A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Echoing Springsteen’s “The Rising” accompanied by a heart-stirring new video of We the People doing just that, the opening night of the online Democratic National Convention focused on our diversity, unity, empathy, young people, communities of color, and collective good deeds in the face of hardship, with powerful testimonials from many ordinary Americans either fighting COVID-19 on the front lines or losing family members to it – with a bittersweet musical cameo from much-missed John Prine, one of its victims. Among the speakers was a grieving, furious daughter whose healthy, 65-year-old father had died of it; dry-eyed, she offered the damning declaration, “His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump.” The evening’s headliner was Michelle Obama, who “flayed, sliced and diced” Trump and his hateful divisiveness in a polite, quietly compelling, ultimately towering speech that ended in her impeccably flipping one of his most callous comments ever back to him. She mentioned him by name just once, but it was enough, sadly insisting it was time for “the cold, hard truth.” “Let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can: Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country,” she said. “He is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.”
Even Fox News was wowed, but Trump couldn’t let it be. On Tuesday, he chose to trash the country’s most admired woman by sneering that she’s “over her head” (sic), also “extremely divisive,” and besides because she’d taped her speech days earlier “she got the deaths wrong” with her claim he’s responsible for 150,000 COVID deaths, when by now it’s 170,000 – a correction leading many to suggest that “I Killed 20,000 More Americans Than I Get Credit For” may not be exactly a winning campaign slogan. His rant came as he marked the centennial of the 19th Amendment – giving (white) women the right to vote – by issuing a “perfectly Trumpian” pardon to Susan B. Anthony, who was found guilty of voting in the 1872 presidential election, who he’d probably only rank a “4,” and who he’d likely never heard of until some flunky suggested the stunt might distract people from the day’s big news about a massive GOP-led Senate panel report finding that yup, we really do have Paul Manafort and many Russians to thank for his entirely bogus election. Because Americans, while often stupid, are never as stupid as Trump thinks they are, many remained unimpressed by the spectacle of a fake president who’s trying to take away people’s right to vote pardoning a woman prosecuted for voting; some speculated Frederick Douglass must have done one hell of a lobbying job on behalf of Anthony, while others wondered how long it would take Trump to complain that Anthony hadn’t thanked him enough.
Regardless, Trump soon pivoted to his favorite campaign theme – Be Very Afraid – insisting that “the suburban housewife…they want security and they want safety.” In truth, given how things are going – COVID deaths and cases soaring, schools closing due to surges as fast as they try to re-open, his own peeps turning on him for making America “profoundly less safe,” Sharon Stone going viral with a grim video warning, “Don’t vote for a killer” – fearmongering is pretty much all he’s got, so he’s going with it. Thus, his repeated, hysterical claims that Joe Biden “wants to abolish the American way of life,” “Joe Biden is the puppet of leftwing extremists,” “Your family will not be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” and, in an especially, brazenly, Willie-Horton-redolent racist ad campaign from his “War Room” featuring coincidentally all-black mugshots of alleged criminals, that unless you vote for him, Joe Biden will release all these scary (black) rapists and murderers into your lily-white neighborhood and America will face “crime, chaos, corruption and economic collapse,” even though – reality check – we already do. Little wonder, then, the GOP’s newly announced line-up for next week’s convention reflects the same tawdry rhetoric and culture war tropes, featuring a sorry assemblage of racist has-beens and gun-toting icons of white entitlement eagerly using their 15 minutes of fame to fan the flames of hate.
Breitbart breathlessly reports the speakers at the closed-to-the-press hullabaloo were chosen to “illustrate the potentially disastrous consequences of Democrat governance,” from Iowa’s Joni “Let’s Make ‘Em Squeal” Ernst to a former Planned Parenthood worker who saw the anti-choice light to South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who refused to enact a lockdown but boasts how well her state weathered COVID anyway, except it hasn’t. For “entertainment,” there’ll be Scott Baio, star of an 1980s sit-com, and Ted Nugent of 1963’s Amboy Dukes, soon headlining the Bohning Archery Blazer Tour. (Eat your heart out, Bruce.) Also appearing are Patricia and Mark McCloskey, the St. Louis couple famed for waving guns at Black Lives Matter protesters marching past their house – or per Breitbart, as a “leftist mob (of) rioters stormed onto their property”; each has been charged with felony unlawful use of a weapon, though Trump wants the charges dropped because they were only pointing them at black people, so nu? Their lawyer confirms Mark – #McCloskeyStrong – “will be in full oratory splendor,” despite his decades-long legal wars with everyone he knows and his multiple lies about the incident. Also expected is Nick Sandmann, the smarmy, smirking twit in a MAGA hat who in 2019 stared down Native American elder Nathan Phillips at the Lincoln Memorial, and won settlements after suing several media outlets for portraying him as a smarmy etc. “I can’t tell you all enough about how excited I am to be apart of this years RNC!” he proclaimed in a grammatically challenged tweet. Many of his fans celebrated. “God works in mysterious ways,” wrote one, and from another, “You are the future of America.” Not on our watch, motherfuckers.
First published in Common Dreams.