Monday, August 24, 2020

Inflection Point: America's Turning Tide

Coverage of the 2020 Democratic National Convention from the perspective of four key participants. Former first lady Michelle Obama and former president Barack Obama who called on Americans to defend their democracy. Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee Kamala Harris who offered us an intimate portrait of her life and career and the Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden, whose speech earned praise from both the left and the right.

There was a sense of history in the making at this years Democratic National Convention (DNC). U.S. president Donald Trump's presidency was formally challenged by a surprisingly hopeful vision for America. The convention highlighted efforts to combat the scourge of racism and calls to defend democracy. It recognized scientists and acknowledged climate advocates. More than anything the convention authentically showcased Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden's competence and decency. His keynote speech--which was widely regarded as the best of his career--started as follows:

"Give people light. Those are words for our time. The current president has cloaked America in darkness for much too long. Too much anger. Too much fear. Too much division. Here and now, I give you my word: If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us not the worst. I will be an ally of the light not of the darkness. It's time for us, for We the People, to come together. For make no mistake. United we can, and will, overcome this season of darkness in America. We will choose hope over fear, facts over fiction, fairness over privilege."


Americans are struggling and many welcome the DNC message of hope and healing. Michelle explained that the White House is defined by "chaos, division, and a total and utter lack of empathy." This presidency has failed to manage the four major crisis of our times. "So let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can," Michelle said, "Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is."

Americans may desperately need competent leadership but as president Obama explained Trump is just not capable of assuming his presidential responsibilities. He went on to explain that "the consequences of that failure are severe. 170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone while those at the top take in more than ever. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before."

Trump is trying to cast himself as the law and order president yet he is not cut out for the part. The Don is steeped in criminality. As reported by Forbes Trump's partners for potential projects in Russia include individuals with alleged connections to the mob, to Vladimir Putin and to human trafficking. Both his legal representation and his administration are chalked full of criminals. His campaign manager, deputy campaign manager, national security advisor, foreign policy advisor, and personal lawyer are all convicted felons. Most recently his former chief strategist has been indicted for fraud stemming from his time in the White House. There is clear evidence that Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and campaign finance violations and as many as eight federal criminal offenses. The only reason that Trump himself was not indicted is because special counsel Robert Mueller was bound by a Department of Justice Policy that says a sitting president cannot be indicted. Nonetheless, this president was impeached by the House for 'Abuse of Power' and 'Obstruction of Congress', but the hearing was whitewashed by his party in the Senate. Trump has made a mockery of the law freeing and protecting his friends. This includes pardoning Roger Stone and using attorney general Bill Barr to shut down the case against Michael Flynn. The catalogue of Trump's malfeasance now stands at more than 840 atrocities.. Trump is not running a government he is running a criminal enterprise and all his graft and corruption is taking a toll on the lives of Americans.

As Kamala explained in her DNC speech, "Trump's failure of leadership has cost lives and livelihoods...The constant chaos leaves us adrift. The incompetence makes us feel afraid. The callousness makes us feel alone." Then she described the national mood saying, "We are grieving." Mrs Obama said, "I love this country with all my heart, and it pains me to see so many people hurting."

Americans are suffering. After four years of Trump, Michelle pointed out that the country is worse off in terms of the economy, unemployment, and health care. Far from winning, with Trump at the helm, America is losing at every turn. Trump has literally made everything worse, and he is pushing us perilously close to the end to civilization as we know it.

Citing the pandemic, the economic crisis, racial inequality and climate change, Biden lamented a "president who takes no responsibility, refuses to lead, blames others, cozies up to dictators, and fans the flames of hate and division." The systemic racism and environmental injustice in Trump's America is anything but subtle. Michelle explained that Americans, "see our leaders labeling fellow citizens enemies of the state while emboldening torch-bearing white supremacists. They watch in horror as children are torn from their families and thrown into cages, and pepper spray and rubber bullets are used on peaceful protestors for a photo-op."

During his time in the White House Trump has exacerbated racism and pandered to white supremacists. This is a president who called torch wielding Nazis in Charlottesville "fine people". As Biden said, "It was a wake-up call for us as a country. And for me, a call to action. At that moment, I knew I'd have to run. My father taught us that silence was complicity. And I could not remain silent or complicit. At the time, I said we were in a battle for the soul of this nation. And we are."


Michelle welcomed the "millions of Americans of every age, every background [who] rose up to march for each other, crying out for justice and progress. This is who we still are: compassionate, resilient, decent people whose fortunes are bound up with one another. And it is well past time for our leaders to once again reflect our truth."

Trump called the people who protest the murder of George Floyd "terrorists" while Kamala said she is, "inspired by a new generation of leadership...You are pushing us to realize the ideals of our nation, pushing us to live the values we share: decency and fairness, justice and love. You are the patriots who remind us that to love our country is to fight for the ideals of our country."

Obama lauded young people for standing up for justice and Joe assured them that he will fight against all forms of injustice saying, "Maybe George Floyd's murder was the breaking point. Maybe John Lewis' passing the inspiration. However it has come to be, America is ready to in John's words, to lay down 'the heavy burdens of hate at last' and to do the hard work of rooting out our systemic racism."

We have seen the power of protest and Americans are increasingly realizing that they have the power to build a more just society. "There's something happening, all across the country," Kamala said. "It's not about Joe or me. It's about you. It's about us. People of all ages and colors and creeds who are, yes, taking to the streets, and also persuading our family members, rallying our friends, organizing our neighbors, and getting out the vote."

There is no more effective form of protest than voting. However, it was not that long ago that many were denied that right. Over the years protests have advanced both women's rights and civil rights. These are precious victories that are being remembered and defended. Most recently the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protestors stood up to police brutality and helped to bring real reforms to cities across the United States.


Two years ago teen climate activist Greta Thunberg began her first School Strike. She launched one of the most powerful movements the world has ever seen. Her protests for climate and environmental justice have resonated around the world and include the largest climate mobilization in history. Yet two years and 80 gigatonnes of CO2 later we are forced to admit that we are no closer to reigning in emissions. This has been a decade from hell on the road to ruin. As explained in a Guardian article by Greta, Luisa Neubauer, Anuna De Wever and Adélaïde Charlier:
"We have seen continuous natural disasters taking place across the globe: wildfires, heatwaves, flooding, hurricanes, storms, thawing of permafrost and collapsing of glaciers and whole ecosystems. Many lives and livelihoods have been lost. And this is only the very beginning." They went on to say, "when it comes to action we are still in a state of denial...we have lost another two crucial years to political inaction".
Trump ignores the climate crisis as Americans suffer from its effects. He has exacerbated the crisis at every turn. His love of fossil fuels and resistance to renewable energy and energy efficiency have made America the worst performing nation on earth in terms of emissions. He recently threatened to withhold federal funds to combat climate induced wildfires in California under the absurd pretext that they are not cleaning their forests. Trump may be divorced from reality, but both Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris have vowed to prioritize climate action and environmental justice.

Joe said he will engage what he called the "existential threat" of climate change. "We can, and we will, deal with climate change," the former vice president said, adding, "It's not only a crisis, it's an enormous opportunity. An opportunity for America to lead the world in clean energy and create millions of new good-paying jobs in the process."


The Trump administration has failed to do the math, but Joe sees the net economic gains from climate action. The economic downturn is expected to last for years and due to Trump's mismanagement we may see a double dip recession. However, it may also prove to be the catalyst that forces us to change our perilous trajectory. This is the most serious recession since the great depression, more than 50 million people have filed for unemployment and nearly one in 6 small businesses have closed. Another 10 million people are going to lose their health insurance this year. "If this president is re-elected we know what will happen," Joe said. Americans will keep getting sick and dying, health care will get worse, businesses will close, families will struggle while the wealthiest Americans will prosper. Joe has a plan to jump-start the economic recovery.

"That's why my economic plan is all about jobs, dignity, respect, and community," Joe said. Together, we can, and we will, rebuild our economy. And when we do, we'll not only build it back, we'll build it back better. With modern roads, bridges, highways, broadband, ports and airports as a new foundation for economic growth. With pipes that transport clean water to every community. With 5 million new manufacturing and technology jobs so the future is made in America."

Joe has promised to protect social security, medicare and health care as well as improve the educational system. He intends to pay for these investments by closing loopholes and removing the tax cuts given to the 1 percent and the most profitable corporations.

Under a Biden administration, containing the virus will be a priority because they understand what Trump apparently does not. "We will never get our economy back on track, we will never get our kids safely back to school, we will never have our lives back, until we deal with this virus," Joe said. So while it is true that we are faced with a massive downturn, Joe has the experience that will enable him to pull the country out of a recession.


There is even hope in the face of Trump's inane mismanagement of this tragic plague. "Just judge this president on the facts." Joe said, referring to the 5 million Americans infected with COVID-19 and the more than 180,000 that have been killed by the virus. Trump initially ignored the virus calling it a "Democratic hoax" then he said it will "magically disappear." Through a combination of inaction, irresponsible medical advice and an irrational policy agenda, Trump has made a bad situation far worse. The Trump administration's eradication of a wide range of environmental protections have made Americans more vulnerable to disease including COVID-19, this is especially true for people of color. Joe points out that the United States is doing worse managing the coronavirus than almost every other nation on the planet.

"The tragedy of where we are today is it didn't have to be this bad. Just look around. It's not this bad in Canada. Or Europe. Or Japan. Or almost anywhere else in the world. The President keeps telling us the virus is going to disappear. He keeps waiting for a miracle. Well, I have news for him, no miracle is coming. We lead the world in confirmed cases. We lead the world in deaths. Our economy is in tatters, with Black, Latino, Asian American, and Native American communities bearing the brunt of it. And after all this time, the president still does not have a plan. Well, I do. I will do what we should have done from the very beginning. Our current president has failed in his most basic duty to this nation. He failed to protect us. He failed to protect America. And, my fellow Americans, that is unforgivable. As president, I will make you this promise: I will protect America. I will defend us from every attack. Seen. And unseen. Always. Without exception. Every time." (Joe Biden, DNC, 2020)

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the coronavirus has an upside that could change the paradigm. COVID-19 has driven down GHG emissions and it is causing some to hope that it may help us to summon the political will to act on climate change. If nothing else the virus has exposed fault lines that call us to reevaluate, it has also increased many people's appreciation of facts and science. As Obama said, managing the pandemic "depends on a fidelity to facts and science and logic and not just making stuff up."


In recent years people all around the world have come together to demand new leaderships and defend their democracy from tyranny. In 2017 people in Romania successfully challenged corruption. In 2018 Armenia staged a "Velvet Revolution" that succeeded in changing leaderships. Most recently the people in Belarus are standing up to a corrupt dictator. People are also coming together to confront the dark clouds of authoritarianism that are gathering in America. However, unlike People in Belarus, American citizens still have the right to vote, but they have to exercise that right if they are to hold onto it.

Obama called Americans to defend their nation from a president who would destroy the Republic if given a chance, "This administration has shown it will tear our democracy down if that's what it takes to win. So we have to get busy building it up." He also urged them not to give in to cynicism, explaining that this is precisely what "those who benefit from keeping things the way they are" want you to feel. He went on tell people why the Trump administration and his supporters are suppressing the vote: "They know they can't win you over with their policies. So they're hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn't matter. That's how they win...Do not let them take away your power. Don't let them take away your democracy. "

Michelle called out Republicans for voter suppression explaining, they "know they cannot win fair and square at the ballot box are doing everything they can to stop us from voting. They're closing down polling places in minority neighborhoods. They're purging voter rolls. They're sending people out to intimidate voters, and they're lying about the security of our ballots. These tactics are not new. But this is not the time to withhold our votes in protest or play games with candidates who have no chance of winning. We have got to vote like we did in 2008 and 2012. We've got to show up with the same level of passion and hope for Joe Biden. We've got to vote early, in person if we can. We've got to request our mail-in ballots right now, tonight, and send them back immediately and follow-up to make sure they're received. And then, make sure our friends and families do the same."

Obama calls us to vote to defend a free press, to help bring the words in the constitution to life, and to give a new meaning to democracy. He explained that Joe and Kamala care deeply about democracy and under their leadership America will be, "A nation that stands with democracy, not dictators. A nation that can inspire and mobilize others to overcome threats like climate change, terrorism, poverty, and disease."


On November 3, 2020 Americans will have a chance to rid themselves of what many believe is the most dangerously inept president in the history of the Republic. The mood in America suggests that most are tired of losing and they fear the ignorance and incompetence of their commander-and-chief.

Americans must choose between a hopeful call for change and a dystopian vision of state control that simply ignores all of the most important issues of the day. It is rare in politics that we are faced with such stark choices. The tides have turned and most of the country is pining for change.

It is with good reason that Americans are moving away from Trump. This is a president whose support is eroding even among Republicans. The fact that he is at odds with the majority of American voters on every major issue has led some to conclude that the end is near for this president and many Republican lawmakers. Newsweek reports that the majority of people who didn't vote in 2016 say they're voting for Biden in 2020. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll puts Biden 12 points ahead of Trump (53% vs 41%) and another poll shows Biden ahead by 16 points among likely suburban voters in five key battleground states.

Defeating Trump is well within reach. As Michelle pointed out, Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3,000,000 votes in 2016 and won the electoral college in one key state by an average of two votes per precinct.


"All elections are important. But we know in our bones this one is more consequential," Joe said. This was the overriding theme at the DNC because as Obama said, "any chance of success depends entirely on the outcome of this pouring all our effort into these 76 days, and by voting like never before -- for Joe and Kamala, and candidates up and down the ticket, so that we leave no doubt about what this country we love stands for -- today and for all our days to come."

Kamala made it clear that, "the road ahead will not be not easy," however, Joe has shown that he has the experience to get the pandemic under control, rescue the economy and restore America's standing in the world. This is not about going back to the way things were this is about building things back better, fairer, and stronger by making long overdue changes to our economy.

Obama empowered people and sounded the alarm at the same time saying, "Tonight,I am asking you to believe in Joe and Kamala's ability to lead this country out of these dark times and build it back better. But here's the thing: no single American can fix this country alone. Not even a president. Democracy was never meant to be transactional --you give me your vote; I make everything better. It requires an active and informed citizenry. So I am also asking you to believe in your own ability -- to embrace your own responsibility as citizens -- to make sure that the basic tenets of our democracy endure. Because that's what at stake right now. Our democracy...You can give our democracy new meaning. You can take it to a better place. You're the missing ingredient -- the ones who will decide whether or not America becomes the country that fully lives up to its creed."

Joe spoke about making America a light to the world again and Mrs Obama said "if you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can; and they will if we don't make a change in this election. If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it."


There was a sense of history being made at the 2020 DNC. Many spoke of this moment and time as though they were speaking for posterity. As the first woman and person of color to be a vice presidential nominee, Kamala made history. She said "We're at an inflection point" and she noted that this is the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment. She also payed homage to the passage of the civil rights icon John Lewis. Joe did not ignore the darkness that has befallen America, but he delivered a message for the ages, brimming with hope and possibility.

"America's history tells us that it has been in our darkest moments that we've made our greatest progress. That we've found the light. And in this dark moment, I believe we are poised to make great progress again. That we can find the light once more." Joe said. "America is at an inflection point. A time of real peril, but of extraordinary possibilities. We can choose the path of becoming angrier, less hopeful, and more divided. A path of shadow and suspicion. Or we can choose a different path, and together, take this chance to heal, to be reborn, to unite. A path of hope and light. This is a life-changing election that will determine America's future for a very long time. Character is on the ballot. Compassion is on the ballot. Decency, science, democracy. They are all on the ballot. Who we are as a nation. What we stand for. And, most importantly, who we want to be. That's all on the ballot. And the choice could not be clearer. "

Michelle called Americans to vote for the sake of future generations and in remembrance of the spirit of the great men and women who have made America a beacon of freedom and democracy:

"So, it is up to us to add our voices and our votes to the course of history, echoing heroes like John Lewis who said, 'When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something.' That is the truest form of empathy: not just feeling, but doing; not just for ourselves or our kids, but for everyone, for all our kids. And if we want to keep the possibility of progress alive in our time, if we want to be able to look our children in the eye after this election, we have got to reassert our place in American history. And we have got to do everything we can to elect my friend, Joe Biden, as the next president of the United States."

Obama spoke to the import and the urgency of this election saying, "what we do these next 76 days will echo through generations to come." Kamala called Americans to, "change the course of history" saying: "We're all in this fight. You, me, and Joe—together. What an awesome responsibility. What an awesome privilege. So, let's fight with conviction. Let's fight with hope. Let's fight with confidence in ourselves, and a commitment to each other. To the America we know is possible. The America, we love." She concluded her speech with the following words, "Years from now, this moment will have passed. And our children and our grandchildren will look in our eyes and ask us: Where were you when the stakes were so high? They will ask us, what was it like? And we will tell them. We will tell them, not just how we felt. We will tell them what we did."

Joe succinctly captured the essence of the moment when he said, "May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here tonight as love and hope and light joined in the battle for the soul of the nation. And this is a battle that we, together, will win. I promise you."

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