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Decision 2016: Convention Update


Wherein I discuss some odds and ends regarding the two party conventions and the election in general.

Last week’s Republican National Convention was not the disaster it could have been. Delegates who didn’t want to Trump to be the nominee attempted to stage a revolt through a procedural vote, but failed. There were some isolated reports of threats against delegates who weren’t supporting Trump but, as far as I can tell, no actual violence. Security was reportedly extremely tight, and that was probably for the best, given the tense atmosphere.

At the close of the convention, Trump gave a harrowing “law and order” speech, painting a picture of a dark, almost dystopian America in which police are constantly under attack, illegal immigrants murder straight-A students for fun, the rest of the world is laughing at our weakness and impotence, our jobs are being stolen by the nefarious Chinese, and our government is a hopeless kleptocracy that is out of touch with the people. Many people might agree with one or more of these points, but to connect them together into a narrative of a country falling apart, of a people lost and in need of a strong authority like Donald Trump to set us back on the right path, well, it is a sick fantasy that would make me deeply concerned about anyone who believes in it.

That said, his speech made an impression, and that was exactly the point. Was this his pivot to a more Presidential campaign, or a brief moment in which he had exceptionally good handling? I’m tempted to believe it’s the latter because his new attitude never seems to last. Only time will tell.

Despite the fact that there is always a post-convention bump for Presidential candidates, there is already panic in some leftist circles that Trump’s latest poll numbers prove Che will win. To be clear: these bumps are statistical noise that occur after every party convention, and they are nothing to worry about. If you want to save yourself the blood pressure, ignore the polls until mid or late August, when the convention bumps have settled down.

So, what about the Democratic side? The Democratic National Convention is going on right now. Thus far, multiple speakers have been booed, including Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, and Bernie Sanders. Why are they being booed? For supporting Hillary Clinton over Sanders. Yes, Sanders himself got booed for suggesting that his supporters should throw their weight behind Clinton. But that’s not all that’s going on here.

Over the weekend, WikiLeaks released about 20,000 emails stolen from a DNC email server by a Russian hacker (or group of hackers). No doubt the timing was meant to impact the DNC, which it did. Chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who had long been accused by Sanders supporters of favoring Clinton in the primaries, was forced to tender her resignation as chair, and ultimately stepped down from presiding over the convention itself. This was not due to any particular smoking gun, but rather a series of emails between various parties within the Democratic organization that suggested unsavory tactics against Sanders, such as bringing up his likely atheism in more religious areas to reduce his support. Schultz herself has since moved to an honorary co-chair role in the Clinton campaign, which some have expressed concern about, but my understanding is that it’s a do-nothing position that’s essentially a “thank you” note from Clinton’s campaign, not a job with real responsibility or authority.

Needless to say, the emails cast an embarrassing shadow over the convention proceedings, even if they don’t delineate any illegality. The question is also raised of their origins. It has been speculated that the Russian government, at the behest of Vladimir Putin, is working to ensure a Trump victory in order to bring about an escalation of hostilities between the US and Russia. In fact, though, this seems unlikely. It’s not that Putin wouldn’t want to influence our elections–he would have every reason to want to do so–but the fact pattern used to establish a more intimate connection between Trump and Putin doesn’t add up. The short version is that Trump, as a man with authoritarian leanings, admires other authoritarians regardless of politics, and while he may have ties to Russian companies and banks (and possibly the Russian mob), this wouldn’t be due to any particular love for Russia or Russians–it is more likely a consequence of being willing to do business with virtually anybody. This is entirely in keeping with Trump’s lack of scruples and boundless greed.

Returning to the DNC, though: I worry that Sanders’ supporters, in attempting to disrupt the convention, will do more harm than good. It’s not that I am against protest, as I am certainly in favor of protests for a variety of purposes. For instance, Black Lives Matters protesters interrupting Sanders speeches, while perhaps less than idea, gave them a platform they would otherwise not have had. There is a goal–to get their message out–and it is accomplished.

What Sanders supporters are demanding is an overturning of the primary process, to have Sanders declared the nominee despite having failed to secure enough votes (and thus delegates) to win. This is essentially an impossible demand. The other delegates will never do it, nor will the superdelegates go for it.

I do appreciate the influence they’ve had over the Democratic party platform, though, and am grateful for their constructive efforts in redirecting the party in a more leftward direction. That’s exactly what the Democratic Party needs, because while I will likely support Clinton in November, I remain skeptical of her progressive credentials, given her history. I worry about her engaging us in more military conflict in the Middle East, of carrying on Obama’s drone warfare policies and NSA spying, and continuing to sell out American workers to Wall Street. I have serious reservations about how progressive she will be as President, but I also know the specific agenda of the President is less important than whatever agenda Congress can get behind–and that’s where shifting policy priorities to the left can really make a difference.

Lest I forgot, Clinton also announced her Vice Presidential pick last week: Senator and former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine. Reception among progressives and Sanders supporters has been less than enthusiastic. I myself considered him a safe, risk-free choice for Clinton. He’s a very middle-of-the-road Democrat, and a white guy from a swing state. Strategically, the choice makes sense, but has the downside of being uninspiring.

Then again, maybe there’s more to him than meets the eye. I’m willing to be convinced. My friends who are more familiar with him have only good things to say about him, and I’m inclined to trust their judgment. I guess we’ll see.

The DNC is just getting underway, so I may post about it again if there are any further developments of particular interest. I’d rather not see it become a disaster!

Photo by stevebott