Perhaps the real point of this blog post is to warn against letting too much time elapse between starting and finishing time-sensitive writing. I started it August 21, and here it is, just 10 days later, which might as well be a century. I guess it’s in keeping with how time feels these days: both endless and unchanging as well as perpetually upended moment to moment. So I’ll just throw this into the latest time warp, trusting that (a) things will change again and (b) I can get back what was true not so long ago, despite the smoke.
Last year, I couldn’t wait to watch the Democratic debates, and put every single one in my calendar. The first one, with all those candidates crowded onto a stage, made me feel proud of my party and hopeful about how many serious, good people there were in this country. Our alarmingly narrow bench was actually quite wide, even minus the ludicrous contestants (here’s looking at you, Marianne Williamson).
My older brother and I would touch base about politics once in a while, him from western Massachusetts, me from California. He was a Biden stalwart from the get-go, arguing that a return to decency and normalcy were just what the country needed. I begged to differ (probably not that politely): Biden, I maintained, embodied the benign patriarchy, which we’ve all learned is not so benign. Despite having a fondness for Obama’s VP, I found him too arrogant and defensive, too old and diminished, a man from a bygone era who could not rally enough young and progressive voters to offset the swing voters in key states he maybe could.
I loved these conversations with my brother. Subsequent Democratic debates? Not so much. My pride from the first one quickly changed to dismay as month after month we mostly witnessed a made-for-TV-but-not-for-democracy spectacle, the surprise appeal of Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer’s tie notwithstanding. In one of our calls, I asked my brother what he thought of the debates.
“I think the Democrats should stop having them!” he said.
At last we agreed.
So it was with considerable trepidation that I put two hours into my calendar every single night from Monday through Thursday a couple weeks ago for the Democratic Convention. How much of a disaster would it be?
I loved it—every inspiring and cheesy moment. Well, maybe not Tom Perez’s manic energy from Milwaukee Central and the overhead shot of John Kasich at a crossroads, or was it a fork? Plus, I was distracted the entire first night by Eva Longoria’s totally smooth and seamless bust line, wondering if I really should consider Spanx.
But the wide-ranging panoply of America and people who call it home really moved me, from Black Lives Matter protests to the many (some would say too many) Republicans for Biden. I loved the focus on ordinary Americans, one apparently recording himself from what seemed to be a toilet (it was really just a stool). How many shapes, colors, outfits, accents, and tattoos there were, how many different walks of life! But united in common purpose. The tone of somber urgency as well as lightness was just right. Joe Biden and his small chats with people beamed in made me wonder if we will move from someone in the Oval Office who does nothing but watch FOX News and rage-tweet to someone who will spend his days personally calling every American for long, empathetic conversations. Sounds like a pretty good trade-up.
And, of course, the wonderfully weird and moving roll call, a much-needed travelogue for the housebound. Who knew that Rhode Island is the country’s calamari capital? Not to mention the effective telegraphing that wearing masks is the decent thing to do.
Some of the VIP speeches were great, some forgettable. Joe Biden more than cleared the bar of not dropping dead or uttering gibberish. The man from a bygone era really is the man of the moment.
Again, though, it was ordinary people who stood out: The young woman whose father died from Covid-19 because he had trusted Trump; the little girl reading her letter after her mother was deported; the boy with a stutter.
Four nights expertly packaged for maximum manipulation. And yet it felt real. It awakened something in me that’s been dormant for a long time, particularly as the Covid-and-Trump-coping protective numbness has settled in: Feelings of hope, pride, joy.
Then the Northern California fires picked up. Smoke, heat and terror blanketed everything, only to be supplanted by the Republican Festival of Lies and Fear-Mongering. Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times in front of his children by a White cop in Kenosha. The city predictably exploded, with a 17-year-old White militia wannabe killing two people. The teenager is being lionized by the right-wing. Jacob Blake is paralyzed, but not so the racial-violence-incitement machine of Trump and his enablers. Horrors compounded by the added horror that this strategy might just work.
Meanwhile, there are 183,000 dead and counting from the pandemic Republicans choose to ignore. Millions out of work, millions at risk of losing their homes.
By the end of the week, I was so distraught I had to mainline Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” on Netflix. It was the perfect antidote, reminding me of what we had, strengthening my resolve to fight harder to become better again. I made more donations, signed up for more phone banks, more text teams, more outreach.
That is the hard work that drives away the smoke and restores hope.