I’ve been trying to write about this trip for two weeks, getting nowhere. More accurately, I’ve been writing about different parts of the trip and abandoning them as I get sucked into facebook arguments. And, at night, it is hour after hour of fascinating, sometimes bewildering, always distracting reality TV, with new facebook conversations in the morning. Most surprisingly civil conversations, given the emotions. Here are a couple of things that have stuck with me three days later.
To quote, from memory, a Republican woman talking about Trump when asked about the people who weren’t supporting him, “At the end of the week, when everybody goes home, when they pack up the banners , when they fold up and put away the chairs and turn out the lights, those people better be on board or Trump will run against them. He is running against the establishment, not just the Democrats, he is running against the people who made this mess.”
To quote, not from memory, Khizr Khan, a Pakistani immigrant whose son, a US Army Capitan, was killed in Iraq while protecting soldiers under his command, talking to Trump, “Have you ever been to Arlington cemetery? Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending America, you will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities, You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”
To me, these were the two most iconic moments of the last two weeks. The anger and righteous confidence of the Trump supporter and the solid softness and raw pain of the Khans, the mother wearing her hijab and the father holding his well-worn copy of the Constitution. The last two, making a great case for Muslim inclusion in the new American mosaic. Intellectually, I understand that the milestone of Hillary Clinton being nominated to run for President is the big news, but it didn’t tear me up like Mr. Khan, probably because I am a guy but also because Hillary Clinton seems so connected to and entwined with the apparatus of the party, a little like Benazir Bhutto, that getting the nomination was a foregone conclusion. There was no other choice. Yes, Bernie came along, and he rocked Hillary Clinton back on her heels until the Democratic Party antibodies kicked in but, let’s face it, a 74-year-old Jewish, self-identified socialist with a Brooklyn accent was never going to be the strongest candidate. That Bernie ran so well is a testament to his obvious integrity as well as a big part of the electorate’s hunger for change, especially the young electorate who will have to live with the future. As an aside, to whine that Bernie wasn’t treated fairly is somewhat disingenuous, Bernie who wasn’t even a Democrat two years before he tried to crash their party and I think he has already reverted back to being an Independent was in no position to make, shape, or enforce the rules. End aside. But, with all that acknowledged, Hillary Clinton is the first women to be nominated to run for President who actually has a viable chance to become President of The United States and that is a very big deal. To make it more delicious, she is running against a guy who appears to think about women only in term of fuckability (to borrow a line from Amy Schumer). Add to that mix, Hillary Clinton personifies the very establishment Trump is running against like no other politician.It should be a mesmerizing contest.
Watching Bernie say, “Many here are disappointed. I think it’s fair to say that no one is more disappointed than I am. But take pride in what we’ve accomplished.” while explaining that he thought the only rational move was to vote for Mrs. Clinton, I thought he looked tired and worn out and it occurred to me for about the hundredth time that he is 74 years old. Not only that, Trump is 70 and Clinton is 68. Where are the young people who understand today’s world, why aren’t they shaping it? And, for that matter, why is a 78-year-old Jerry Brown the governor of California? When are the young – young really meaning middle aged – people picking up the baton?
The Democratic Convention was way, way, better than the Republicans as art, as a finished production, and most importantly, as pure propaganda. That was a little bit of a shock. I figured that, with all of Trump’s showbiz experience, the Republican Convention would be a visual and propaganda triumph. It wasn’t, it was a hamfisted attempt to make Trump seem likable and reasonable and it almost worked until the actual Donald Trump himself showed up. Still, I thought Trump’s wife and kids were stellar character witnesses. Melania’s speech, especially, was heartfelt and touching, sure she copied a couple of Michele Obama’s lines, but it was out of admiration, the sincerest form of flattery, and Ivana’s speech was what every father would love to hear from his daughter. Then came Donald Trump, walking out from a tunnel of bright light that we have been conditioned to think of as coming back from death, trying to look like a savior but only looking like a petty dictator, and, in the end, making his wife and daughter look like liars. With no sense of perspective or humility, he yelled, “I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” Beware of anybody who tells you they alone can fix anything. In the end, the Republican Convention just seemed tawdry, a thin layer of gold paint trying to make a shoddy structure seem substantial.
The Democrats had one major speaker after another starting with Cory Booker. In between, Joe Biden and Bill Clinton gave pretty good speeches with Bill looking older than I expected. Bernie brought a tear to my eye when he asked the Convention to vote unanimously for Hillary and, of course, both Obamas hit home runs. We have come to expect that but it was still thrilling to see them dazzle. Barak Obama, in particular giving a speech that was so good that the scalpel he wielded was not noticeable. But it was there, as he joined in the parade of people telling us that Trump is not stable enough, adult enough, knowledgeable enough, to be dog catcher, let alone President. Another Barak Obama speech that was hard not to admire. Chelsea Clinton more than held her own while introducing her mom (and I think she and Ivana must have the same people doing their makeup, certainly the dewy lips). The Democratic Convention crowd was as diverse as America although a more patriotic, almost jingoistic, American. Then the two weeks of constant politicking ended with Hillary Clinton, dressed in suffragette white, giving a very serviceable speech. She sounded and looked very Presidential.