The Democratic and Republican National Conventions this year are certainly not conventional! How does one create a successful, inspiring event when there is no crowd, no applause, no real-time interaction? This year certainly calls for ingenuity.
So how have the conventions played out so far?
The Democratic National Convention was held last week, virtually. Video montages, recorded addresses (from homes and from stages), and video footage of everyday American citizens make appearances. There was even some footage of drive-in-style watch parties - proud Americans waving flags and cheering for their candidates.
The Republican National Convention kicked off last night, and is scheduled to wrap on on Thursday night. The opening night showed a combination of live interviews with President Trump and guests at the White House, and footage of speeches delivered from stage (sans the typical large crowds).
Since the RNC is still underway, I thought a day by day comparison of the two would be informative. How were they similar? How were they different? What seemed to be the focus of each convention?
Here are the breakdowns from Day 1 of each event:
The DNC kicked off with a video montage of citizens around the country reciting the Declaration of Independence. “We the people” was the theme of the night. Both the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem were presented, also in video montage-style, again featuring everyday Americans.
It was interesting to note, since I watched this after accusations that the DNC had removed the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, that the phrase was, in fact, included in this night’s presentation.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were then promoted as candidates, following an opening prayer asking for blessings to Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.
There were a few specific calls that the convention offered.
“We the people …. need a leader who unites us, not divides us.”
“We the people... need a leader who will fight against racial injustice.”
“We the people... demand a fair election.”
Experiences of everyday Americans were a central theme of the night. The night immediately dove into the experiences of everyday Americans, with video interviews and music video montages. The focus seemed to be the resilience of the American people, and hope in our ability to pull through tough times by working together. That theme continued as the night moved onto specific platforms, promotions of Biden and his character, and criticism of our current administration.
Throughout the night, calls were made for a leader who looks out for the American people, not themselves. For a leader that can relate to the everyday working class American, a leader that is empathetic, and that has proven that he cares about we, the people.
Racial injustice was discussed at length. A moment of silence was observed in memory of George Flloyd and others murdered by law enforcement agents, led by George Flloyd’s brothers, Philonise and Rodney.
Mayor Muriel Bowser, of Washington D.C., commemorated Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis, and criticized President Trump for allowing peaceful protesters to be treated violently for the sake of a photo op. She called for change to systems that have “codified racism” for so long, and challenged each of us to search ourselves and confront our own biases.
Four individuals were interviewed by Joe Biden, remotely, through video. Biden asked each of them how they believed we can fight against racial injustice. Offers were presented such as reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act, Congressional action to prevent police abuse, national measures to reform this country’s policing. Joe Biden stated to Houston Chief of Police, Art Acevedo, “Most cops are good! But the fact is the bad ones have to be identified and prosecuted and out, period.”
Interviews and montages were presented highlighting Joe Biden’s empathy, relatability with the everyday working class of America, his decency and kindness, and his successes fighting an Ebola outbreak with former president Obama. It was pointed out that the Trump Administration disbanded the Pandemic Response team that Obama and Biden set up.
Front line workers shared experiences of exhaustion and tragedy during this pandemic, and criticisms were offered of President Trump’s “lies about the security of our voting” and undermining of mail-in voting during a pandemic.
A very notable part of the “we the people” theme was the acknowledgement that “we the people” means all the people, even those with whom we do not agree. To think about more than one party, and instead think about the core of our democracy.
Multiple speakers expressed a willingness, and necessity, to see past our differences and work together toward better solutions to the problems of our day. Several Republicans were featured calling for us to see past party lines and vote for a leader, not a party. Alabama Senator Doug Jones offered, “... it’s not about what side of the aisle we’re on, it’s about whether or not we’re on the side of the people.” And, “We are one people, one family, one house.”
Senator Sanders stated, “As long as I am here, I will work with progressives, with moderates, and, yes, with conservatives to preserve this nation from a threat that so many of our heroes fought and died to defeat.” Sanders suggested that our nation is in crisis, calling to attention climate change, this pandemic, racial injustice, and a president who is incapable of dealing with this and is leading us down a path of authoritarianism, offering warning that this destroys democracy, decency, and humanity.
A rather unique offering of the night was a video montage of former nominees from the Democratic party offering support for Joe Biden. Among their many commendations was that “It’s not easy to unite the democratic party…. Joe Biden has pulled it off.”
Michelle Obama gave the final address, expressing empathy, pain, and care for how many of us are hurting, and who don’t really want to tune into a convention right now. She noted what a hard job the presidency is, and the many requirements to do the job well.
She offered many encouragements and suggestions for how we can live our lives well in this difficult time, and urged Americans to stand up for what is right. "Kids in this country are seeing what happens when we stop requiring empathy of one another. They're looking around wondering if we’ve been lying to them this whole time about who we are and what we truly value.”
She mentioned President Trump only briefly, towards the middle of her 18 minute speech, where she stated, “He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be what we need him to be for us... It is what it is.” And she commended Joe Biden’s ability to learn and grow, his ability to listen to people, his decency, and his care for people.
On the whole, although both the promotion of Joe Biden and condemnation of Donald Trump were present, there was more focus on American people and their needs than either of the two politicians throughout the convention on this opening night.
Something that was absent from the night was sweeping condemnations of opposition or opposing party. Criticisms were made of policy, the President, and this administration only.
The RNC kicked off with commendations for President Trump’s response to the Corona Virus Pandemic, and suggested that his response was better than anyone else’s, including the WHO. Among his stated victories were banning travel and helping push for treatments.
A few video montages were shown promoting Trump’s leadership and criticizing other politicians. These included a video highlighting Trump’s actions to bring home overseas American prisoners. President Trump interviewed multiple groups of people throughout the night (live, at the White House) including former overseas prisoners. Each person thanked President Trump for his leadership.
Some stories were shared of times that President Trump had reached out to individuals in crisis to offer help. Presenting one of those stories was Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was tragically and brutally murdered at the 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Pollack spoke highly of President Trump’s assistance during that dark time, and blamed Restorative Justice for the school shooting.
The theme of the night seemed to be Trump’s leadership, the dangers of Communism, and the American value of hard work for just reward.
The majority of the night was a series of speeches, each one with a dark, warning message offering stern criticism of “the Left”, communism, socialism, and Democrats. Joe Biden was regularly categorized as part of “the Radical Left” and “the Far Left”. He was criticized for crushing people with taxes and taking away jobs from American people by ending fossil fuels. “Don’t let them take over America.” was the call.
Nikki Haley stated that “Socialism has failed everywhere” and suggested that the Democrats are trying to turn our country into a socialist nation.
A grim and emotional speech was given by Cuban-born Maximo Alvarez with a strong, personal warning of the dangers of Communism, comparing America in the hands of Democrats as the beginning of Totalitarianism in America.
Criticisms were offered of Joe Biden’s past record of racists remarks, and many personal anecdotes were given presenting President Trump as a non-racist man. Along with those were some remarks praising the President for not caring about political-correctness, and criticisms of the idea of political-correctness in general.
Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple known for their controversial story of pointing guns at protesters from their front porch, gave a passionate address referring to what they called the mob, and strongly condemned Cori Bush as a Marxist revolutionary. Strong warnings were issued to all Americans that the same thing could show up on our own doorsteps.
Perhaps the most notable address was from Donald Trump Jr., who spoke sternly and passionately against “Joe Biden and the Radical Left”. He gave stern warning of anarchy, torching by mobs, and other bad things coming “to your homes”. He condemned criticism of police officers because they are our heroes. He commended his father for supporting America’s interests “for a change”, his promises to bring troops home, and promotion of the American dream, where if you can hope for it or imagine it, “you can have it!”
The comparison of these opening days of the two conventions is really quite stark. Visually the formats were quite different - the DNC had a modern, techy vibe, and the RNC was much more traditional. But more striking than this was the tone of each event. Most of the speakers of the DNC had a rather calm demeanor, even when offering criticism, and the general air was hopeful. Most of the speakers of the RNC had an angry or stiff demeanor, and most of the messages left one feeling either afraid or indignant.
The prominence of sweeping comments condemning opposition to the Trump Administration was striking. Labels such as “the Radical Left”, “the Democrats”, “Joe Biden and the Left” were given often, alongside stern criticisms. There were 19 such pronouncements in the last approximately two-thirds of the night (I did not tally the first third). As mentioned above, there were no such comments directed towards opposition at the DNC.
Both conventions addressed racism and COVID-19, but from very different angles. The RNC commended Trump for his pandemic response, and said very little about the American people’s experience. The DNC spoke primarily of the American people’s experience, and criticized this administration’s response.
The RNC addressed racism by criticizing Joe Biden’s racist remarks, criticizing political correctness, criticizing calls for law enforcement reform, and promoting Trump as a non-racist man. The DNC interviewed several people to discuss their input on solutions to racial inequality, offered a moment of silence for George Ffloyd, and called for solutions to prevent abuse from law enforcement agents.
The RNC is scheduled to end on Thursday night, and we will continue this comparison of the remaining nights with the DNC convention. Stayed tuned for a comparison of Day 2.