You’d think political conventions were created in order to analyse what those conventions mean.
Of the eight opinion pieces on the home page of this morning’s New York Times, six are about Trump and the Republican Convention. As for Fox News and CNN, conventions are high points on their annual income statements.
I didn’t catch either convention live. Besides, just watching the highlights of the rich, white, polite, racist couple who fended off ‘rioters’ walking by their mansion in St. Louis signalled me to steer clear for fear of having my grandkids see me yelling at the computer screen. “Grandpa, what’s wrong?”
But I couldn’t avert my eyes, even the morning after. I clicked on to see Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr’s. girlfriend. She wasn’t so much speaking as SCREAMING!
This got me thinking that perhaps the biggest difference between the Republicans and the Democrats is that the Democrats talk and the Republicans yell. So I went back and checked out Kamala Harris’s speech at the Democratic convention. Then Michelle Obama’s, Barack Obama’s and of course Joe Biden’s. I then compared them to Donald Trump Jr., Mike Pence, and of course, The President (all 70 minutes of it).
It turns out my little theory was correct. The Republicans huff and puff not just to blow your house down, but everyone inside. The Democrats prefer to knock on the front door and ask if they can come in for a chat.
One problem with yelling all the time is that it takes a lot of energy. Especially when you’re old, like Donald Trump, who at 74 is 96% as old as 77-year old Joe Biden.
It’s also hard to be coherent. And it’s here that this year’s American political conventions are far different from any others since political speeches were first uttered in Ancient Greece. Not because of technology, but because of the pandemic and technology.
Until now, a President’s (or Prime Minister’s) acceptance speech was halted every 30 seconds or so with rapturous applause. The very purpose of a political convention – to rev up the troops – was at odds with logic, reason and complete sentences. Not any more. In the days of COVID, when crowds are miniscule to entirely absent, there are no interruptions. It’s just you and the microphone and all those empty minutes ahead of you. Tik Tok.
The Democrats decided the best way to handle this was to have long one-on-one conversations with their viewers. Fireside chats, like FDR used to have to calm and reason with Americans following the cascading crises of a banking collapse, a recession, his New Deal and the course of World War II.
The Republicans, not surprisingly, took the opposite tack. They started screaming. I now believe that ramping up the volume isn’t a bug, it’s a feature, and not just of their convention, but of their entire campaign. After all, the primary policy forum for America under Donald Trump is his 3 a.m. tweets ALL IN CAPS and with lots of !!!!!!!!!.
Maybe they knew that their policies couldn’t stand up to lengthy and sustained explanations, even by their strongest proponents. Or maybe they don’t care about making arguments, because they know that’s a bit of a mug’s game. Why go to the effort of trying to make sense, let alone tell the truth, when there’s a more effective way to get Americans to mark your name on the ballot?
As Neil Postman said: “The civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”
And that, I fear, is what we really have to fear from America’s 45th President, his infinite capacity not to persuade his base, but to distract them.