The Conventions in the Rearview Mirror

Before we descend further into the new normal — which is also the old normal of Trump on Monday, Trump on Tuesday and Trump all the time — let us take one last look at the national presidential conventions held by the Republicans and Democrats in Cleveland and Philadelphia.

It’s worth doing this lest we forget entirely the highlights and contrasts provided over five-day periods by the two contending armies vying for the grand prize of the presidency. The echoes of the acceptance speeches of Hillary Clinton, dressed in a blindingly pure white pantsuit, and Donald Trump, dressed in a somber dark suit and floor-length red tie ensemble, are fading fast, even though they expressed remarkably distinct worldviews, styles, cultures and stories.

For Trump, this was easily the most critical speech, in terms of impact and vision, since he gave the speech that announced his intention to run for president. That initial speech effectively ended his professional television career as a reality-show host, but in no way ended his television presence, which has been almost all-consuming on a daily basis ever since.

For Hillary Clinton, the speech, or THE SPEECH, accepting the presidential nomination from a major party, was the most important of her political and national life since, well, forever, since she, too, has long been a presence in our lives, at least since her husband Bill Clinton was elected governor of Arkansas back in 1979.

The contrasts between the two conventions were about tone and context, about vision.

The GOP trotted out minor celebrities: a member of the Duck Dynasty millionaires pretending to be jes’ folks, a surprisingly embittered former sitcom star, Scott Baio, as well as a “Dancing with the Stars” contestant. The tone itself centered on an unrelenting bashing of Hillary Clinton, from the anguish of a still-grieving mother of a slain Benghazi diplomat to Chris Christie’s mock trial of the former secretary of state — “Guilty, guilty,” yelled the crowd.

The cry of “Lock her up” seemed to be a part of every speech except the call to order. Some feared that Rudy Giuliani’s head might explode during his speech. But mostly there was just fear and anger, with intermittent family moments from wife, old buddies and the children, who shone brightly, especially lvanka Trump, the star in the Trump firmament by far.

Trump was omnipresent throughout. He arrived on opening night in a billowing smoke cloud to a blast of “We Are the Champions” to introduce his wife.

His speech, as has been duly noted by all, was dark: a lost America, lost prestige, lost jobs, lost deals, lost hope. Trump, preening, posing and acting the poseur, promised to fix everyting, and fast: kill ISIS, resurrect the coal and steel industries, punish our foes and some of our NATO friends, too. At the end, he and his vice-presidential choice, Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, greeted each other, Trump not quite connecting on an awkward pucker-up on the cheek.

The Democrats began with a near disaster in Philadelphia. The lord of Wikileaks had released information from hacked emails indicating that DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman had tried to work against the insurgent candidacy of the hugely popular Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Wasserman resigned. Sanders, it should be noted, whose revolutionary, grass-roots candidacy pushed Clinton almost to a bitter end, acted like a statesman, helping to rescue the party from what could have been a catastrophe.

The Dems also had star power, emotional, political and showbiz-wise, with Katy Perry singing “Roar” in front of Clinton’s speech. First lady Michelle Obama saved the wobbly first night and sent everyone packing feeling good. “Don’t let anyone tell you,” she said, “that America isn’t great.” She noted that she and her family lived in a house built by slaves. She struck a note of optimism and hope for the future, to be achieved by everyone working together.

Togetherness, the power of many as opposed to the power of one, was a theme that was carried throughout the convention, along with a study stream of verbal shots at Trump, who was unanimously declared “unfit to be president.” Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, Clinton’s choice for a running mate, repeatedly mocked Trump’s plea to “Believe me.” President Barack Obama knocked his own speech out of the park.

Clinton, too, was elevated by her family. A still frail-seeming Bill Clinton recalled his courtship of Hillary and referred to their long time together as man and wife and partners on the national scene. Daughter Chelsea movingly told anecdotes from her childhood with best mom Hillary Clinton, who she introduced.

Hillary Clinton’s speech did not levitate the building; she has never been an oratorical spellbinder. But she declared her competence, her abilities, her knowledge and the absence of those qualities in her opponent. She declared herself ready, and noted that she needed to work on revealing her own true self to voters. The rest was family, was friends, not silence, but balloons.

There was one other memorable speech at the Democratic convention that is still reverberating today and will at least until tomorrow. We are now in the aftermath of the speech by Khizr Khan, an American Muslim, whose son, Army Captain Humayun, 27, of Bristow, Virginia, was killed in Iraq in 2004. Khan, with his wife Ghazala standing beside him, spoke movingly about his son and the sacrifice he made, scathingly asked if Trump had read the Constitution and offered him his copy. He challenged Trump, saying, “You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”

The response was both shocking and predictable. Trump could have noted the heroism of the son, paid respect to the family’s loss and let it go at that, which would have made him seem more like a statesman, less like a thin-skinned demagogue. But Trump, being who he is, suggested that Mrs. Ghazala had not been allowed to speak, tried to blame Clinton for the son’s death because she cast a vote for the Iraq war and claimed that he made sacrifices by “creating thousands and thousands of jobs” in his business.

Today, then, is Monday, another Trump day, to be followed by the same tomorrow.

No one will even suggest that this is a last straw. Today, the two conventions seem already distant, in the rearview mirror, fading at the speed of Snapchat.

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