I have tried to write my personal thoughts about the Republican and Democratic National Conventions numerous times before this, and numerous times I scrapped the entire article.
One reason is that many people will automatically write off anything that isn’t purely about an official platform. Some believe policy is all that really matters - not the people, not the words, not the character of leaders, not the culture presented. Just legislation goals.
This perspective is understandable, because legislation affects each of our lives, and neglecting to give any consideration to policy is unwise.
But neglecting to consider anything else is unwise as well.
My dad took me to several political gatherings as a kid. I loved going with him to election watch parties and to campaign events. I even attended some local committee meetings back in Texas. My dad taught me the importance of critically evaluating both the inside and the outside of what’s offered by politicians and platforms. Character, words, appearances, and policies, outcomes, and potential consequences.
The argument that “it’s only policy that matters” is a very bad one when it turns into “as long as my platform wins, I don’t really care what it takes to get there.”
I don’t think most of us ever intend to be in that place. So we need to ask ourselves: Do I believe that platform is all that matters? And what am I willing to accept in the name of pushing my favorite policies through the system?
We will all have different answers to that question. But it’s worth asking.
So we can - and should - talk about whether it’s appropriate and beneficial to raise or lower taxes. To reform or abolish the Affordable Care Act. To aggressively combat climate change or conservatively work towards environmentally friendly practices (or ignore climate change altogether). We can talk about when gun policy is infringing on our 2nd Amendment rights or when lack of gun policy is placing citizens in reckless danger.
We could talk about those things all day long, for years. And we will still not all agree. There is no easy answer to any of these things, and no one answer is sufficient. Part of what keeps our democracy healthy is our variance of opinions in constant tension with one another, working to prevent imbalance of power, and to represent and care for a variety of people with very different needs.
But today we’re going to look beyond the platform, and see what culture, motives, priorities, values, and characters were represented in the parties and their leaders. These are things you can find at a convention.
In the end we never know what a president, or any elected officials, will actually accomplish. They may not accomplish anything we like. They may accomplish many things we like, but completely abuse the law and other people in the process.
What’s present at the convention does offer perspective on the way party leaders are likely to act while in office, and how the party will continue to approach governance as a whole.
So let’s talk about the conventions!
And if you want to know exactly what is in the official platforms, you can read the 92-page Democratic platform here, and the 67-page Republican platform here. Please note that some references in the Republican platform are outdated, because the RNC chose not to create a new platform this election - this is the exact document submitted in 2016.
I have a lot of respect for both a Republican and Democratic perspective, and I think having a variety of healthy perspectives is essential for a healthy democracy.
With that in mind, my intention while attending these events was to be as open minded as possible. And I also intend to be as honest and forthcoming as possible. And this is what I observed during those two weeks.
The RNC, from beginning to end, was clear that they believe any criticism of our nation’s systems, history, or law enforcement is unacceptable and unpatriotic. Over and over again, impassioned voices sternly told us that criticizing America is terrible, that Democrats hate Americans and are out to destroy our homes and our way of life, and we must not allow any of them to have any power. Ever.
There was an overwhelming abundance of speakers railing on “the Democrats” and “the radical left” with no distinctions offered to distinguish between these labels. They were presented as inseparable, offered in a derogatory manner over 40 times. I stopped counting at 40 - the actual number is higher.
The RNC was riddled with logical fallacies, like false dilemmas, slippery slope arguments, and straw man arguments. You can find logical fallacies in any place, but at the RNC they were very frequent, far-reaching, dramatic and loud.
An overwhelming message underlying the whole event was “Be terrified of anyone who does not see things the way we do.”
The RNC was extreme, much more so than the DNC. And all while accusing the DNC, and everyone who aligns with it, of being radicals out to destroy the country, destroy the police, and burn down your suburban homes. I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not. This sentiment was offered (sometimes shouted) many times.
According to the RNC, the entirety of “the Left” wants to completely turn our country into a horribly oppressive Socialist nation. Or Communist nation. There was some lack of clarity on which it was. In fact, there seemed to be no acknowledgement that the two are not actually the same.
The words “socialism” and “communism” were thrown around constantly throughout the week, offered as if congruent, and usually devoid of critical, logical evaluation or explanation. They were plainly intended to influence through fear.
I find all of this highly problematic. And even more so when these logical leaps and demonizing pronouncements intended to promote fear are combined with passionate cries of “We will have law and order!” (Mike Pence)
These are not signs of a healthy perspective, approach, or governance. We should not be okay with this. I believe most of us, no matter our political leaning, are very passionate about preventing an oppressive government, and preserving our democracy. But these methods are alarming.
On the flip side, the DNC, from start to finish, was clearly working to be as inclusive as possible. This was a necessity since there was a broad representation of perspective at this event. There were, of course, progressive thinkers and politicians, many moderate thinkers and politicians, and even quite a bit of Republican representation.
The DNC was clear that they believe America is strongest and healthiest when there is unity in the midst of difference. And that, most important of all, we must treat each other with dignity and respect no matter how much we differ. They also made it clear that they believe a large part of what makes America great is our freedom to protest, and our freedom to demand change when there is injustice.
The DNC sent a clear message that the safety of our people and our democracy relies on us all being willing to work together, and that it's imperative to treat everyone, even those that disagree with us, with dignity and respect. This value was demonstrated in nearly every one of the addresses given - which included two former presidents, several former nominees, and many other leaders.
Even the criticisms the DNC offered were presented in a calm and collected manner.
And I counted only 2 comments during the entire week that criticized “Republicans” as a whole, and they came from short clips featured in video montages, from a couple of everyday Americans. I did not hear any leaders offer such comments.
Quite a bit of attention was given to the voices of local leaders and everyday people across the country. Although the presidential and vice-presidential candidates were a very large focus, they were clearly not considered the only voices and perspectives that mattered.
The overwhelming message of the event was that everyone is valuable and deserves dignity and respect, whether they support the DNC or not.
I would have loved to see this attitude represented at the RNC as well. But it wasn’t.
The message at the RNC was loud and clear that unless you see things their way, you are an enemy, and you are not welcome.
The differences in these two events, and the attitudes and character that their leaders displayed, are worth paying attention to. These things influence everything.
I know some of you will look at the RNC and agree with every single one of their offerings. And some of you dislike the attitude of the RNC but will still support it for your own reasons. The choice is ultimately up to each of us to decide when we will put the platform first, or when the platform is not worth the means to get there.
But for myself, I find the actions, character, and behaviors present at the RNC unacceptable, and I will not stand by them. They influence the way policy is enacted. They influence leadership. And they influence the culture of our country.
I have watched the RNC growing into its current state for a while. And although there was a certain shock factor seeing all of these things so plainly demonstrated in one sitting, in the end it was not actually surprising. The seeds have been there for us to see.
I have hope that the RNC can be in a healthier state in the future. Partly because of the noticeable absence of many prominent former and current Republican leaders at the convention, and also because the parties have proven themselves resilient over the years.
But it’s not healthy right now.
I believe that character matters a great deal. I believe that treating people with dignity and respect is essential. I believe that using fear as a method of persuasion is harmful and unwise, and is a very concerning trait to see in leaders. I believe that “criticizing America” by holding systems and leaders accountable and working to effect positive change is very healthy and patriotic.
I believe that embracing our differences and respecting each other amidst them is vital. I believe that demonizing enormous groups of people by calling them names and flinging wild accusations toward them is extremely harmful and dangerous. I believe that the way leaders behave towards people who differ from them affects how constituents behave toward people who differ from them.
And all of these things affect the health of our nation.
These things count. They count a tremendous deal.
I think all of us should care about what we see at the conventions. They reveal a lot about the quality of leadership we can expect from them right now.