The Future vs. the Past
I was one of a small number of non-media people, I imagine, who attended the final nights of both the RNC and the DNC.
What was most palpable to me was the sheer difference in energy. In Cleveland, I was in the uppermost tier of seats and there were lots of open seats near me and above me. Not only did many Republican leaders sit the Convention out, so did many of their usual guests. Cleveland was not a hot ticket.
While there were eruptions of cheering and excitement at times, attendees spent a lot of time on their smart phones and quite a number rarely clapped. I had a good conversation with a guy working on an anti-Libertarian Super PAC but he only displayed modest enthusiasm for what was happening below.
While the Republican floor delegates had a raucous time, the rest of the place felt more dutiful rather than devoted. Several good speeches preceded Trump’s, including Ivanka’s, which softened and humanized Trump’s image and Tom Barrack, who had a warmth that was infectious. But Trump’s speech was dark, heavy, and dystopian and he positioned himself as the only person who can fix things and restore law and order.
His pitch for strong-man-in-chief frankly didn’t play well in the upper decks. It did not lift us higher.
For Philadelphia’s final night, I arrived over an hour before the gavel in order to save good seats. By 5:45 pm, there literally was not a seat open in the house, with long lines of credentialed people waiting to get into the hall (and it appeared that hundreds of them were never able to be seated). The mood was electric.
Speaker after speaker represented the rainbow diversity of America, from the scorching rebuke to Trump from the Muslim father of a dead war hero to the African American preacher Dr William Barber II who spoke with soaring MLK-like cadences to Sarah McBride, the first transgender person in history to speak from a major convention floor.
When Barbara Mikulski took the stage as the first of 14 Senate Democratic women, I was struck by the change in my adult lifetime, from 1 woman senator in 1987 to 20 today and perhaps 24 likely by the end of this next cycle. I’m hopeful that as early as 2030, we can see a fully gender-balanced government, which would go a long way to shifting the combative political culture that has gridlocked Washington.
On the LGBT side, I learned that in 1972, two years after I was born, there was only one gay delegate to the DNC; today, more than 700 were in the stadium, leading LGBT caucus chair Earl Fowlkes to call it “the gayest political convention ever held in this world.” Gavin Newsom, once a political pariah in 2004 for daring to marry gays in San Francisco, is now a celebrated keynoter honored for his role in advancing the cause of gay marriage and there are elected leaders who are now out. I was sitting with Jose Roman, co-chair of the advisory committee for the LGBT caucus, and I reflected on how far things have come from the homophobic 80s and 90s to something close to full equality, at least in the Democratic Party.
I came away feeling that at last the promise of democracy is being fulfilled. Step by step, we are forging a democracy of ALL the people, by ALL of the people and for ALL of the people.
Republicans may critique the “identity politics” that puts the spotlight on different groups but after millennia of straight white male dominance, it is truly heartwarming to see a very real reflection of America in the seats, on the stage, and in positions of power.
Something inside can finally relax - especially as a white man. The truth is that the rule of straight white men led to an imbalanced culture that actually was very tough on the vast majority of white men as well. As the vestiges of patriarchy dissolve, we will all be better for it, opening the possibility for a more whole, balanced, and healthy culture.
I came away from the evening feeling more uplifted about American democracy than I could have imagined. The Democratic Party has achieved something remarkable - a party that looks like America, with a female nominee, an African-American President, a vibrant LGBT community, an embrace of Muslims, Christians and Jews. The CEO of the event was an inspiring African-American woman and the reaction of the crowd was wild.
Two of the evening’s speakers, including Hillary herself, reminded us of our national motto, E Pluribus Unum - out of many, one. Governor Andrew Cuomo called it “our founding premise and our enduring promise.”
To hold the amazing diversity in the party with real unity, optimism about our future, and a collaborative spirit is the great triumph of the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton has powerfully taken up that torch. The spirit of inclusivity generally even embraced the Bernie or Bust protestors, respecting that vocal dissent is part of healthy democracy.
When I look ahead to the next months, I now see more clearly the impending implosion of the old Republican Party, with the inflationary powers of Trump eventually hitting a limit before a rapid collapse, like a star gone supernova before transitioning to a white dwarf.
It may well be that this implosion leads to not only a female President but a rapid expansion of Democratic leadership on all levels
With the white nationalism that Trump is obviously stoking with his incendiary comments, he is getting a rush of energy by liberating suppressed emotions born of the end of white dominance. It has some very real destructive power.
But it is costing him the constructive energy of the future, as cultural innovators abandon the party in droves.
His movement is not sustainable because it is sourced in hatred and fear, which in the end saps our strength, rather than in love, which is ultimately sourced in our soul - a truly limitless source of power.
While there is plenty of suppressed anger for Trump to elicit in the months ahead which can, like helium, keep inflating the balloon, there will be a bust I believe.
The truth is that Trump is not speaking to or representing our future. Our future is more diverse, more integrated and more whole. It is a future of men AND women, blacks AND whites, Christians AND Muslims, citizens AND immigrants. It is a global future, not a national one.
We are fulfilling E Pluribus Unum in a more profound way now, after 240 years of hard-won progress, and there is no going back.
I predict that our major cultural figures will continue to defect from what has clearly become a sinking Republican ship.
As top musicians, writers, academics, actors, thinkers, and creatives join a unified Democratic leadership, more everyday people will recognize that the energy, passion, and optimism is flowing away from the Republican party, which will lead more business leaders to migrate as well.
The fact that so many major corporations pulled out of Cleveland is a sign of the flight of cultural and intellectual capital that is beginning to happen.
A lifelong Republian I talked to in Philadelphia said that it seemed like the people were just better looking, more vibrant and more interesting at the Democratic convention.
Trump will undoubtedly win many more Twitter and news cycles. He will give us a real scare. But as he continues to align with the forces of the past, he will, I believe, be roundly defeated by the forces of the future.
I do not want to invoke laziness with that comment but I believe a real wipeout is possible based on what can happen as a unified Democratic leadership builds on the themes of Philadelphia.
If a wipeout happens, the Republican Party will have some real soul searching to do to understand its fever of white nationalism and demagoguery over democracy. They will then have the opportunity to reforge themselves as a party just as committed to equality and justice as they are to liberty, just as committed to the poor as they are to elites, just as committed to rectifying the wrongs of the past as they are in celebrating American exceptionalism.
A new and more vital Republican party will be one that is just as committed to E Pluribus Unum as the Democrats are for the simple reason that it is not only our shared motto, it is our shared mission that can take us into a brighter future.
I’m grateful that there are many wonderful, deep thinking, caring Republicans who recognize this. I was delighted to meet some of those leaders in Cleveland and they will forge something better in a post-Trump rebirth.
The months will, no doubt, be nerve wracking and require massive effort to ensure a Democratic victory. But for me, after attending both conventions, the writing is clearly on the wall: the Democrats are now the party of the future and the Trump-led Republicans are the party of the past.
Americans do not dawdle for long in the past. We go ever-onwards and ever upwards.
Let’s build on our optimism, harness our can-do enthusiasm and ensure that love wins and that we emerge more united from the months ahead.