The first day of the Democratic National Convention opened under clouds of rain and controversy. Wikileaks’ revelations that yes, in fact, the Democratic National Committee had been biased against the Bernie Sanders campaign brought the discontentment of the Sanders supporters to a head. As the Convention got underway, demonstrators sporting Bernie campaign t-shirts marched through the streets and besieged the entrance to the Wells Fargo Center.
Deep in preparations to come to Philadelphia, I had not read much beyond the headlines of the Wikileaks story. When Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned, I felt glad. She had not been allowed to skate by. No underling had taken the fall for her. This, I thought, is how it should be: when the leader commits an offense, she takes the consequences.
Nevertheless, I still felt disquiet. What has been done cannot be undone. We have a nominee, but the process that brought her the nomination–that will in all hope raise her up as the first President of the United States who is a woman–will forever be in question. Democrats, who ostensibly stand for more participation, who work to increase access to the polls and the democratic process, have this campaign year hearkened back to a history of back-room deals and smoke-filled rooms of party insiders.
Strangely in this year, we have also seen the opposite dynamic in the Republican Party. Despite all the efforts of party leaders, the Republican nominee is a man with no political experience, no party obligations, and apparently no desire to do the actual work of the Presidency. He spews racist, sexist, Islamophobic, and anti-immigrant invective without conscience or remorse. He regularly promises to violate American and international laws, an unprecedented feat for a Presidential nominee. Against all odds and most predictions, he has taken over the Republican Party, a retrograde revolution.
More than once during Trump’s campaign, I have heard Democrats say, “I’ll bet the Republicans wish they had superdelegates right about now.” (The RNC does have superdelegates, but with different rules.)
This November’s contest will be historic for both parties: one putting forward the first woman to secure a major party nomination, and one putting forward a uniquely unqualified and dangerous candidate.
It’s an uncomfortable position. No one wants to cast a ballot with a gun pointed at their head, but in effect this is the situation many of us face right now.
This gives the convention an undercurrent that the rallying speeches and the calls for “stronger together” cannot quite drown out.
Ultimately, all of us have to ask ourselves the question, “At whose expense?” At whose expense the election of an autocratic, inflated, capricious man to our highest office? As I walk around the halls and the grounds of the Convention center, the answer is clear. A group of young African American women hand out signs that read, “Love trumps hate.” A man stands in a corner reporting events into his phone in Spanish. A woman rolls by me in a wheelchair. Two Asian American women walk and talk, “AAPIs for Hillary” buttons on their lapels. A queer woman wearing a blazer and sporting closely cropped gray hair speaks into a microphone while a white man films her. On the screen above me, ten-year-old Karla Ortiz stands with her undocumented mother, Francisca Ortiz, and addresses thousands in the room and millions on screens, a platform that Republicans would never allow her.
But the stakes should not keep us from also asking, “At whose expense the disenfranchisement of thousands of progressives in the Democratic Party?” When Bernie Sanders began his Presidential bid, I jumped aboard if only to support universal health care, a single issue that would utterly transform the lives of so many people I know–friends with chronic conditions, some of whom still find the premiums of Obamacare too onerous, in spite of the risks they run by not having insurance.
Like many other Bernie supporters, over time I became irritated and finally disgusted by “Bernie bros,” supporters who ignored the role of sexism in their support of Sanders over Clinton, supporters who said they would vote for Trump over Clinton in order to bring on the revolution, supporters who seemed blinkered to what is at stake for those who are far more disenfranchised than they.
But we can’t allow the obnoxiousness of these kinds of supporters to blind us to the fact that Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine will probably not be able to offer a transformation of American economics and politics that so many of us need. Part of this is inherent in the job: the possibility of electing a truly progressive President of all fifty states under our current two-party system is, frankly, small. (Whether the American election system can structurally support more than two parties is a separate question.) As it is, many Democrats are welcoming Mike Bloomberg’s endorsement of Clinton, because the polls projecting the winner in November are too close for comfort.
I don’t want the immense pressure of defeating Donald Trump to leave those who need Bernie’s policies behind. I hope that the Democratic National Committee will not bury the memory of Wasserman Schultz’s transgressions, but instead use it as an opportunity to scrutinize their process and build in more transparency.
We are currently battling a party that feels comfortable dispensing with facts, drawing lines to say who belongs and who does not. The Democratic Party needs to stand against these tactics. If Democrats truly believe that only light can drive out the darkness, they need to practice it in both words and deeds.