Adam Rapfogel, Tufts University:
Unity: political parties love to claim it and national conventions are generally designed around showcasing it, but in today’s divisive political climate, it often proves elusive.
A few short weeks ago at the Republican National Convention, some delegates held one final passionate – but ill-fated – attempt to “dump Trump.” The Democrats’ division floated quietly above the Wells Fargo Center throughout the convention, rather than manifesting itself in the form of one large-scale event.
In the convention hall in Philadelphia, the interruptions were few in number and small in scale, and for the most part, the convention was allowed to proceed as planned, but it became clear almost immediately that the Democrats could not claim true party unity.
Blocks from the convention center, thousands of Sanders supporters, most of whom have decided to back Green Party candidate Jill Stein, gathered in protest. Inside the convention hall, the defectors were less concentrated, but they had a similarly powerful presence.
Early Monday afternoon, as Reverend Dr. Cynthia Hale praised the nomination of Secretary Clinton and conducted the morning prayer, shouts of “Bernie” could be heard in the crowd. As the events of that day proceeded, speakers who endorsed Secretary Clinton during the primary process were often met with jeers, while supporters of Senator Sanders were met with enthusiastic cheering. The Bernie delegates were fewer in number than those of Secretary Clinton, but they made their presence known.
Later that day, as Representative Elijah Cummings took the stage, the jeers grew louder and more overwhelming. Many delegates took out signs showing their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which both Sanders and Clinton have stated that they oppose but Secretary Clinton had supported in the past. Unintelligible jeers and “Bernie” cheers evolved into a unified chant: “No TPP.” Representative Cummings continued to deliver his remarks as scripted, but he appeared thrown off by the sheer number of people chanting and holding up signs.
After Mr. Cummings spoke and many more Bernie-friendly speakers took the stage – and many delegates for Bernie Sanders were seemingly ushered out of the convention hall – the chants began to die down, but the tension in the room remained palpable.
As Comedian Sarah Silverman and Senator Al Franken came out around 10 PM to introduce Paul Simon, their attempts to unify the crowd were largely unsuccessful. “This past year, I’ve been #ImWithHer,” explained Franken, while Silverman began, “This past year, I’ve been feeling the Bern.” Ms. Silverman passionately declared that she would proudly vote for Secretary Clinton in the general election, and Bernie supporters’ jeers again grew louder and more overwhelming. At one point, when the crowd grew too loud for her to continue speaking, she ad-libbed, “To the ‘Bernie-or-Bust’ people, you’re being ridiculous,” setting off even louder jeers. When Paul Simon took the stage to sing “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and the jeers continued, it seemed as though that bridge connecting Sanders and Clinton supporters was not ready just yet.
During the Roll Call the next day, protests continued, with many Bernie delegates chanting their candidates name and booing Secretary Clinton’s. The vote was anything but a demonstration of party unity, but the proceedings were able to go on mostly as planned.
The rest of the day saw a similar ebbing and flowing of jeers depending on whether the speaker at the time was perceived as being pro-Bernie or pro-Hillary, but by the time Bill Clinton took the stage and told a very personal story about his relationship with his wife, there seemed to be an uneasy peace. Supporters of Bernie Sanders of course remained unhappy with the result, but they were willing to set their frustrations aside long enough to hear the forty-second president speak.
On Wednesday, the uneasy peace continued, and as Vice President Biden and President Obama took the stage, for the first time, unified seemed a fitting word to describe the crowd in the arena.
As the first speakers took the stage on Thursday, it appeared that the protests were largely over, and interruptions continued to occur, but not to the degree that they had in the days prior. Even those speakers who endorsed Secretary Clinton were generally met positively and with cheers and applause rather than jeers. Politicians and people with personal stories to tell were all welcomed openly, and party unification seemed within reach.
When retired General John Allen came out from backstage, however, the goodwill that had been built up over the course of the prior few days seemed to evaporate. As he delivered a rousing and patriotic speech about American exceptionalism and the power of the American military – the type of speech that seems more fitting for a Republican convention than a Democratic one – Bernie delegates began to jeer. Many took out signs reading, “No More Wars,” seeing General Allen as a mouthpiece for Secretary Clinton’s more interventionist military policy.
Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, perhaps best known for his opposition to trade agreements, took the stage, and the chants of “No TPP” from the first night resumed. Next came Representative Xavier Becerra, and many in the crowd took out signs reading “Ban Fracking Now.”
After Katy Perry performed a medley and Chelsea Clinton introduced her mother, the chants from Bernie delegates became more and more overpowering. In an attempt to cover up pro-Bernie and anti-Hillary chants, Clinton delegates began to chant “USA! USA!” Every few minutes, Sanders supporters began a new chant, and Clinton supporters responded in kind. This back-and-forth continued for the remainder of Secretary Clinton’s speech.
When Ms. Clinton concluded her speech and the balloons fell from the ceiling, many in the crowd cheered, many in the crowd jeered, and many in the crowd merely stood in silence, trying to take in a historic moment. It was a fitting end to an exciting, if uneasy, four days.