Remember how Donald Trump brought Jeb Bush low by characterizing him as “low energy”? Few major American events in my lifetime have been as low energy as the Democratic National Convention’s first night.
It was the opposite of stirring, motivating, thrilling, exciting. By the time the two hours were over, America was so dehydrated it needed a saline drip.
The proceedings were exactly what you’d actually watch at a quadrennial party gathering if you were in attendance, on the floor as a delegate or in the cheap seats as an audience member or the press.
The thing is, normal folks have never actually seen all this nonsense because the TV networks wisely refuse to show it, as it’s just pablum partisan propaganda. Instead, they cut to their own reporters and anchors to try and manufacture drama and excitement to carry the audience through the four days of the proceedings.
Last night, we got it all. We watched bathetic videos of ordinary people representing ordinary people, and second-rank celebrities reading teleprompter messages. There were awkward musical breaks. And very short speeches by unmemorable elected politicians.
This junk is what was on the big screens at the convention centers and arenas, and at the podium. But you know what? The many thousands of people crammed into the arenas where the conventions were held pre-COVID barely paid attention. No, they’d be chatting, socializing, handing out hats and posters, trying to get selfies with the party’s stars as those stars wander across the floor.
In the days before candidates were chosen in state primaries, conventioneers gathered to choose the nominee and write the platform on which the nominee would run.
Once that was no longer their role, conventioneers then served a dual purpose: They were the built-in audience for the big speeches, and they were the crowd the nominee needed to energize and rally so that they would go home and work their hearts out until Election Day.
This year, the convention doesn’t exist to pick a candidate. It doesn’t exist to write a platform. It doesn’t exist to provide a sea of humanity to serve as the backdrop for the speeches.
And it’s not there to show the party faithful a fantastic time they can draw upon in October when they feel exhausted doing the boring spadework necessary to elect a president.
So what is going on? What does it mean to have a convention without conventioneers, a political rally without the rally, a populist speech that is not interrupted by applause?
Think of this as the political version of caffeine-free diet soda–the most complete simulacrum there is. Just as that drink has nothing in it that actually makes a cola a cola, what happened last night had nothing that makes a convention a convention. These conventions had already become almost totally fake before.
What we learned last night is that when you sever the last connection to the conventions of old—the people—you divorce them completely of any meaning, even vestigial meaning.
Conventions had long since become simulations—the crowd response being the simulation of the emotions the candidate wanted the American people to feel as they considered casting a vote for him. This year, neither the Democratic nor the Republican conventions can provide that stimulation.
What we learned last night is that what they can provide, instead, is…weirdness.
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