The four-day Democratic National Convention was the next best thing to a national group therapy session, an antidote to the persistent case of PTSD that has made our hearts hurt for nearly four years.
By the grand finale, I was all in on the idea that we add a fifth night and just loop Michelle Obama’s extraordinary speech for the entire evening.
In our Zoom-weary world of socially distanced communications, I reveled in a virtual convention that jumpstarted my faith in an America that maybe, just maybe, is not lost. That, we can still reclaim the soul of our nation despite an amoral administration's best efforts to tear down our democracy and extinguish our civic pride.
Much as I might have yearned for the celebratory hoopla of years past, it was an unconventional convention that captured this unprecedented moment. For a party often lambasted for its inability to convey a cogent message, the DNC created a rich tapestry that reflected the decency and diversity gathered under our big tent. While I was thrilled to attend the 2016 convention in person, I found this one much more intimate with a more powerful emotional impact.
Besides, who needed balloons when scores of extraordinary “ordinary” Americans took center stage to remind us that, if we can prevail, our best days are still ahead. The convention, as historian Jon Meacham noted, thematically heralded “less a return to normalcy, than an invigoration of normalcy.” That’s why, despite the exhilarating appearances by Democratic royalty like the Obamas, the most memorable and compelling vignettes were from the woman who lost her father to Covid-19 and the 11-year old Latina girl whose mother was deported “for no reason at all.” Not to mention, the quirky and thoroughly heartwarming roll call of states, which, if we're lucky, will forever replace its previous incarnation replete with silly hats.
About the Obamas: both channeled the outrage and the frustration we all feel. But, beneath the intensity of their words, the overarching emotion they projected was pain. As NYT columnist Michelle Goldberg observed about President Obama’s speech, "Barack Obama is known for his Spock-like steadiness, so it was bracing to see that he is, like so many of us, afraid and heartsick for our democracy — he seemed to have tears in his eyes. He spoke directly to the cynicism and hopelessness that Donald Trump’s presidency has engendered, reminding us of the Black civil rights activists who were failed by America but still insisted on realizing its ideals. 'If anyone had a right to believe that this democracy did not work, and could not work, it was those Americans, our ancestors,' he said."
But it was Michelle Obama’s speech, tantamount to a warning about the stakes of this election, that made me weep. "Her thesis was empathy, which intensified her surgical exposure of the character of Trump,” the New Yorker’s Doreen St. Felix wrote in Michelle Obama’s unmatched call to action at the Democratic National Convention. “'Let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can,'” her piece noted in quoting the former First Lady. “'Donald Trump is the wrong President for our country.' Almost shrugging, she punctuated the declaration with, 'It is what it is.'” And, as both Obamas made clear, this election is about more than just voting, it’s about saving our democracy from Trump.
When it was time for Joe Biden to accept the nomination for president of the United States, his once-in-a-lifetime speech was teed up by an endearing 13-year old Brayden Harrington who spoke about how Biden helped him in his struggle to overcome stuttering. After an event at a town hall in Concord, NH where Biden spoke about quashing his own severe childhood stutter, Brayden was invited to meet the former Vice President. Biden coached Brayden about how he conquered his disability. For Brayden, it was much more than a brief encounter. “Joe Biden made me feel more confident about something that’s bothered me my whole life. Joe Biden cared. Imagine what he could do for all of us.” In a sad reflection of our times, in that moment all I could imagine was how Trump would have cruelly mocked Brayden’s speech.
When it was Joe's time to speak, he met the moment. As he declared himself “an ally of the light” in a strong and energized voice, he silenced critics quick to dismiss him as a doddering bumbler. He used the biggest stage of his 50-year political career to humanize himself, with the intended subtext, “I am you. You are me.” Through his empathy and strength, he illustrated why he is what this country needs: an American president for all the people. And he called on us all to help him usher in a new era, “May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here tonight as love and hope and light joined in the battle for the soul of the nation.”
Even as I savored being in the convention bubble, outrage erupted over the perception that Trump had enlisted Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to sabotage the November election by undermining vote-by-mail plans. It provoked an explosion of activism and demands for DeJoy to be called to account for the recent slow down in U.S. Mail delivery. And it worked. DeJoy was thrust into the national spotlight during his testimony before the Senate last Friday and will appear again Monday before the U.S. House. A GOP loyalist who donated millions of dollars to Trump's 2016 campaign, DeJoy denied his intent to disrupt mail-in voting. Still, the harsh light of scrutiny must persist. Write to the USPS Board of Governors. They hired DeJoy and they can fire him. Chartered in the U.S. Constitution as a service for the American people, the USPS was founded as a politics-free entity. As such, the Board is supposed to guide the USPS in a non partisan way and could be charged with a felony for abrogating that principle.
Tell the USPS Board members (below) how DeJoy’s changes are subverting the USPS mission the Founders intended. Make it personal. Tell them what the postal service means to you and your family during this pandemic and express your concern about impeding vote-by-mail efforts.
William Zollars - firstname.lastname@example.org
Donald L. Moak - email@example.com
Roman Martinez - firstname.lastname@example.org
Ron Bloom - email@example.com
John Barger - firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Duncan - email@example.com
But for those still anxious about post office shenanigans, WaPo columnist David Ignatius tamped down those fears with a reality check in his piece, A Trump electoral coup would be very hard to pull off. "One state election security official told me that if the USPS can cope with roughly 3 billion pieces of mail in the week before Christmas, it should be able to handle 100 million absentee ballots,” Ignatius noted. Even before the convention’s celebratory fireworks had stopped smoldering, a spate of headlines conspired to deflate our buzz. The NYT's Adam Nagourney issued a cautionary tale for Biden in his analysis, A Glimmer of Hope for Trump? How Bush Mounted a Comeback in 1988. Drawing on the contours of the 1988 contest between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, Nagourney fleshed out how Trump could overtake Biden to win. But key differences between the two races make Trump’s path a steep one. "Mr. Biden is far better known than Mr. Dukakis was and he has shown a resilience to caricature that Mr. Dukakis did not have. Mr. Trump is viewed unfavorably by a big swath of voters, in no small part because of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 175,000 people in the United States and devastated the economy on his watch. His lack of credibility with many Americans has undercut his ability to deliver an attack,” observed Nagourney. Similarly, Mike Murphy, one of the founders of the Lincoln Project dedicated to defeating Trump, blocked out Trump's battle plan in his WaPo op-ed How Biden can still lose. "Heading into next week, the Trump strategy is brutally simple: change the focus from firing Trump to fearing Biden and Harris," Murphy warned. "The Republicans will pound away at Biden and Harris with all the golden oldies that worked for them before. I was there when Republicans did a nasty new paint job on the once shiny Michael Dukakis. Whether they want to or not, Americans will be watching Fox News-style programming next week as the GOP tries to recast 'Pop and Momala' as wild tax-and-spenders, enemies of private health insurance, dangerously soft on illegal immigration, destroyers of the suburbs and purveyors of vote fraud.” Despite that, Murphy still thinks Biden will beat Trump. One footnote: Murphy expressed the same fear I've heard from many of you — that Trump will decimate Biden in the debates. Just as it’s not a foregone conclusion that VP nominee Sen. Kamala Harris will trounce VP Mike Pence, don’t be so sure. When I asked Obama campaign guru David Axelrod about Biden’s fitness for the debate stage, he advised that “Joe will be just fine. He just has to act more like an insurgent than an incumbent. You don’t defeat an incumbent president by playing defense. Every day, Mr. Trump provides opportunities. It isn’t hard to get a rise out of this thin-skinned president and knock him off his game. Be a speedboat, not a battleship. Make him react to you.” In the meantime, it’s up to each of us to deliver on the most important winning strategy of all: making a plan to vote. For those of you who didn’t follow Michelle Obama’s marching orders to apply for an absentee ballot even as she was speaking, it's past time to act. Since there are 50 different electoral systems in this country, there’s a surfeit of confusion about the fool-proof way to make sure your vote is counted. Thanks to this interactive map from NBC News, just click on your state for everything you need to know about how to vote. Do it today. Remember, there is no single Election Day anymore. We’re in primetime “election season” and we have to start getting out the vote now. One of the most poignant voices at the convention was former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who has worked for years to regain her ability to speak after being shot. As she said in her short, powerful speech, “I struggle to speak, but I have not lost my voice.” With 73 days to go, we must do everything we can to make our voices heard. Adopt the words of the late civil rights icon John Lewis as your daily mantra: "If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” Finally, as we go into the GOP convention tomorrow night, the Republican National Committee confirms that the primetime speakers are primarily members of the Trump family — Don Jr., Melania, Ivanka. (Jared Kushner fans are on tenterhooks waiting to hear if he’ll be at the dais.) Former President George W. Bush sent his regrets. Colin Powell spoke at the Democratic Convention. Oh, and the McCloskeys, the St. Louis couple who pointed guns at peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors, will also grace the stage. Under the heading, know the enemy, force yourself to watch as much as you can. Then, re-watch Joe Biden’s acceptance speech.