The recent Democratic and Republican conventions told two very different stories. They reflected a political divide in our country that goes well beyond policy differences. The back-to-back made-for-TV events made clear that the two campaigns have decidedly different perceptions of today’s political reality. Indeed, the America of each party’s convention looks nothing like the America of the other.
But there was one thing on which both Democrats and Republicans agreed: The November election is about President Donald Trump. Nothing more and nothing less. Sure, both sides argued their favored policy issues, and both sides touted their political themes and dreams, but all seem to agree that November is a referendum on Trump.
Former first lady Michelle Obama exhorted Americans to vote against Trump, whom she labeled “the wrong president for our country.” And she urged voters “to grab our comfortable shoes, put on our masks, pack a brown bag dinner and maybe breakfast too, because we’ve got to be willing to stand in line all night if we have to.” Not only must Trump lose, she said, but the Democratic victory must be so overwhelming that Trump cannot contest the results.
Republicans had a different view. Speaker after speaker praised the president’s economic and political accomplishments, and his delivery on his campaign promises. Family members sought to portray the president’s more personal and compassionate side. But even there, the focus was on results. Eric Trump followed the party line: “My father rebuilt the mighty American military, adding new jets, aircraft carriers. He increased wages for our incredible men and women in uniform. … He knows that if you do not have a border, you do not have a country, and will always support law enforcement and your right to keep and bear arms.”
Both parties handled the challenge of producing a convention program unlike the traditional, noisy, boisterous people-fests of an earlier time. And while the Republicans were more creative in their programming, they made some questionable decisions, including use of the White House grounds as the stage for a partisan activity, politicizing presidential activities by broadcasting them live or by video and having the secretary of state address the convention from a foreign capital. The president’s dismissive response — “We’re here. They’re not” — ignores the seriousness of the underlying concerns.
Despite their slick, carefully choreographed presentations, the conventions almost certainly did not change many minds. But the alternate realities they presented left little room for equivocation or nuance. Either Trump is an existential threat to American democracy, an unfit president who blames others for the pandemic, crashing economy, protests and chaos occurring on his watch, or he is the empathetic family man who will restore law and order, preserve American values, continue to build American excellence and protect against the threatening rise of anarchists and socialists.
It will be interesting to see how Trump and Biden emerge from the alternate realities of their campaigns, and deal with one another head to head on the debate stage. We look forward to it.