Category Archives: Later, in commentary

A Rape of the White House

The misappropriation of Fort McHenry by the Republican National Convention was the warm-up act for the desecration of the White House and Washington Monument. In the first few paragraphs of his speech, VP Nominee Mike Pence rolled out the central strategy of the re-election campaign: portray Democrats as unpatriotic and dangerous.

The symbolism was scarcely clothed. Pence reminded us that 206 years ago “our young republic withstood a ferocious naval bombardment,” an attack by foreign forces intent “to crush our revolution, to divide our nation, and to end the American experiment.” In the next breath, Pence sounded the alarm: Democrats, at their convention, “spent four days attacking America.”

After this stirring overture, Pence said he would “humbly accept” the nomination.

The speech was chock full of adulation for what the president has done over the last four years. Many of the claims of greatness were repeated the next night by the president himself. The falsehoods and distortions of the truth have been fact-checked, but most voters will never hear those details.

Everything was going great, according to Pence, until “the coronavirus struck from China” (in fact, the dominant strain of the virus in the United States is a mutated, more infectious strain that spread from Europe). Pence described “unprecedented” action by a president who directed “the greatest national mobilization since World War II” and a “seamless partnership with governors across America” (the president who griped that the federal government was “not a shipping clerk” and left governors to compete for medical equipment while calling for the “liberation” of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia).

There were 1,239 deaths from covid-19 in our country on the day of the speech, but Pence said nothing of the need for every American to wear a mask, to practice social distancing and to avoid gathering in large groups to reduce the contagion. Instead, he said “we are saving lives” and credited the “courage and compassion of the American people,” as if that were enough.

The crescendo began with new alarm about “violence and chaos engulfing cities across America.” Joe Biden, he said, “would double down on the very policies that are leading to violence in American cities,” but he failed to identify those “policies” or to explain why Joe Biden was to blame for anarchists creating havoc in the streets under President Trump’s watch.

Pence climaxed: “Joe Biden would be nothing more than a Trojan horse for the radical left” who would “set America on a path of socialism and decline.” But that would not happen because “President Donald Trump believes in America and in the goodness of the American people,” and “if you look through the fog of these challenging times, you will see our flag is still there today.”

Oh boy.

The next night, Trump gave his acceptance speech on the South Lawn of the White House in front of a not-socially-distanced audience of 1,500 or so. It was the same speech Pence gave—only twice as long and delivered in a cloying cadence of faux wistfulness.

Trump “profoundly” accepted the nomination (the prepared text said “proudly”).

Following the game plan, Trump warned “despite all of our greatness as a nation, everything we have achieved is now in danger.” The choice in this election is “whether we save the American dream or whether we allow a socialist agenda to demolish our cherished destiny.” Joe Biden was, he said, “the destroyer of American greatness.”

Most of the speech was a self-glorifying recitation of breathless promises and claimed accomplishments, coming from a president whose credibility must fairly be doubted due to 20,000 documented false or misleading pronouncements he has made since taking office.

He touted his “policy of pro-American immigration,” but as far as I can tell, his “pro-American” policy is as little immigration as possible coupled with inhumane treatment of asylum-seekers to stop “asylum fraud.”

At several times during his speech, he had trouble reading the teleprompter, as when he confusingly promised to “end our resilience for bad things,” straying from the prepared text, which promised to “end our reliance on China once and for all.”

He promised to “very strongly protect patients with pre-existing conditions,” but he did not mention that he is asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the Affordable Care Act, which provides that protection, or that his administration has not proposed a replacement, despite his recent (July 19) promise of a “full and complete health-care plan” within two weeks.

His big closer was: “If you give power to Joe Biden, the radical left will defund police departments all across America” and “No one will be safe in Biden’s America.” Calling the Republican Party “the voice of the patriotic heroes who keep America safe,” he said that Democrats “stand with anarchists, agitators, rioters, looters, and flag-burners.”

Democrats, he said, defend rioters and looters. “They call them peaceful protestors.” Warning of what would happen if Biden were elected, “Just imagine,” he said “if the so-called peaceful demonstrators in the streets were in charge of every lever of power in the U.S. government.”

He gestured toward the White House, saying “The fact is we’re here and they’re not.” He then ad-libbed: “it’s a home, as far as I’m concerned.”

Wrapping up his speech at last, Trump praised America’s (White) legends—Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley, Davy Crocket and Buffalo Bill—and waxed nostalgic for that little house on the prairie or, rather, “beautiful homesteads on the open range.” His point was that Americans “don’t tear down the past,” a veiled reference to the removal of statues celebrating the Confederacy. The crowd of potential virus-spreaders cheered. “Over the next four years,” he said, “we will prove worthy of this magnificent legacy.”

Nathan Bedford Forrest and William J. Simmons would be so proud.

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A Big Effing Deal

The pandemic made this year’s Democratic Convention something completely different. It was unlike any presidential nominating convention I can remember.

Gone were the huge crowds that would ordinarily fill vast, indoor arenas. Gone were the deafening eruptions of applause, cheers and whistles from thousands of people under one roof. Gone was the spontaneity of unruly floor demonstrations. Gone were broadcasters’ sky-booths overlooking a sea of partisan humanity drunk with the moment.

Even within these absences was a symbolic message: the Democrats were taking care not to spread the coronavirus—a virus that had so far infected 5 million and torn away more than 170,000 American lives from the fabric of the nation’s families.

In ways unexpected, the impossibility of recreating an arena atmosphere in virtual reality made a much better convention possible for Democrats. It was more personal, more inclusive and more audible. It allowed the walls of the convention hall to disappear and allowed the diversity of the American landscape to be seen and unified. E pluribus unum.

For the most part, the technology and the electronic orchestration of the event worked and worked well. It was not flawless, but it didn’t have to be. The bits that fell flat were unimportant in the end. The practical and necessary business of the convention—the nomination and endorsement of the party’s presidential and vice presidential candidates—was accomplished.

The standard-bearers delivered their acceptance speeches in large empty rooms. Without feedback from a live audience, they could not know when their words connected with the hearts of those that heard them. Anyone who has been on stage knows what is lost when a line is delivered to an empty house.

Joe Biden looked open-eyed into the camera lens and did not deliver a speech as much as he began a conversation, talking about what is at stake in the election.

This is a life-changing election that will determine America’s future for a very long time.

Character is on the ballot. Compassion is on the ballot. Decency, science, democracy.

They are all on the ballot.

Who we are as a nation. What we stand for. And, most importantly, who we want to be.

That’s all on the ballot.

And the choice could not be clearer.

No rhetoric is needed.

Biden’s speech was not aspiration and poetry without substance. He highlighted a range of issues that would become the focus of a Biden presidency: having a plan to control the pandemic of coronavirus; building the nation’s economy back better; building on the Affordable Care Act; making a college education affordable; providing child care and elder care; making a humane immigration system an economic asset; empowering labor unions; assuring equal pay for women; paying essential workers rising wages to support families; responding effectively to the global threat of climate change and creating good-paying jobs in the process; protecting Social Security and Medicare; and standing with international friends and allies instead of “cozying up to dictators.”

But even beyond this litany of policies, Biden expressed a vision of new possibility.

One of the most powerful voices we hear in the country today is from our young people. They’re speaking to the inequity and injustice that has grown up in America. Economic injustice. Racial injustice. Environmental injustice.

I hear their voices and if you listen, you can hear them too. And whether it’s the existential threat posed by climate change, the daily fear of being gunned down in school, or the inability to get started in their first job — it will be the work of the next president to restore the promise of America to everyone.

Biden’s vision embraced possibly the most ambitious and hopeful of all futures for America. He drew his inspiration from a six-year-old girl, Gianna Floyd.

She is incredibly brave.

I’ll never forget.

When I leaned down to speak with her, she looked into my eyes and said “Daddy, changed the world.”

Her words burrowed deep into my heart.

Maybe George Floyd’s murder was the breaking point.

Maybe John Lewis’ passing the inspiration.

However it has come to be, America is ready to in John’s words, to lay down “the heavy burdens of hate at last” and to do the hard work of rooting out our systemic racism.

His acceptance of the nomination was framed within the theme of light versus darkness and hope versus fear. But the times we are living in do not call for rhetorical flourish. These were plain-spoken words and all the more effective. More than any poetry of language or any detailed policy prescription of the moment, this was a speech that was aware of and spoke to America’s history. It was a good, solid speech and one that, if you listen, can inspire.

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