A convention in the time of Trump and Covid

By Carlton Joseph

Carlton Joseph

Former US Vice President, Joe Biden, formally accepted the Democratic presidential nomination in the nation’s first ever virtual convention.  His address focused on the dangers of President Trump’s reelection and pledged to address the four simultaneous crises of systemic racism, the coronavirus pandemic, the economic downturn and the climate crisis. Saying: “United, we can and will overcome this season of darkness in America.

The opening lineup included speeches from former first lady Michelle Obama, Senator Bernie Sanders, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser.  The lineup included some high profile Republicans like former Ohio Governor John Kasich, who was one of President Donald Trump’s toughest rival for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

In her keynote speech, Michelle Obama  said- “So, let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can: Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.”

Bernie Sanders, after ensuring that progressive ideas were included in the party platform, gave his support to the ticket saying- “This election is the most important in the modern history of this country. In response to the unprecedented crises we face, we need an unprecedented response, a movement like never before of people who are prepared to stand up and fight for democracy and decency, and against greed, oligarchy and bigotry. And we need Joe Biden as our next president.”

The most emotional speech of the night, in my opinion, came from Kristin Urquiza who lost her father  Mark Anthony Urquiza to covid-19 said that he had faith in Donald Trump and added: “His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that he paid with his life.   One of the last things that my father said to me was that he felt betrayed by the likes of Donald Trump. And so, when I cast my vote for Joe Biden, I will do it for my dad.”

The list of speakers for the four-night event represented the ideological diversity inside the Democratic Party.  Every race and background was represented at the gathering amid musical performances in both Spanish and English. The evening culminated with Kamala Harris, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, accepting her party’s nomination for vice president.

Senator Harris attacked Trump, noting that his failure of leadership had cost lives and livelihoods, and that there was no vaccine for racism.  Saying: “We’ve got to do the work to fulfill that promise of equal justice under the law; none of us are free until all of us are free.”  On her vision of the country, Harris says it is of a place: “Where we may not agree on every detail, but we are united by the fundamental belief that every human being is of infinite worth, deserving of compassion, dignity and respect.”

Former President Obama attacked Trump said that Trump has shown no interest in putting in the work, nor finding common ground, no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends, no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.  And that he hasn’t grown into the job, because he can’t.

Former president Bill Clinton described a presidential election as the world’s most important job interview. At the end we hire a leader to help us solve problems, create opportunities, and give our kids better tomorrows.  He intoned: “Donald Trump says we’re leading the world- At a time like this, the Oval Office should be a command center.  Instead, it’s a storm center. There’s only chaos. Just one thing never changes—his determination to deny responsibility and shift the blame. The buck never stops there.”

To demonstrate the bipartisan solidarity behind Biden, and to show anti-Trump Republicans and swing voters that the Democrats were welcoming all defectors with open arms, and that their voices will be heard.  A number of high profile republican defectors were given speaking time during the convention.

The outreach to Republican defectors presents a dilemma.  One recognizes that the party is trying to prove its “big tent” credentials and trying to attract “Biden Republicans,” but it also raises concerns that Democrats have abandoned their core party values in their effort to beat Trump.  Progressives are concerned that former Governor, John Kasich, who is considered “the enemy” among Democrats in Ohio, was reincarnated as a nice, middle-of-the-road guy and given a time slot that could have gone to a progressive.

More disconcerting, the convention’s messaging was focused on less radical or progressive policies.  Featured were more centrist or right of center policies and personalities.  Notably, there were no Muslim speakers in the lineup and only a handful of Latin-X voices.  Rep. Ro Khanna admonished:  “Well, I am very enthusiastic about supporting Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to defeat Donald Trump, but I cannot vote for this platform that does not have universal healthcare as a right.”

Millions of people have lost their jobs and probably their healthcare.  A recent survey revealed that 70 percent of Americans support Medicare-for-all. Ironically, Healthcare For All was part of the Democratic platform in the 1980s, but went missing  during a time of a pandemic?

The global pandemic has witnessed the evolution of Zoom as the replacement for in person socializing.  This virtual event revealed that, when properly done, digital storytelling is powerful and intimate.  I was present at Obama’s first convention and watched many conventions on television.  Being present at the convention of the first black nominee for president will always be special, but this particular convention did a better job than past conventions of amplifying voices that have historically been marginalized.