July 30, 2016


Bright Shining as the Sun : Infused with the spirit of the black church, the Democrats became the party of optimism. (Jamelle Bouie, 7/30/16, Slate)

In this celebration of American strength and greatness, the faces were overwhelmingly black and brown. The father representing his son to the world and rebuking Donald Trump's attacks? A Muslim American immigrant. The Medal of Honor winner speaking for veterans who might lose out in a Trump administration? Another immigrant. The parents honoring their son, a police officer who died on duty in Cleveland? They were black.

From Monday to Thursday, each night of the Democratic National Convention was marked by incredible diversity, represented by a wide array of colors and creeds. They weren't just voices of normalcy--people who represent the extent to which Democrats have claimed the mantle of "normal" America, where normal includes nonwhites, unauthorized immigrants, and the LGBTQ community. They were also voices for optimism.

It was the startling fact of this entire convention. On Monday alone there was Michelle Obama and her forceful defense of America's "greatness" and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker's attempt to raise his profile with a soaring national speech. All week long, if you craved a message of optimism, your best bet was a brown or black face. But that makes sense. Despite deep problems of discrimination and racial inequality, it's nonwhites--blacks, Hispanics, and other groups--who have the most optimistic view of the United States and its future. For them, the country is closer than not to its self-conception as a city on the hill, and for good reason. If you're black, if you're Latino, if you're gay--life is unquestionably better now than it was in the past.

In the hands and mouths of underrepresented groups, these symbols of patriotism and national pride took on new meaning. This wasn't a crude jingoism. It was an expression of pluralistic nationalism and deep civic pride, a progressive patriotism that acknowledges the nation's failures but strives to overcome them.

What is remarkable is the extent to which this kind of patriotism--and much of the mood surrounding the convention--is rooted in black traditions of political and religious rhetoric. In ways small and large, the lifeblood of the Democratic National Convention was the black church. You saw this, in a literal way, with the stream of black politicians and black religious leaders who took the stage. The Rev. William Barber, the North Carolina preacher and head of his state's NAACP who founded the "Moral Mondays" movement, gave a speech that was emblematic of the language on display, a language and cadence drawn from the traditions of the black church. "Now, my friends, they tell me that when the heart is in danger, somebody has to call an emergency code, and somebody with a good heart will bring a defibrillator to work on the bad heart," said Barber in his thundering address. "[W]e are being called like our foremothers and fathers to be the moral defibrillators of our time. We must shock this nation with the power of love. We must shock this nation with the power of mercy. We must shock this nation and fight for justice for all." [...]

This progressive patriotism wasn't just a cudgel to use on Donald Trump, whose solipsism and fearmongering have exposed him to a Democratic attack on the basis of values and temperament. It was part of the bedrock of the argument against Trump and Trumpism--that he and his cause were fundamentally un-American, that electing him would deal an irreparable blow to the bonds of multicultural democracy.

And so we have Monday's speech from Michelle Obama, which stands as a paean to that conception of democracy. We have Wednesday's speech from Barack Obama, in which the president made a vigorous defense of American pluralism. "Fair to say, this is not your typical election. It's not just a choice between parties or policies, the usual debates between left and right," said Obama, emphasizing the extent to which he views Trump as a threat to America's democratic traditions. "This is a more fundamental choice--about who we are as a people and whether we stay true to this great American experiment in self-government."

Not the least of Trump's evils is that has ceded love of country to the Democrats. All of his pronouncements reflect a hatred of the America that actually exists.

Posted by at July 30, 2016 10:04 AM