Joe Biden accepted his Democratic nomination for the President with these lines by Seamus Heaney:
History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.
Heaney, a Nobel Laureate, and, “the most important Irish poet since Yeats”, had these words inscribed on his tombstone – “Walk on air against your better judgment”. To make sure hope and history do rhyme, Biden and the Democratic Party must be careful that they avoid walking on air.
Party Conventions are feel good “Kodak” (nee Zoom) moments. In a world of virtual existence, sans any previous comparison, DNC 2020 did an admirable job. A Pennsylvania Farmer set the tone in saying, paraphrased, if it ain’t working, change it. Former Secretary of State John Kerry asserted, correctly, USA deserves a President she can look up to. Meg Whitman, former contender for Republican ticket, offered Donald Trump cannot even manage a business, let alone a country. A Marine Veteran talked about character; Chuck Schumer accused the President of quitting on the country.
It is commented that Biden’s biggest weapon against Trump is decency. “I will be an ally of the light not of the darkness”, he declared, “will draw on the best of us not the worst”. Referring to the division that is being driven by the highest office, he offered “America isn’t just a collection of clashing interests of Red States or Blue States. We’re so much bigger than that.” “I will be an American president. I will work as hard for those who didn’t support me as I will for those who did.” Lofty principles all, made especially poignant by the dislocations of last few years. I saw shades of two great past Presidents, one wanted to make the land of the brave a shining city on the hill, the second reminded time and again that there was never a Red America nor a Blue America, but a United States of America.
We are desensitized, sadly, by the Presidential temper-tantrums, twitter storms, idiotic – and perverted – instincts from the highest office of the land; we also are used to the customary Democratic response. That an “America Tough” needs to be united, disciplined, loving and caring. That power of the word of the President means something, that we need to reset our moral compass. That going high is the only thing that matters for a country because going low degrades ourselves. That chaos, division, and utter lack of empathy are not things we desire from The White House. By now I can write in my sleep Trump’s ALL CAPS response and outlines of cries of shame that are to follow the following day.
“I have always believed you can define America in one word: Possibilities.” Biden said in his speech. It is a simple theme that always defined candidates that defined generations that followed them. Possibilities for Biden are immense. We are looking at a repeat of Great Depression or worse, over 50 million filed for unemployment so far, even with most generous projections US economy will shed 20% of GDP in the two quarters since March. The biggest economic and military powerhouse of the world accounts for less than 4% of world’s population, but 22% of deaths and 24.5% of COVID-19 cases, seven months into the Pandemic. If that is not a reason to fire the Chief Executive, nothing is.
If this race were based on empathy and personal sanity, and that only, the bar is low – very low. It is not. It is a question of Trump vs. what the other can do. It is as much as a referendum on racial injustice and climate change as it is a clear direction on foreclosures, job losses, continued deaths, lines at the food pantry. Politics is about relatable character, emotional wholesomeness, and handsome “American” image – for sure. But politics is also about choosing a candidate whose policies, stated or implied, are either close to the voter. Or, are going to make lives better. Or, it appears they do. Needless to say that Trump is a master of the game.
A very large section of the American electorate has made it apparent that they would rather block their nose from the stench and vote for what they think it is on the plate. Democrats could remind voters that there was only leftover there, not the fare the Don promised, and, how these bones got there. Democrats can also come up with more policy contents, punctuated by catchy soundbites that convey these. Talking about wholesome fare, Democrats should care less about “the Whole Foods Crowd” but more about Wal-Mart Supercenter customers. Biden-Harris ticket may not gravitate the youth to the booth by itself, Democrats need to bring in the bigger coalition they built during Obama years.
For all his apathy and boorishness, Trump clearly demonstrates an instinctive understanding of his base, and electoral college math. It does not look like they have deserted him, yet. Biden lacks some of the charm, the energy, the oratory, the power of an example, surfeit of ideas that his old boss personified. Harris is too new on the national stage, she is on the right path, but she brings a feistiness that Biden sorely needed. Together, they are still a team that is working to find pulse of their winning ticket.
Everybody knows answer to the question – “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” What we need to hear more is the response to “What will you do to make my life better?”, along with a reminder of how decisions of the incumbent got the country where she is. Fortunately for Biden-Harris ticket, the choice is binary and there are 75 or so days left. We need to hear from them, and their surrogates, some simple rhetorics loud and clear.
Above everything else, they must not consider the match already won, a mistake they made four years back, hopefully never again. They must never walk on air. Only then they can let hope and history rhyme. Amen.
[Partha Chakraborty is an Indian-born immigrant; a naturalized US Citizen since 2018. Educated in India and at Cornell University, Partha is currently an entrepreneur in water technologies, Blockchain and wealth management in the US and in India. The views expressed are his own].