The first day of the Democratic convention showed the party remains dividedby Sam Tanenhaus / July 26, 2016 / Leave a comment
After the dark, Brechtian theatre of the Republican National Convention—a “Hunger Games” acceptance speech from Donald Trump: “terrorism in our cities… violence in our streets… chaos in our communities”—the Democrats’ task couldn’t be clearer. Their own show must be a festival of hope, optimism, above all unity, as delegates come to coronate Hillary Clinton and make history at their own convention in Philadelphia. What better choice of venue than the city where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written and signed—and where for the first time since the Republic was born, one of the major parties will nominate a woman to run for President?
But nothing has gone according to script in the 2016 election. Rather, events seem to unfold as if by secret protocol. This time the trouble began on Friday, when Wikileaks dropped a cluster bomb of 20,000 private emails captured from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), some of the most damning of which were written by its beleaguered chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. For months, Clinton’s challenger Bernie Sanders had complained that Wasserman Schultz instead of being a neutral referee was in fact working to advance Clinton’s cause and to undermine Sanders’s. And here was solid evidence—a string of snide and snarky messages ridiculing Sanders and his operatives. “Bernie never ever had his act together… his campaign was a mess,” read one message from a DNC official. In another, one of Wasserman Schultz’s lieutenants weighed possible responses to a CNN report that Sanders, if elected, would push the Chairwoman out of her job. Might it make sense to point out the threat was hollow since “the day after the inauguration… a new DNC Chair is elected anyway?” No, Wasserman Schultz replied. “It’s a silly story… He isn’t going to be President.”
She was right, of course. But these were received as fighting words by Sanders’s supporters, who come from the Democratic Party’s left wing, with its long history of “take it to the streets” protest. On Sunday, Wasserman Schultz abruptly said she would resign, and no fewer than 1,000 protestors marched to the convention site in Philadelphia, chanting “Hell, no, DNC, we won’t vote for Hillary.” It was a bigger and better organised protest than any held in Cleveland for its bitter divisions.
And that was just the beginning. Plausible evidence emerged that Wikileaks hadn’t done the cyber-stealing on its own. The true culprit might be Trump’s ally Vladimir Putin, and “two Russian intelligence agencies, which were the same attackers behind previous Russian cyberoperations at the White House, the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff last year,” the New York Times reported. “And metadata from the released emails suggests that the documents passed through Russian computers.”
A Russian strongman intervening in an American election to improve the odds for the Republicans, the party of Red-hunters and cold warriors? It was perhaps the strangest twist yet in this most surreal of modern elections. Meanwhile, the disruption had begun, and the lovefest is already turning ugly, to the delight of Trump. “The highly neurotic Debbie Wasserman Schultz is angry,” he crowed on Twitter. “After stealing and cheating her way to a Crooked Hillary victory, she’s out!” On Monday, DSW—as she’s called—was booed heartily at a breakfast for delegates from Florida (a crucial state in November), and Sanders, like Bolingbroke, was massing his troops in downtown at City Hall—shades of 1776.
Sanders thanked the crowd inside the convention centre for supporting ” the political revolution over the past year,” and for helping him to build a “movement to transform this country.” “We were considered fringe players by the establishment and by the corporate media,” he said. “A year has come and gone—we’re not fringe players any more!” They loved it.
But when he told them they must support Clinton, that met with boos. It should be an interesting week in “the city of brotherly love.”