SETTLING THE WEST

 

DNC, first night.  Initial chaos.  Bitterness.  What so many had believed turned out to be true.  Putting aside the glory of Debbie’s resignation, Bernie himself had squashed dissenting voices on the platform committee…in the name of future unity.  An apt move but one that should have been explained to the troops.

On television later that evening, we were fascinated by a couple of things.  First, the timing of the appearances of the various speakers.   Lots of noise and dissent, booing, unease, until Senator Al Franken arrived at the podium.   His “shtick” was in a minor key, low wattage.   BUT IT WORKED.  He was able to begin to get the conventioneers and delegates to BEGIN to think about something besides disappointment.   By the time his short appearance was over, the mood in the hall in Philadelphia had definitely lightened.  People began again to breathe.

There are standard issue convention speeches, and we heard many of them in a short time.   Remarkably, no speaker was terrorized by nerves.  Spirits in the hall lightened as the performers progressed.  It was rather like a “Moth Radio Hour” broadcast.   Two wondrous things were about to happen.

With the return to the microphones of Senator Franken, accompanied by an energetic and serious (and glamorous) Sara Silverman, the convention settled.  Ms. Silverman took a chance and told the Sanders crowd, in effect, to grow up.  Then she did what no one had thought to do thus far.  She announced that while she had been a big Bernie supporter, life was moving on and she would be happy to vote for Mrs. Clinton.   While waiting for Paul Simon, she stole a moment and burnished it speedily, and lifted it high for others to see.

Mr. Simon did something even more remarkable.   Singing “Like A Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” he offered his listeners a chance to go back in time, to replay their youth, to revisit an earlier, easier, more sensible America.   For voters unhinged by Trump, Paul Simon transported them all back to the times for which so many had been pining.   There were tears in people’s eyes, nostalgia, and grasping of hands one neighbor to another, swaying in time to the music, and raising their arms and rocking from foot to foot together.   The only way this moment could have carried more freight was to have had Art Garfunkle materialize from the wings.

When a nation quakes before the future, a shot of the past is perhaps the surest way to prepare.

Senator Cory Booker took the role of revivalist for the night.  (We imagine he wanted to be remembered and compared favorably with Barack Obama in 2004.)  He went on far too long, but what was fascinating to us was that the first part of his speech was welcomed and heeded.  When he dove down to address the bottom-feeder Trump, his listeners all but deserted him.  They had seemingly forgotten the purpose of their coming together and they were not happy to be reminded that outside the gates of their increasingly comfortable hide-away was the dragon that had to be slain.   Booker’s congregation cooled, and he had to struggle to lift them once again, near the end of his remarks, towards that shining city about which we so often hear.

The crowd’s reluctance to think about, let alone envision, the Donald also brought Senator Elizabeth Warren’s eagerly anticipated tirade down to a moderate level of vitriol.  Following Michelle Obama’s brilliant performance, Mrs. Warren was in an unenviable place to begin with.   Mrs. Obama scored without overt hostility towards the Republicans.  Mrs. Warren did not and could not.  Nor should she have.   The convention needed to build a head of steam. She stoked as many boilers as she could but, naturally, it was Bernie himself who blew the “All Aboard!”

What mattered was not what Bernie said.  What mattered was the opportunity for his followers to stomp and cheer and weep, to show their affection and attachment before, necessarily, letting go.   The long, loud, and loving tribute to Bernie was emotional for everyone in the hall and for millions watching.

Again, the only more fitting conclusion to the evening would have been an appearance by Mrs. Clinton herself as Bernie raised his hands in farewell.

What did we learn last night?

Politically committed citizens yearn for what they recall of the past as meaningful.   They don’t want promises.   They don’t want negativism.   They ache for hope and brightness and a return to what they see as normal political life.

So, oddly enough, do Mr. Trump’s supporters.

All this reminds us of Western films of the Fifties, stories of conflict between ranchers and farmers, the former not averse to hiring fire-power to get their way, the latter determined to establish communities  in which there are schools and churches, friendship and cooperation.  In shorthand, peace versus war.  Inclusion, not isolation.

Is Hillary  “Shane” or is Donald?

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