I grew up watching both parties' conventions. Television networks covered them from beginning to end. Oftentimes, because the outcome was not assured, there was drama and tension. During the past several decades, conventions have lost their excitement. With the nominees known and the platform decided in advance, the events have become something akin to infomercials for the nominees and the party. As a result, television coverage has been limited to a few hours, or less, each night. And viewership has declined. This year, however, might be different, though maybe not in a good way or, at least in the way party leaders might hope for. This is because there are competing dynamics currently driving and dividing American politics and both will be on display over the next two weeks when Republicans and Democrats gather for their quadrennial conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia.
In the first place, there is the hyper-partisanship that has created a disturbingly toxic political environment. The parties talk past each other and embarrassingly vitriolic rhetoric, once found only on the margins of our politics, has come to define our everyday political discourse. Add to that the fact that Congress is so paralyzed that many White House appointments remain in limbo and reasonable efforts to pass legislation making needed reforms go nowhere.
Not only is there a deep division between the parties, but as we witnessed during this past primary season, Republicans and Democrats are fractured within.
With Donald Trump's victory assured, traditional conservatives have, as one leader recently observed, "lost control" of their party. For this, they have only themselves to blame. During the past eight years, they fed the beasts of xenophobia and hatred of "all things Obama". The monster they created has turned and has now devoured them.
While some conservatives held out hope for a "dump Trump" movement at the convention, that effort was defeated when the party's Rules Committee quashed their designs. In one clear sign of Republican division, for the first time in recent history, none of the living former Republican presidents or presidential nominees (the two George Bushs, Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney) will be in attendance. Some disgruntled delegates may follow suit and stay away. Who will be there, at this point, is anybody's guess. And if Trumps' opponents do go, it is uncertain how they will react.
It, therefore, remains to be seen how the GOP Convention will unfold. Will it be an orchestrated Donald Trump made for TV variety show? Or will the dissidents still find a way to make their presence felt?
Even without any disruption inside the convention hall, the scene outside promises to be tense as the many component elements of the social movement harnessed by Trump will square off against their equally aroused and passionate opponents. Cleveland is tense. It is a majority African American city that has had its share of controversial incidents of police violence. Add to that demonstrations sponsored by, among others, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-gay, and pro-gun groups (and their opponents) and you have a potentially combustible mix.
The most worrisome news is that because Ohio has an "open carry" policy and provides for licensed individuals to carry concealed weapons -- we have an "accident" (or better, a tragedy) waiting to happen. In anticipation of unrest, the city has emptied its jails, moving prisoners to other locations, and there will be a massive deployment of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies throughout the city.
Just a few days after Cleveland, Democrats will gather in Philadelphia to formally nominate Hillary Clinton as their candidate for President. With Bernie Sanders' endorsement of Clinton and his decision not to continue his challenge by introducing minority planks to the party platform, party regulars were relieved -- hoping for their own version of a peaceful made for TV convention. But, despite Sanders' move toward unity, it would be important to note that fissures remain.
The Sanders candidacy was not an ordinary Democratic campaign. It was a social and political movement that brought together liberal Democrats and a number of progressive movement groups and activists with no strong ties to the party. While other candidates lose, endorse, and fade away, neither Sanders nor his followers appear to be interested in following this path.
It is important to note, that these movement activists will be in Philadelphia and will be both inside and outside of the convention. Inside, they will be among Sanders 1,900 delegates and outside, they will be demonstrating in the hundreds of thousands against unfair trade agreements, for universal health care, for racial justice and against police violence, for immigrant rights, and for Palestinian rights. These are the issues that drew activists to Sanders. While he can correctly claim that his campaign had a direct impact on the making the Democratic Party's platform more progressive, it remains to be seen whether activists will find that sufficient or whether they are willing to follow Sanders in supporting the party's nominee and believe that she will implement their progressive agenda. And so it is likely that in addition to demonstrations outside the convention, there may be signs of discontent within the hall.
In any case, despite the best efforts of the organizers of both the Cleveland and Philadelphia affairs, the unexpected may occur. Stay tuned.
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