DNC 2020: Democrats Find the Flag, but Not Much Else

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The control room where live feeds are managed in operation for the first night of the virtual Democratic National Convention at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee, Wisc., August 17, 2020. (Scott Olson/Pool via Reuters)

The flag is back, I guess, at least for a few nights.

The first half of Monday night’s DNC virtual convention oscillated between shiny corporate-assurance messaging about COVID and hyper-patriotic videos that could easily have been Budweiser Super Bowl commercials circa 2005. It was somewhat shocking to see this unfettered display of patriotism after months of racial “reckoning.” Democrats were enthusiastically reciting the Declaration of Independence (still written by the nefarious, slave-owning Thomas Jefferson) and the choir was singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” (still penned by the slave-owning Francis Scott Key.) Kids who’ve been studying the 1619 Project curriculum must have been confused by the spectacle. And I’m sure a whole bunch of them tuned in to catch Stephen Stills’s performance.

Did everyone at home kneel? How does it work? America needs some guidance on when we’re allowed to celebrate the Founding and pre–Civil War history. Or maybe it’s simply that some of us are never allowed to celebrate. I suspect if Republicans had opened with a joyous, flag-waving spectacle, they would have been accused of being insensitive to the historic moment.

The second half of the night had more of a 1980s-telethon vibe going. Needless to say, when Republicans go low, Democrats do virtual roundtables with Megan Rapinoe. But the problem wasn’t that the speeches were substantively worse than usual — they were just as platitudinous as always — it’s that without a crowd cheering on every canned line, the vacuity of it all becomes even more conspicuous.

The most effective speech of the night was given by a highly disappointed Michelle Obama. The former first lady harped on the themes that helped her husband win the presidency. Unity. Empathy. Republican malevolence. Like him, she talked about government as if it were the national church and the president as if he were the patriarch. I generally find this rhetoric overwrought and un-American, but I suspect she’ll get high grades from most onlookers.

Then again, Michelle Obama’s speech was pre-taped, which is why she didn’t even mention vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris. Which also probably tells us just how important these conventions really are in 2020.

David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun

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