Election 2020: The Conventions

The political conventions of the Democratic and Republican parties were imminent. The excitement was building, even though the coronavirus would this year prevent the usual convening of boisterous delegates.

The Democrats would go first. They had announced four nights worth of speechifying to virtual audiences. It could not be the same as I remembered past political conventions. I would miss the funny hats, the jostling of reporters scavenging through the crowd for interesting sound bites, and the out-of-control floor demonstrations with all their giddy inebriation. I wondered how the party would pull off a virtual balloon drop.

The coronavirus had hounded the hapless Republicans from Charleston and Jacksonville. One week out, it was still unclear what the Republicans were planning aside from an obedient accommodation of the incumbent’s desire to give his acceptance speech at the White House.

I was looking forward to all the speeches from the Democrats; just how much of the Republican spectacle I would be able to stomach remained to be seen. It was important to be politically informed, but on the other hand, I was now an elder and life was just too short for too much emotional indigestion.

The purpose of the conventions was the selection of candidates for the offices of president and vice president of the United States, but those selections had been made weeks beforehand. Now, at convention time, there was no contest and no suspense other than how—or whether—the technology of running a virtual convention would work.

At the convention, the Democrats would formally choose Joe Biden to be the nation’s next president and Kamala Harris to be vice president.

They were running against the Republicans’ choices—the incumbents—for president, an orange-skinned, bouffant-haired blowhard, and for vice president, a pale-faced and preposterous walking cadaver. One could wonder whether these people qualified as human beings.

But the astonishing truth was that the Republican candidates could win in November. I doubted that the Republican candidates could win a fair fight. Somehow, though, that was not a comforting thought.

For years, the Republicans had been fiddling around with state laws to suppress voters, particularly voters who would be inclined to vote for Democrats. Lately, the coronapresident was doing all he could to wreck the US Postal Service so that there were real doubts about whether mail-in ballots would be delivered to state election officials in time to be counted. The coronavirus had made voting in person a life or death risk.

The American people would have to choose between risking infection and serious covid-19 illnesses if they voted in person (possibly after standing in line for hours) and risking that a hobbled postal system could not deliver their vote in time. To help them decide, the virus accomplice in the White House claimed that mail-in voting would be massively fraudulent and that in-person voting would be perfectly safe. The voters and their families would risk no more than what he had called “the sniffles” and, anyway, their children would be immune.  

Despite my bleak outlook regarding the future of our democracy, I will tune-in to the conventions this year because it is in my blood. I date my political awareness to the 1960 Kennedy election, when my brother was a volunteer in the local campaign office and JFK himself passed by Woolworth’s in a convertible. Even if those claimed memories are not entirely accurate, it was the Kennedy campaign that launched my life-long interest in politics.

But that was not my first political convention. I would swear that I can remember fuzzy black-and-white TV images of the 1952 Democratic Convention, when the party nominated Adlai Stevenson to run against Dwight Eisenhower. I would have been three years old then.

My mother, who was some sort of precinct volunteer in political campaigns at various times during my childhood, took me to the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City. I do not know if she was an active volunteer in the Democratic Party at that time, but somehow she had acquired general audience passes to attend the event. That year, Lyndon Johnson was nominated to run against Barry Goldwater.

The conventions this year could turn out to be the most memorable of my lifetime. The times are momentous against the backdrop of a world-wide pandemic that has infected more than 21.5 million people and taken nearly 773,000 lives so far. In the United States we have an imperfect Constitution under which an odious and ill-qualified candidate won election four years ago by a small margin of electoral votes even though more people voted for Hillary Clinton—almost 2.9 million more. We have an historic Democratic ticket with the first Black woman candidate for vice president, who also is the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica.

So, yes, I will watch the conventions. How could I not?

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