Amid the global pandemic, millions of Americans have contracted COVID-19, become unemployed, lost their healthcare, and been evicted from their homes. Late last month, both the Democratic and Republican parties held their national conventions—the golden opportunity to convince Americans that their party will address these struggles and ones that predate social distancing.
But both parties failed to live up to that expectation. Insofar as the Republican National Convention offered a strong material appeal to its narrow base through white agitation and minority tokenism, the Democratic National Convention soullessly tried to unite the country at the expense of their purported values.
Racially coded anathemas plagued the RNC. On night one, the gun-toting McCloskey couple was prefaced by a fear-instilling video of looting, arson, and violence—evoking Reagan-era racist euphemisms of Black people as thugs. The majority of peaceful protestors were smeared as vicious mobs who seek to destroy the country.
The McCloskeys epitomize white fear and resentment. In their own words, “[Biden’s] forced rezoning would bring crime, lawlessness, and low-quality apartments in now-thriving suburban neighborhoods.” The intent to maintain the purity of wealthy white towns is promised by the policies Trump plans to continue enacting, reminiscent of the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign. The combination of the imaginable fear of minorities and concrete policies effectively binds this core component of the Republican base to Trump.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani doubled down on this apocalyptic vision. On night four, he described his administration as a success, claiming that it ushered in an era of safety for the city. In contrast, he portrayed today’s New York as a haven for criminals due to Democratic leadership. In his worldview, the decarceration measures adopted by progressive district attorneys and calls for defunding the police are creating chaos and disorder. More importantly, he used vivid imagery to convince white suburbanites that Democrats want to bring these policies and along with it, “lawlessness to your suburb.”
In Trump, the RNC has created a character who will maintain an envisionable order of white Americana. In his own words: “Your vote will decide whether we protect law-abiding Americans, or whether we give free rein to violent anarchists, agitators, and criminals who threaten our citizens.”
But white agitation alone isn’t going to win an election. Amidst ongoing protests on racial injustice, the RNC had to placate the cognitive dissonance of those supporting a party embedded with racism. To do that, they manufactured populist Black support for their agenda.
Each night, the RNC featured Black supporters such as Senator Tim Scott and former NFL player Jack Brewer. In nearly all of their speeches, school choice voucher programs became a rallying cry.
In the Republican dogma, the best policy solution to under-funded, under-performing majority-minority public schools is to turn America’s school system into a free market. Capitalizing on their economic insecurity, Republicans claimed Black children can go to well-performing charter and private schools in droves with school choice vouchers. However, the well-documented negative effects of school vouchers on public school funding, school closures, and charter school corruption not only make the one-off success stories questionable, but also insulting.
On night four, the RNC took their ploy a step further. In a video denigrating New York City Public Housing, four minority women shared their grievances with Mayor Bill De Blasio’s housing policies. They complained about the lack of investment, crime, and the presence of illegal immigrants in their housing while also seemingly praising the Trump administration.
Following the RNC, The New York Times ran a piece that revealed that three of the four women were tricked into participating in the video. While these women stand by their grievances with New York City public housing, none of them support Trump or his policies.
Ultimately, the RNC co-opted policies popular with whites—such as school choice, tax cuts, and stripping undocumented immigrants of welfare—into messaging that would ostensibly help the Black community. Yet the goal was never to improve the living standards of Black Americans. Instead, it was to use them as pawns to deny racism within the Republican platform and justify their malicious policies.
Ask yourself: why did Black women receive less attention throughout the RNC? Could it be that the Republicans don’t think they will win them over? Or could it be that the Republican party actively recreates policies that hurt them? (Hint: the latter).
Trump’s base needs justification to vote for a candidate whose racism can be denied. By bringing the three variables oppressing Black women—racism, gender-discrimination, and class-warfare—the equation would have become too convoluted.
When agitated and dejected Americans vote for Trump, many will see it as a vote to maintain or even improve their conditions. The question is: how big can this agitated base be?
But the DNC failed to provide a compelling alternative. In its attempt to emulate “unity,” it paved the way for inherent contradictions. Appealing to the “Biden Republican” entailed droning on about empathy, dignity, and restoring “the soul of the nation.” This meant giving airtime to figures like Colin Powell, whose role in crafting the invasion of Iraq plunged us into years of war, and John Kasich, who closed down most abortion clinics in Ohio and assured conservatives, “They fear Joe may turn sharp left and leave them behind. I don’t believe that…. No one pushes Joe around.”
Meanwhile, progressives like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez were awarded minimal time and value. Bernie Sanders tried to make the case for Biden’s “progressive” policies, but mainstream Democrats like Michelle Obama could not offer more than, “this is not the time to withhold our votes in protest or play games with candidates who have no chance of winning.”
Behind the scenes, the DNC made platform changes that further underscore the party’s contempt for its progressive wing. Earlier this summer, the DNC adopted a demand to “support eliminating tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuels.” But the morning before the first night of the DNC, the party quietly removed the provision from its official platform.
When pressed on the matter, a DNC spokesman told the Hill that both the Biden and Sanders campaign agreed to drop the language, despite a contradicting statement from the amendment’s original sponsor. While the Biden campaign has continued to advocate for this position, organizations such as the Sierra Club are still concerned that the platform language has not been reinstated.
Similarly, the DNC did not do enough to reassure progressives and working America that it is committed to reforming America’s predatory, chimerical healthcare system. Over the course of four nights, the Democrats only featured the public option proposal once, despite healthcare being one of the top primary and general election issues. In Biden’s acceptance speech, he opted to stress his compassion and civility rather than reassure Americans that his healthcare proposal would address the harm that the healthcare industry and pandemic have inflicted on ordinary Americans.
And that was a key issue throughout Biden’s big moment—the contrast between his and Trump’s characters was masterfully presented, yet his policies were not. Biden used vague phrases like “build back better” which are not substitutes for promises to enact an extended eviction memorandum or expanded unemployment benefits during the pandemic.
Do Democrats honestly believe that the general electorate is looking for Joe Biden to be the better mourner in the race rather than the candidate with the most seemingly better solutions?
Through its detrimental yet specific promises, the RNC appealed to a conspicuous base. This is juxtaposed by the DNC, which avoided tangible policies that will help the working class and left room for doubt about its coalition.
The DNC’s apathy for progressives, the most energized wing of the base, equates to apathy for millions of struggling Americans. It’s unclear whether appealing to moderates will prove effective. According to a late August CBS poll, Biden currently has captured only five percent of the Republican vote—Hillary had six percent in 2016 and Obama had eight percent in 2008.
For nonvoters—disproportionately minorities and poor people—the alienating rhetoric of the RNC won’t win them over. But there’s no saying that the DNC’s milquetoast policies will either.
Ultimately, the Democratic volition to coalesce suburbanites through centrist politics with progressive branding was tried four years ago. It failed. Yet, the Republican effort to run the to the right continues to be inflammatory. Neither party offers a decisively winning platform.
Biden may hold the lead three months from the election, but his win is far from guaranteed.