We were testing whether the fascinator on Amanda McIllmurray’s head, which spelled out the phrase “War Hawk,” would attract journalists the same way a similar sign had earlier in the week. The previous sign was more straightforward—it had simply read “Bernie.” But nothing happened as we strolled around the corridor of the arena, proving, it seemed, how fickle and thoughtless the press were. Then everyone materialized at once, pressing cameras and microphones and tape recorders. “Are you ‘Bernie or Bust’?” one of them asked, eager and hopeful. She was, Amanda said, in the sense that she would always support Sanders and the movement he helped start, but she would vote for Hillary Clinton in November. “I like that, that’s a really smart position!” the journalist said, but apparently not enough to record. The official DNC Microsoft Skype recording studio asked her to sit for an interview and talk about her experience as a delegate from Pennsylvania at the convention. “Can I be honest?” she asked.
From the campaign through the last day of the convention, it has been one endless season of parental scolding for the Sanders supporters, from Clinton’s comment that Sanders needed “to do his homework” to Sarah Silverman informing the delegates chanting Ber-NIE that they were “being ridiculous,” prompting Al Franken—one of the convention’s many primetime dad-jokers—to bang the podium with his palms. Aggressions, micro- and macro-, were rampant. Sandy Watters, a delegate from Minnesota, reported getting screamed at by Clinton delegates for holding up an anti-Trans-Pacific Partnership sign. Like many Sanders delegates, it was her first national convention, but not her first convention: one had to go through municipal and state party conventions to arrive at the DNC. What made the DNC different was the intense overaccumulation of scrutiny—the sense, thanks to media and social media, that her every move was being relentlessly judged, and argument was forbidden.
There were other ways of making the Sanders delegates feel unwelcome. On Thursday, the DNC hadn’t bothered to inform McIllmurray, a delegate whip, that they’d moved the gavel time back, from 4:30 PM to 4. She found out from the Clinton delegates. She nonetheless got to the arena an hour early, but her delegation seating area had already been filled with Clinton “honored guests” as a way of keeping the Sanders people out. As she settled on a place for her disabled friend, who was confined to a wheelchair, she found herself confronted by Blondell Reynolds Brown, a Philadelphia councilwoman, who claimed that the seats belonged to her. They argued: Amanda said that this was discrimination against a disabled person, and an aide to Brown told Amanda she should watch herself, she was talking to a councilwoman. Amanda let her know that she knew very well: she had voted for her, though she probably wouldn’t next time. Once they had found other aisle seats, security forcibly moved them yet again. After being moved once more, they found seats secluded and unchallenged in the rear of the Arkansas delegation. Amanda had contemplated various forms of protest, but all proved logistically difficult. The evening’s discord was, for the most part, limited to signs protesting the TPP: “Walk the Walk,” and “Keep Your Promises.” By never mentioning the TPP in her speech, Clinton signaled that she would contravene the last.
One of the things the Clinton Democrats lorded over the Sanders supporters, and indeed over Trump, was their superior and more committed chauvinism. It was a sign of their adulthood, which they blared in alternately childlike and violent phraseology. America was already great, it was the greatest country on this planet. “This is the greatest nation on earth, a nation that so many are willing to die defending,” said Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois congresswoman and a candidate for Senate there. The Democrats would secure Israel’s future, they would destroy ISIS, they would honor and strengthen our commitment to our allies.
But it would all be moral. Our armed forces, General John Allen said, “will not be ordered to engage in murder,” a statement that will be falsified the moment Clinton orders her first drone strike. During his speech, in a spirit of savagery equal to anything at the Republican National Convention, pro-Clinton delegates shouted “U-S-A” at protesters holding up their fingers in peace signs. I saw one man in the Florida delegation get up on his chair to get in better chanting position, prompting his antagonist to get up as well, before they were both gently pulled down by friends. And this was for the candidate who had protested the Vietnam War and campaigned for Eugene McCarthy. Even the searing dignity of Khizr Khan’s speech memorializing his son, Humayun Khan, in which he called Hillary Clinton “the healer,” obscured the uncomfortable fact that Humayun had been killed while serving in the occupation of Iraq, the most consequential and terrible vote Clinton had ever cast.
Throughout the week, Clinton’s resume was marshaled to portray her as a social justice crusader and a champion of children and the woman you come to for solace. She was the most qualified candidate in history, it was said, a line that was as grueling to hear as the task must have been for Clinton to accomplish. We heard countless times about Clinton’s time forsaking a corporate job for the Children’s Defense Fund—though we didn’t hear that it, too, would be forsaken less than a year in, when Clinton left to join the team prosecuting the Watergate case, and subsequently worked for a corporate law firm. (Her mentor, Marian Wright Edelman, had for a time abjured her relationship with Clinton over welfare reform.) Her attempt at health care reform having foundered, she at least delivered insurance to children—a genuine success. To underscore it, there were photos of children, and videos of parents speaking to children, and videos of children watching Trump, and videos of children speaking to Hillary: so many children that it began to resemble a 34-year-old’s Facebook feed. “Any parent knows your every dream for the future beats in the heart of your child,” Morgan Freeman intoned over a video introducing Hillary, an inadvertent condemnation, perhaps, of any child that dares to dream of a future differently from their parents. Clinton’s own child, serenely inexpressive but quavering, introduced her by speaking about her child, who loves Elmo, blueberries, and FaceTiming with grandma.
When grandma arrived, she brought with her the Clinton gift for noncommittal discourse. I had a sharp pang when Clinton mentioned—halfway through her abstract, mealy-mouthed, and woodenly-delivered speech—that she was the first woman candidate of a major party, which was then vitiated by her strange assertion that she would work to ensure every woman “has the opportunity she deserves to have.” But what does she deserve to have? We’re going “to raise the minimum wage to a living wage” (but how much?). We’re going to ensure “the right to affordable health care” (but how much is affordable?). “We must keep supporting Israel’s security,” and even this—the most predictable aspect of her presidency—was strangely without substance. I imagined her FaceTiming with her grandchild, saying “I look forward to committing ourselves to playing with some toys.” In a way, Ted Danson—one of the week’s many arbitrary celebrities—had prepared us best for this drab performance, when he said, gnomically, “Hers is the poetry of doing.” But doing what?
The evening’s earlier session on economic justice had been heartening, exuding the influence of Occupy Wall Street (Clinton bracingly made reference in her remarks to the top 1 percent—though not the bottom 99) and the Fight for 15. The Reverend William Barber, delivering a barnstorming oration, spoke forthrightly about fighting for “$15 and a union.” Tim Ryan, a representative from Ohio, began his speech by describing a long car ride with his father to multiple grocery stores on the outskirts of town—all because the meat cutters’ union was on strike, and they had to avoid crossing a picket line.
I wondered what the delegates thought of this, since hundreds of them had crossed a taxi-workers picket line when they arrived at a welcome party sponsored by Uber. Clinton had affirmed the Democratic Party as the party of “working people,” but earlier in the evening, when California congressman Xavier Becerra asked “Who here makes a living with their hands?” the arena responded with silence. Long gone—partly thanks to the Clintons, though it goes as far back as the candidacy of Stevenson—was the Democratic Party in which Harry Truman could say as a matter of course, that a particular “Republican rich man’s tax bill . . . sticks a knife into the back of the poor.” The line of the week, and maybe beyond that, belonged to the great Jesse Jackson, who said, with a glint, “the Bern must never grow cold.” Among all the speakers, he alone probably understood what Sanders and his supporters were feeling, and he gave them the truest form of solace: solidarity.