Clinton and the Convention and Where We Go From Here
As I did last week with the Republican National Convention and Trump, some thoughts today on the Democratic National Convention and Clinton:
1. At the beginning the DNC certainly looked like it had all the fixin’s for an RNC-level shitshow, what with the Dead-End Berners and e-mails and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s career imploding in real time. But then a funny thing happened on the way to the shitshow: it all got managed. Wasserman-Schultz was ridden out of town on the nicest, most face-saving rail that could be found, Bernie Sanders and the majority of his delegates were publicly honored and catered to, and the ones that wouldn’t be mollified were first put in their place (via the good graces of Sarah Silverman) and then on later nights generally counteracted and out-chanted on the floor.
Meanwhile, up on stage, the A-list of Democratic politics and of Celebrityland went out, hit their marks, gave their speeches that ranged from dully competent to oh, wow, and without exception endorsed Hillary Clinton, as they were supposed to. All of which is to say, this convention went off about as well as it possibly could, especially considering the potential for chaos that had unloaded itself earlier in the week.
Remember how last week I asked how Trump could be trusted to manage an entire country if he couldn’t even handle a four-day self-advertisement? To flip it around, the competent running of this particular four-day self-advertisement does not imply the Clinton and the Democrats will also run the country well, but, Jesus, the mere, simple competence of it, even with its concomitant drama, is like a cool glass of water after a hard wander in the desert.
This year a major difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is simply this: They both had their shitshows, but only the Republicans put theirs up on a stage and called it a convention.
2. During President Obama’s speech on the third night, I started seeing tweets and comments from GOP operatives that were, bluntly, a little shell-shocked at how much better and, honestly, more adult Obama and the other DNCs speakers’ speeches were than what transpired at the RNC the week before. The general gist of the tweets was “Waaaaaaah the Democrats are stealing our stuff” — meaning the themes of patriotism, military honor and, yes, “real American-ness” had found their way into the DNC speeches when they should have been at the RNC.
It’s certainly true the Democrats swept up all that iconography, gave it the slightest of twists to the left, and held it up for all to see. But two things here. One, it never was the GOPs to own exclusively in the first place, particularly when the rhetoric of the GOP rarely jibed with the policies of the GOP. The Democrats have as much right to them as the GOP does. Two, well, what the hell did the GOP expect? You left all that iconography just lying around because you’re off nominating a self-interested blowhard who is trying to scare the shit out of enough old white people to get into the White House. What did you think was going to happen? The Democrats were just going to leave it in the yard for you to come back to in 2020? Rumor is, the Democrats would like to win the presidency.
As others elsewhere have noted, the problem with the Democrats using these themes previously is not that they couldn’t use them, but that given the high-volume co-option of the themes by the GOP, it seems like the Democrats were saying, “hey, us too,” which is not a good look. This year, they don’t have to worry about that, and of course that’s no one’s fault but the GOP’s. The other thing about that is that now that these themes are in the Democrats’ hands, the GOP’s attempt to use them later is likely to have that “hey, us too” feel to it, which will not be a good look for them, either.
3. In my lifetime, there have been contentious conventions on both sides of the US political aisles, blockbuster speeches and speeches that have left craters of careers, lots of drama and excitement (and lots of oh lord why are we even running this in prime time it’s sooooo boring). But I don’t think there’s ever been a convention season where the contrast between candidates and parties has been so sharp. Right now, the Democrats are the party of the grown-ups: They have detailed policies and a plan and a system in place and a presidential candidate who has the resume and experience for gig. The GOP has a candidate who retweets white supremacists and “jokes” about asking the Russians to hack his opponent, and whose policy stances are “Trust me, it’ll be great,” and “You’re all doomed without me.”
This should not be a close contest. That it is a close contest (right now) is a testament first to the twenty-five years that the GOP and conservatives have spent demonizing Hillary Clinton, and second to the effectiveness of the GOP and conservatives in creating an epistemic bubble inside which millions of (largely white, largely older, largely less educated) people live, trained to be suspicious of facts, trained to see political opponents as traitors, trained to be afraid first and anything else after that.
And yes! When you say those things in sequence out loud, it sounds ridiculous! But yet here we are in 2016 with Donald Trump, ignorant, hateful, horribly afraid Donald Trump, as the Republican candidate for president. He didn’t appear out of nowhere. The way was prepared for him over decades, by people who couldn’t see that they’d laid the way for an incipient demagogue who would have no loyalty to them or their political goals, such as they were. They didn’t see that the person who would be tasked to stand in his way is the person they’d spent a quarter century convincing those in bubble land is one of the gravest threats to America that had ever put on a sensible pantsuit ensemble.
Again, someone elsewhere said it first, and I’m just repeating it because it’s true: This year is not about Democrat versus Republican, or conservative versus liberal, it’s about normal versus highly fucking abnormal. The conventions were just the easiest compare-and-contrast manifestation of that schism. You may not like the Democrats, but they’re coloring inside the lines. The GOP isn’t coloring inside the lines; they’re not even coloring inside the book or using crayons. What they’re doing is splashing pig’s blood on a wall and scrawling ALL HAIL THE ANGRY CHEETO with the gore. This is where we are in 2016, and it does us no good to pretend otherwise.
So yeah, all you GOP operatives moping about how much better the Democratic convention was than yours: This is on you and your party. You built this over the course of a quarter century. And if you have anything left in your brain other than a Pavlovian revulsion response to Hillary Clinton, you know what you should be doing between now and November.
4. Certainly Hillary Clinton didn’t waste any time trying to pull in the folks who have not gone entirely around the bend; her speech, which started slow but picked up steam, was an open invitation to anyone horrified by the concept of Trump to get on the Clinton bandwagon. This year the Democrats are dragging their nets wide, as they should; here’s a chance for them to flip the “Reagan Democrats” script that was played out three and a half decades ago, and bring in the right-leaning folks who are sensibly concerned about the current state of things. This is your campaign, she said, over and again, to the people who in a year not written by a speed-addled hack novelist would be voting for a Republican. She’s not wrong.
(This is, incidentally, why at this point she can blow off any remaining Dead-End Berners. She’s made her obeisance to her left flank and put their goals into the platform, and now she’s moving to haul in the many more millions in the middle. If the few remaining DEBs can’t get with the program, fuck ’em. Let ’em vote Jill Stein, then.)
Clinton is not and is never likely to be the orator either her husband or President Obama are. Her cadence in the first several minutes of her speech was a cross between Christopher Walken and a junior high assistant principal droning through the morning announcements. But she picked up when she got to the meat of the speech which consisted of a) lots of policy wonkiness, and b) punching Trump square in the nose. Her speech included a lot of applause lines that shouldn’t have had to be in there; as much as I loved her saying “AND, I believe in science!” it’s goddamn 2016. The idea that a candidate for the President of the United States has to use that line to differentiate herself from an opponent who even in the worst case scenario will garner tens of millions of votes is a tragedy for everyone involved.
The speech, and Clinton, did what needed to be done: Show Clinton as a reasonable human being with reasonable goals and a reasonable plan to implement them, and stand as a contrast to the ambulatory tire fire that is Donald Trump. Both of these are relatively low bars, so it’s not at all surprising she cleared them, and probably with some margin. We’ll see what happens in terms of polls from here. My suspicion is that Clinton gets some air between her and Trump, no doubt aided by Trump’s Russian adventures in the last week.
Clinton particularly got Trump’s number when she said that a man who can be taunted by a tweet shouldn’t be given nuclear launch codes. Trump’s response — of course — has been to embark on a furiously pissy tweetstorm, which makes her point. She did a pretty good job of messing with his toys.
5. There are three months between now and Election Day, and anything can happen, but I’ll go ahead and make a prediction now, which is essentially the same prediction I’ve been making all along, which is: Hillary Clinton is going to win this election, and in the end I don’t suspect that electorally speaking it’s going to be all that close. Trump is betting on older, less-educated white people and the built-up hatred of Clinton to get him in. That leaves Clinton literally everyone else in the country. With literally everyone else in the country, Trump’s trend lines don’t look all that great. I think literally everyone else in the country is going to be motivated to vote against him. I think he’s going to lose.
What I want to know is what happens then. I mean, I know what I think is going to happen with the GOP — confronted yet again with demographics and the general horribleness of their current philosophy of obstructing for political purity, they will of course double down once more on whiteness and truculence. It’s what it’s trained its base to demand, and inasmuch as it will (probably) keep the House after November, there’s another couple of years to ride this out at least.
But I genuinely want to know what the plan is from there. Trump is a racist and bigot and he is the GOP’s candidate for president because GOP primary voters put him there. The party’s not dog-whistling anymore. The party can’t pretend it stands for all Americans with him as its standard bearer. The GOP can’t hide any longer that it is, flatly, a white nationalist party. Whatever else it stands for, that’s front and center. Trump put that there, and the GOP primary voters put him there.
How does the GOP come back from that? After election day they can all look at each other and agree to never speak of 2016 again, but here’s the thing: There’s still literally everyone else in the county. They are not going to forget 2016, or that Trump was the GOP standard-bearer, or that the GOP went along with him. They are going to remember. They are going to remember for decades.
The Democrats have their own issues — the Dead-End Berners are a sideshow but a hard left is there and real and it’ll be interesting to see how the Democrats handle them, especially if this election gifts them a wide swath of center and center-right voters — but they pale in comparison to the GOP’s issues right now. And the thing is, again, it’ll just be easier for the GOPs not to deal with them and to, again, double down on whiteness and obstructionism. I think it’s going to kill them over time. The last one in the GOP room won’t have to turn out the light; the power will have been cut long before.
(Of course, Trump could win, in which case the GOP’s short-term problems are solved, at the expense of literally everything else that will be affected by boosting an ignorant racist nihilist into the White House. I don’t see this being a great option either, certainly not for the rest of us, nor in the long run for the GOP.)
6. I think Clinton will win the presidency, and I think her speech last night went a long way to helping with that. She made the argument that she was worthy of the job, not simply that she was last anchor post before the abyss. Likewise the DNC, especially contrasted with the RNC, showed who are the competent folks in this election cycle. Both mattered, and I think both will help seal with deal with a number of possibly reluctant voters. This was a good convention for Hillary Clinton, and for Democrats.
With that said, don’t forget that Hillary Clinton really is the last anchor post before the abyss. I said it months ago and I will say it again now: No one should be voting for Donald Trump for president. If you are historically a Republican voter, consider your other options. Clinton is there, but if that’s a bridge too far, there’s Gary Johnson, who, I say again, has an actual platform and policies that are probably closer in line with what your values are than Trump.
Likewise, no one should be complacent about this election. Register to vote. If your state is making it difficult for you to vote, know now so that well ahead of election day you can jump through all the stupid, intentionally-placed hoops preventing you from registering. Know what you need in terms of IDs, etc to vote (yes, it sucks. Do it anyway). Bother everyone you know who is eligible to vote to do the same. Do it today. Hell, do it now.
Then, when the time comes, vote. This one is different. This one you shouldn’t sit through. This one really, truly, matters.
Three months to go, people. Get on it.