The Democratic National Convention (DNC) runs from August 17th – August 20th. This article is part of a broader, MJPS Online series providing daily analysis of the DNC as it happens. Click here for the other components of the series.
After being delayed by a month, then moved online, the 2020 Democratic National Convention (DNC) was finally gaveled to order by Representative Bennie Thompson on Monday night. While party conventions are a staple of the modern electoral system, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s DNC is the first-ever online convention.
The theme of the first day of the convention, emceed by actress Eva Longoria, was “We the People,” a phrase that is taken directly from the preamble of the U.S. Constitution.
After a rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner by children across the country, the Pledge of Allegiance led by Joe Biden’s grandchildren and an invocation by Reverend Gabriel Salguero, Gwen Moore – who represents Milwaukee in Congress – virtually welcomed attendees to the convention, a nod to the DNC’s scheduled location.
The evening’s first subtheme – “We the People Demanding Racial Justice” – was introduced with a speech by Washinton, D.C Mayor Muriel Bowser, who was speaking from the Black Lives Matter Plaza. Then, George Floyd’s brother Philonise addressed the convention. In a powerful statement, Floyd called on everyone to carry on fighting for ‘‘the names we do not know, the faces we will never see, those we can’t mourn because their murders didn’t go viral.” This was followed by a moment of silence. This section of the evening also included a short panel with Biden and different stakeholders and ended with remarks from Rep. Jim Clyburn.
The second section of the evening – “We the People Helping Each Other Through COVID-19” – highlighted both the failures of the Trump administration to contain the pandemic and the heroic actions of others. It included speeches by two Democratic governors – Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan – who criticized the White House’s response to the coronavirus outbreak and a panel of medical professionals who served on the front lines of the crisis. In a poignant testimony, Kristin Urquiza opened up about the death of her father, a Trump supporter, from COVID-19. In her speech, she stated that “His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life.”
The third section of the evening echoed the theme of the convention, Uniting America. In a segment named “We the People Putting Country Over Party,” both Republicans and Biden’s former rivals for the Democratic nomination made the case for voters to support the Biden-Harris ticket in November. This included a speech by former Ohio governor and candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nominee John Kasich, who called Biden “reasonable, faithful, respectful,” and encouraged fellow Republicans to vote for him. Many of the other Democrats who competed for the nomination against Biden appeared in a video to explain why they were supporting Biden, with some including personal anecdotes as a testament to Biden’s character. This section also included speeches by Senators Doug Jones of Alabama and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada.
The fourth subtheme – “We the People Recovering” – consisted of speeches by Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders, who finished second in the primary, offered a full-throated endorsement of Biden and strongly criticized Trump’s presidency. In a memorable line, Sanders compared Trump and his handling of the pandemic to Roman emperor and tyrant Nero, stating that “Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Trump golfs.” Sanders ended his address to the convention by asking Americans to come together and vote for Biden, saying that “the price for failure is just too great.”
The last section of the evening – “We the People Rise” – included former First Lady Michelle Obama’s keynote address. In a fiery speech, she urged everyone to vote in November, warning that things will get worse if Trump is re-elected and that the only way of “ending this chaos” was to “vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it.” She emphasized the importance of empathy and decried Trump’s lack of it. She also revisited her famous “when they go low, we go high” from her 2016 DNC address, explaining that going high meant “taking the harder path,” not “putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty.” And for one of the first times, if not the first, Michelle explicitly called out Trump, stating that “Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country,” and that “he cannot meet this moment.”
The first night of the digital DNC, which also included musical performances by Leon Bridges, Maggie Rogers, and Billy Porter and Stephen Stills, was overall a success, especially considering that it had never been done before. Some speakers experienced technical difficulties (a problem partially alleviated by the use of pre-recorded speeches by many) and transitions often proved awkward, but it did not overshadow any of the speeches or themes highlighted during this first night of the 2020 DNC.
Edited by Eyitayo Kunle-Oladosu.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.