I’ve never seen anything like Monday night’s opening night of the Democratic National Convention, but then neither has anyone else. Thank you COVID, but also thank you to the breathtaking increase in the diversity, across race and gender, of political leadership.
No crowded hall, of course. No roll call, but we already knew who the nominees for president and veep were.
Instead of Tip O’Neill or some Tip O’Neill look-alike, the emcee was actress Eva Longoria Bastón. In fact, astonishingly few of the speakers were old white males, or even males, or even white, and many of the speeches were short, delivered by celebrities, regular folks, or (of all things) Republicans.
Never-Trumper John Kasich, the former Ohio governor and Republican presidential candidate, distinguished himself, I thought (but I’ve always kinda liked him). Said Kasich of Trump: “What we do know is that we can do better than what we’re seeing today.”
Theme of unity
Minnesota’s senior Sen. Amy Klobuchar told the party and the country, “Unity isn’t the end; it’s the means. It’s how we get things done.”
The great South Carolina congressman (and pivotal player in getting Joe Biden the nomination) James Clyburn was a standout who said, “We need a president who sees unifying people as part of the job.”
I liked New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s line that “Donald Trump didn’t create the initial division [in the country]. The division created him. … Now we need leaders who appeal to our best, not our worst. A leader who can unify, not divide.”
And the rest of that passage (if my transcription is close): “I know that man. I worked with that man. I’ve seen his talent, his strength, his pain, his heart. And that man is Joe Biden.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who might be considered the runner-up, was given a long speaking slot, probably in hopes that he can keep his further-left followers from straying or staying home in November. He assured them that:
“My friends, we have moved the country in a bold new direction. … Many of the ideas we fought for, that just a few years ago were considered ‘radical,’ are now mainstream. But, let us be clear, if Donald Trump is re-elected, all the progress we have made will be in jeopardy.”
Sanders called Trump “not only incapable, but leading the country in an authoritarian direction.”
Another powerful and moving moment was the appearance of George Floyd’s two brothers. That video is here.
‘You cannot fake your way through this job’
Former first lady Michelle Obama gave the evening’s keynote address, hitting Trump hard, suggesting he possessed neither the skills nor the seriousness for his current position. “You simply cannot fake your way through this job,” she said.
I’ll close with this powerful excerpt from her speech:
When my husband left office with Joe Biden at his side, we had a record-breaking stretch of job creation. We’d secured the right to health care for 20 million people. We were respected around the world, rallying our allies to confront climate change. And our leaders had worked hand-in-hand with scientists to help prevent an Ebola outbreak from becoming a global pandemic.
Four years later, the state of this nation is very different. More than 150,000 people have died, and our economy is in shambles because of a virus that this president downplayed for too long. It has left millions of people jobless. Too many have lost their health care; too many are struggling to take care of basic necessities like food and rent; too many communities have been left in the lurch to grapple with whether and how to open our schools safely. Internationally, we’ve turned our back not just on agreements forged by my husband, but on alliances championed by presidents like Reagan and Eisenhower.
And here at home, as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and a never-ending list of innocent people of color continue to be murdered, stating the simple fact that a Black life matters is still met with derision from the nation’s highest office.
Because whenever we look to this White House for some leadership or consolation or any semblance of steadiness, what we get instead is chaos, division, and a total and utter lack of empathy.