation, which was split between Paul and Romney supporters following rule changes made just prior to the convention. There were energetic shouts of “Aye!” and “Nay!” as a Puerto Rican party functionary—Zoraida Fonalledas, the chairwoman of the Committee on Permanent Organization—took her turn at the main-stage lectern. As she began speaking in her accented English, some in the crowd started shouting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”


The chanting carried on for nearly a minute while most of the other delegates and the media stood by in stunned silence. The Puerto Rican correspondent turned to me and asked, “Is this happening?” I said I honestly didn’t know what was happening—it was astonishing to see all the brittle work of narrative construction that is a modern political convention suddenly crack before our eyes. None of us could quite believe what we were seeing: A sea of twentysomething bowties and cowboy hats morphing into frat bros apparently shrieking over (or at) a Latina. RNC chairman Reince Priebus quickly stepped up and asked for order and respect for the speaker, suggesting that, yeah, what we had just seen might well have been an ugly outburst of nativism.

At least half a dozen respected Latino pols are scheduled to talk later on at the convention. I doubt any of them will generate a clip like the one that might be playing wall-to-wall tonight in San Juan and southern Florida.


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