Something almost unprecedented is going on in Charlotte right now. There’s a big event that might come to town, and our city leaders are actually considering saying no.
For so long, Charlotte was so desperate for attention that we’d say yes to pretty much anybody who gave us a wink and some TV time. It didn’t matter if we were ready or not. Those of us who have been here awhile remember 1994, when Charlotte landed the men’s basketball Final Four.
Back then, Tryon Street uptown was full of vacant storefronts. The city plopped temporary bars and restaurants in those empty buildings and renamed it the Street of Champions. We were mocked nationwide, and rightly so. But nobody in charge cared that much, as long as they spelled our name right.
Charlotte has always been the middle child. We’re bigger than everything else within close reach. But we’re smaller than Atlanta and D.C., and not as culturally important as Nashville and New Orleans. These days the city is thriving. We have one of the world’s biggest banks, we have the NFL and the NBA, we even have a freaking Shake Shack. But a few months ago, when Amazon left us off the shortlist for its second headquarters, it dredged up all those old feelings. We still want you to want us.
Which is why it’s such a big deal that the City Council actually might turn down the 2020 Republican convention.
By all accounts, Charlotte can have the convention if we want it. Las Vegas is taking a halfhearted stab at it, probably because those Wayne Newton tickets are not gonna sell themselves. Every other major American city has treated this particular convention as if it has a case of scabies.
One argument against having the convention here seems to be that nominating Trump for a second term in Charlotte would be some sort of indirect endorsement. That seems silly to me. The only people who care about where a political convention is held are the people who go to the conventions, and they might not even remember, depending on how often they ran across an open bar.
The one convention site people do remember is Chicago in 1968, and that leads to the other argument against the 2020 convention. That Democratic convention in ’68 devolved into a riot in the streets, with police beating protesters and tear gas floating in the air. It was a dark moment in one of America’s most violent and divided years.
Sometimes it feels like we are just as divided again. Many of our fellow Americans are angry, armed and dangerous. One wrong word, from the stage or in the streets, and we could have Chicago or worse. Charlotte is still trying to process the protests from the Keith Scott police shooting almost two years ago. That makes the convention a much tougher call.
But one thing we learned from the Keith Scott protests is that looking away from conflict does us no good. That moment exposed the tensions that had been simmering in our city for decades, and it forced us to at least start trying to deal with them.
The prospect of Donald Trump spending four more years as president of the United States will expose its own set of tensions. We can let some other place deal with them if we want. But one sign of a strong city is its ability to handle the hard moments along with the easy ones.
It’s good that Charlotte is not quite so worried these days about whether everybody else loves us. Now that we’re grown, it’s fine for us to say no. But in this case, as hard as it will probably be, it might do us good to say yes.