I don’t remember ever enjoying the Conventions, and the last several prior to this year’s, I forced myself to endure. Sure there were the rare soaring moments, (Obama 2004), but I generally find them tacky and mostly outdated and useless, except for the nominee’s speech. Yes, people get fired up, which is the point. Then the campaigns go into high gear and bombard us with hyper-intense messaging—usually negative, or idealized. It’s obnoxious and exhausting and usually turns off many voters.
In an attempt to change the game, Obama’s campaigns were mostly positive and summoning Americans’ better angels. He was criticized for his “Yes We Can” bromide. The stakes in 2008 seamed existential, as the economy was in free-fall and we were embroiled in those seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Sarah Palin was unleashed and the viciousness that was until then unimaginable, was released.
The expansion of communications and media throughout the 21st century has made each Presidential campaign a bit different from previous ones. (The Citizens United decision of 2010 allowed unrestricted corporate spending on election communications.) As much of the ways in which Presidential campaigns were being run were changing, the party conventions remained relatively conventional (and largely insufferable).
Then came 2020. This COVID-19 Pandemic that has destroyed over 170,000 American lives and crushed their families (as of this writing), and over 5 million cases of the virus in 5 months (that we know of at this writing) has been a disaster that none of us have seen before, which includes a nightmarish economy, not to mention the reckoning with systemic racism that has made enduring the pandemic that much worse. And climate issues are even harder to manage with this pandemic. There is no Presidential leadership–only corruption and division. We never imagined we would be living in this America. The virus has been a threat around the globe, but American exceptionalism has taken a new and dreadful form. The Trump administration has nothing to offer but lies, hate, and distraction. His abdication from his duty to protect Americans is stunning and yet after 4 years of his cruel absurdities, we know we can’t expect anything else. Meanwhile, this extremely horrific pathogen (I mean COVID-19), has upended life for the next many months to come.
How could there be a national party convention when people can not gather together? Conventional wisdom would suggest that it would be a rare substitute this cycle, and we could return to normal next time. BUT…..necessity birthed an invention that showcased some of the greatest American beauty. I didn’t watch the entirety of the event this week, but saw some key features and speeches, and despite some conventional cheesiness, the necessary format Zoomed into our essence: The cross-country roll call must be the new format. The absence of a live audience somehow created a more direct and intimate experience for the viewer. We were each being addressed. The cross section of every demographic represented a truer us. US. The emphasis on decency and having a plan for action, for each American’s participation, was urgent and in this moment, authentic. It was less lofty and idealistic, and more about basic goodness and actions that we all need to take to ensure that we all can move forward. It was incredibly powerful in a most unconventional convention.
Everyone has a role to play, even from a distance. We have much that needs addressing just to be functional, and for a just recovery for all. It was important to pause and celebrate the milestone of Kamala Harris’ nomination, and admire the steadfast decency of Joe Biden, and so many people who were featured who stood for decency and dignity. The pain and loss is profound now, but this unconventional convention provided us with the wisdom that seeing so many who look and sound so varied can be united in purpose and take common action. This is US. This is our Democracy that insists on each one of us to pull together. Conventional wisdom? We needed the reminder!