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Winners And Losers: DNC Opening Salvo Edition

Michelle Obama spoke. Some other stuff happened as well.

Winners

Michelle Obama

Just watch it. That was a good speech. Hopefully Hillary Clinton was taking notes, because Michelle was making a far more concise and effective argument for her presidency — which president do you want your kids watching? — than Hillary’s campaign has managed so far. Michelle Obama is perhaps the Democratic Party’s best speaker, a woman who makes me (Ezekiel here) understand people who cling to an unalloyed brand of patriotism. She does this without seeming to compromise herself or what she knows of America — its brutalities both petty and monstrous, its sordid history and complicated present. “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” she said, which was both a triumph and indictment. No matter how far a black woman ascends in America, she cannot escape its misogynoir. To hear that on a national, prime-time stage felt like my mother was seen, and because my mother was seen, I was seen.

As mixed as my feelings are on the Obamas and their political legacy, I love Michelle unreservedly, bordering on irrationally. I’m going to miss her in the White House. I don’t imagine that we’ll be seeing a woman like her again in that place anytime soon. Man. Bye, I gotta go watch her do “Get Ur Freak On” with Missy to cheer myself up.

Bernie Sanders

The mood in the room felt like the DNC just announced that the entire Garden State soundtrack would be played live to end the night. But no, it was Bernie Sanders, there to give his supporters the show they wanted, which was the same show that they’d been listening to all year. They got an opportunity to yell “$27!” and hear his “How to Solve Income Inequality” wish list in its unabridged glory, if with a few more positive asides about Hillary Clinton than usual. The whole first day of the convention felt like “Bernie Appreciation Night” — many of the speakers reflected kindly on his career and campaign, and many of his prominent backers were tasked with providing live YouTube instructional videos on how to love Bernie and vote for Hillary. Elizabeth Warren, the other most prominent income-inequality superhero in the building, spoke right before him.

For a brief moment, it felt like this was just another Sanders campaign rally. In the days and weeks before the convention, he got wins on superdelegates and the platform, and tonight, he got to be the convention’s opening act — although, as we noted, he was more than a little overshadowed by the first lady.

Bernie isn’t a great speaker, and maybe that fact should actually be encouraging to those who hope that his impact will outlast this electoral cycle — it’s the ideas that excite his supporters, not the man who is their champion. And that means that his campaign has a shot at becoming a durable movement. After all the takes and tries to sum up Bernie in a single sentence, seeing what happens next seems like the most interesting part of this long, strange voyage.

Emails

It has not been a banner week for Debbie Wasserman Schultz, congresswoman and (erstwhile) chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. First, the DNC’s servers were hacked by parties unknown, who published several thousands of internal DNC emails, hanging out their dirty laundry for all to see. To make matters worse, the hacked emails revealed what many Sanders supporters already believed: that the DNC was biased against Bernie Sanders and his candidacy. This forced Wasserman Schultz’s resignation from her DNC post and her withdrawal from her ceremonial duties at the convention. Then, when she tried to show her face at the Florida delegation meetings, she was confronted by angry Sanders supporters who were waving signs printed with vicious denunciations like “DIVI-SION,” “THANKS FOR THE ‘HELP,’ DEBBIE! =)” and most viciously, “E-MAILS.”

To be precise, the signs were rendered “E-MAILS,” in a generic sans serif font, on 8.5 by 11-inch computer paper. “E-MAILS” is lovely because it is at once strident and vague, giving the signifier of a complaint rather than the complaint itself. “E-MAILS” says “you know what you did.” The underline and the quaint hyphen undercut the essential sincerity of protest with irony and flippancy. “E-MAILS” says, “I care enough to protest about this but not enough to put any effort into it.” “E-MAILS” is vaporwave, it’s normcore, it’s whatever comes after that. With any luck, “E-MAILS” will be the crossover meme of the summer.

Remembering the Bigger Picture

The first moments of the Democratic convention made it seem like the party hadn’t yet purchased the unity jigsaw puzzle that they were supposed to be assembling this week. Shouts of “Bernie!” and droning boos emanated from pockets of the room as people spoke, and Sanders’s campaign had to send out an email that said, “Our credibility as a movement will be damaged by booing, turning of backs, walking out, or similar displays.” Outside, the protests are far bigger than any seen in Cleveland, and Sanders supporters did indeed boo when he mentioned Hillary during an afternoon address. He responded, “This is the real world we live in.” But is there enough room for the real world in this crazy election cycle?

Sarah Silverman tried to insert some when she told the crowd, Bernie supporter to Bernie supporter, “To the Bernie-or-bust people: You’re being ridiculous.”

If you think there’s room for real talk in this platitude bubble of a convention, here’s some data from the Pew Research Center: 90 percent of Sanders supporters plan on voting for Clinton. Also worth noting: Many of the voters upset with the Clinton-Kaine ticket are probably independents, while many of the voters frustrated with Trump are from deep within the party. Also, the number of people shouting inside the convention was a very, very small sample size.

But … seeing the big picture is not one of humanity’s gifts, and it seems like these merry few Bernie supporters plan on being heard for the next four days, yelling “Black Lives Matter” at the only black Democratic senator, or “We Trusted You” at Elizabeth Warren. It’s hard not to notice them when you’re forced to treat the contents of a convention center as the heart of a party — and certain sections are very loud.

A Brief Entertainment Break

It is the 20th anniversary of the most joyful moment to ever happen at a presidential convention: When old people discovered that the Macarena existed and responded by giving said discovery the ecstatic dancing it deserved. It was beautiful, at least by the low expectations of convention programming. Few Americans have any confidence in government right now, and these conventions probably won’t do much to change anyone’s opinion, so let’s just take a break and watch C-SPAN footage from 1996.

Losers

Jesse Lipson

The DNC apparently felt the need to present a face from capital to complement their labor-based attacks against Donald Trump on the economy. So they rolled out Jesse Lipson, this Mountain-Dew-Code-Red-in-the-face-lookin’ tech dude, to attack Trump, which he did, lamely, dropping the line, “[Donald Trump] builds skyscrapers, I build in the cloud.” This blazer-over-a-graphic-t-shirt-slip-on-Vans-in-the-face-lookin’, code-jockey-lookin’, new-money-head-face-lookin’ hair-gel dude. My man looked like an extra on Silicon Valley. Dude looked like he asks homeless people whether they’ve considered becoming Uber drivers. Casually-talks-like-a-skateboarder-even-though-he’s-never-skated-lookin’ dude. Check-out-my-app-I-dropped-out-of-Stanford-lookin’, face-of-gentrification-lookin’ dude. This is what happens when you hand out convention slots to people who sign giant novelty checks. Not good.

“Lock Her/Him Up”

Oh dear. The chant has migrated to Philadelphia, where many protesters made clear that they have the same opinion of Hillary Clinton as those in the audience at the Republican convention. Inside the event space, a few people yelled “lock him up” after an anti-Trump video.

It may sound novel this year, but it’s possible to disagree with someone without thinking they should be put in a dungeon. Let’s retire this chant, please?


VMAs 2017