I am gobsmacked. Sorry, but no other word can express the sensation of being alive in — here I go again — the gobsmacking 21st century.
Take Day 1 of the Democratic National Convention. Let’s begin with Brian Williams — the same pretty-boy former NBC anchor whose lack of a moral compass cost him that job and sent him to MSNBC, his task apparently to dumb down former progressive MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow. In a fit of exasperation that threatened to mess up his hair, he said, “What’s with all the TPP signs? What is this TPP? A roll of Charmin?”
Mission accomplished, NBC.
That the Trans-Pacific Partnership is way too sophisticated for this crowd was the intended message. But what I got was that toilet paper is obviously something Williams himself knows a good deal more about than why global trade deals negotiated in secret by multinational corporations will not serve the interests of working Americans who have lost if not their jobs, then the unions that used to at least make sure they were paid a living wage.
PBS was worse. Judy Woodruff oozed disapproval. Why doesn’t someone send those children (about half of Bernie’s fan base is middle-aged and older) to the principal? David Brooks as usual babbled on in muted sentences that went nowhere. I think his point was that this convention was supposed to be upbeat (in contrast with the GOP gloom-and-doom fest), so why couldn’t it stay on message? Answer: A convention isn’t an “it.” And by the way: Where are you on the issues, David? Why are you even here?
At one point I had to switch back to MSNBC because Woodruff and company thought their comments more worthy of prime time than those of the magnificent Cory Booker, the New Jersey senator whose truly gobsmacking performance made Barack Obama’s famous 2004 convention speech (the one that upstaged the candidate, John Kerry, and teed up the charismatic young black senator from Illinois for his own successful presidential bid in 2008) seem a hopeless mess by comparison.
“I feel the Bern, too, you know,” a not-funny Sarah Silverman shared with the restive Bernie supporters later in the evening.
Really? How many phone calls did you make? How many miles did you drive in a rusted-out van with a cracked windshield to get to the next Bernie rally and hand out T-shirts? Air miles don’t count, nor do rallies at which you were on the podium (briefly) and not down on the floor, standing, often for hours, because there were no chairs.
Within seconds she’d popped the balloon of togetherness Minnesota’s own Al Franken had sent out into the Wells Fargo convention center, all the way to the bleeder seats where the Bernie people were finally quiet. (Franken, a Clinton supporter from Day 1, took us back to when we were kids and he was publicly funny — not hiding his smart-alec self on the theory that Minnesota Lutherans don’t appreciate a good Jewish joke.)
How did the sublime Sarah manage that? By being — in no particular order — privileged, entitled, infantile and vain. That last part is not her fault. She is a babe, as she reminded us when she turned her back to the crowd to pout in Franken’s direction and show off her exquisite profile.
The Bernie crowd still wasn’t buying it. She turned snarky. “You are being ridiculous!” she told the uncooperative unwashed. To the chorus of boos that observation triggered, she replied by putting her arm around Franken, seeking comfort from the enemy, a Hillary guy. The senator from Minnesota visibly recoiled. His plastered-on grin could not erase the frown line in his forehead. Thanks a lot, Sarah, the frown said. You were supposed to be humble. Instead you scold these people?
Sen. Elizabeth Warren got the thankless job of restoring order after the Silverman fiasco. What a stroke of luck for the Dems. Warren actually grew up poor. Her Texas accent had the effect of reminding Bernie’s people that this former Harvard law professor is more like them than Hillary despite the surface similarities — that is, Liz is a Bernie supporter at heart but gobsmacked by the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency. Her speech was about that: Trump has one interest, she said. Himself. Democrats care about the greater good.
By the end of the night, order had been grabbed from the jaws of chaos. The force of the old liberal Democratic Party was with us. We would go forth united and slay the Trump dragon.
Sadly, the media had to wreck it. While the convention-goers basked in their new togetherness, those of us watching at home got to see the networks interview some still-wavering Bernie people, each of whom tried to explain why this free-trade issue mattered to them, to the future, to freedom, to the environment. It’s not sustainable, one of them said.
The interviewer on the convention floor turned back to the camera and shrugged. Back to you, Brian.
Bonnie Blodgett is a writer in St. Paul. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.