Did you see any of the Democratic Convention last week? It was worth watching. There was inspiration in it — even joy.
Not just the speeches. You could see it as the cameras panned the remarkably diverse, hope-filled faces, hanging on every word.
This convention was, in effect, a celebration of America’s pluralism, a demonstration of the nation’s motto: E Pluribus Unum — out of many, one.
But oneness doesn’t automatically emerge from our many-ness. That comes from struggling as a nation to embrace diversity, which is no easy task. It has been this country’s defining tension throughout our 240-year history. The Democratic Party, showing considerable courage, passed through that crucible over the last half-century — and paid a terrible political price, starting with their support of civil rights. Even this convention could have gone sour, but because the Democrats didn’t try to stifle Sanders’ supporters, the party came together in the end.
It has been a long road for the Democratic Party and will continue to be a long road, but there is no turning back. Without inclusiveness, America ceases to be. There is no other path to the future.
The nihilism, paralysis, and despair of today’s Republican Party is the only alternative. They don’t know how to embrace diversity, which is why that party is mostly old, mostly white, and mostly dying. You could see it in the faces at their convention, contorted by anger and fear. And by their positions. They have become the party of exclusion.
Over the years, I’ve been observing the devolution of the Republican Party and the evolution of the Democratic Party — from the end of the progressive New Deal in the 1960s to the current end of the conservative Raw Deal (for all but the top 10 percent). Though the Republicans have enjoyed considerable political success, their party has been in steady moral decline, which recently turned into freefall. The Democrats, on the other hand, have been ever-so-slowly rising.
During the conservative ascendancy that began with Ronald Reagan’s election, as the Democratic Party wandered in the political desert, it was frustrating to watch “Republican Lite” candidates try to distance themselves from the party’s liberal tradition. Many of those who, like myself, vote mostly Democratic couldn’t identify completely with the Democrats because they didn’t seem to know who they were. But each of the last three conventions celebrated diversity instead of hiding it, and speakers became bolder about proclaiming progressive positions.
The transformation in Philly, however, was remarkable. The political and non-political speeches were powerful, eloquent and positive (except when hammering The Donald), and it was good to be introduced to the actual Hillary Clinton — as opposed to the straw effigy the Republicans have been setting on fire for the past quarter-century.
Now she is leading a party on the upswing, a party that authentically reflects this country’s breathtaking diversity, a party that is still actively reaching to realize our national ideals.
Were you watching? If so, you witnessed a political party rediscovering its voice.
All of our culture wars come down to this struggle between inclusion and exclusion. As Stephen Prothero’s new book, Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections), illustrates, culture wars have been with us from the beginning of our two-party system. Like it or not, it is how change takes place in this country. But in the long run, inclusion always wins, Prothero says, because that is what this immigrant-based country has always been about, and pluralism is what makes our nation stronger.
Inclusion, in fact, provided the only meaningful moment in Trump’s dreadful “Midnight in America” speech in Cleveland. When he mentioned the Orlando massacre, for a moment his angry audience was on its feet, cheering for the “LG … BTQ community.” Trump could barely spit the initials out. The crowd might just as well have been cheering for the “BLT … PDQ” community for all they knew, but at least they were cheering — and thinking about something other than their own grievances. Even Trump dropped his Mussolini impersonation briefly and commented on how welcome it was to hear “that Republican response.”
Maybe they can build on that moment. Let’s hope so because the Republicans will not rise from their current circle of hell until they learn how to embrace inclusiveness and celebrate diversity, something that was on full, glorious, patriotic display at the Democratic Convention last week. America the beautifully diverse.
Did you watch? Wouldn’t it be nice to believe in a political party again?