This could be an ode to Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett, but it’s not. It’s more about a comparison between the Democrats and Republicans. Each party usually has political leaders speak at its convention. When we get to celebrities we see the differences between the two parties.
Included in the GOP convention are Patricia and Mark McCloskey and Nick Sandmann. Those names probably don’t mean much to most of you. However, you all know them just the same. The McCloskey’s are the couple from St. Louis that were photographed pointing guns at protesters walking down their street. Sandmann was the kid in the red hat that was seen smiling across from a Native American.
The Democrats brought in eleven speakers. Most if not all have served in government in some capacity with 11 of 17 being people of color. The juxtaposition between the two couldn’t be more stark. I haven’t listened to any of the speeches and probably won’t. This isn’t a critique of the speeches themselves. It’s more about who these people are and what they symbolize.
I remember vividly reading the forward for the first Fielding Bible by John Dewan. The forward was written by Bill James. He talked about watching the videos of Derek Jeter and Adam Everett and knowing that he was seeing two extremes. Without seeing the data he didn’t know what the two extremes were. As it turned out, Everett was the best fielding shortstop in the game at the time (according to the data) and Jeter was the worst. Of course, politics is not quantifiable like sports.
The Democrats are playing up their diversity. The Republicans are going with two symbols. The symbols are not as cut and dried as either side would want you to believe. The McCloskey’s are either a brave couple that stood up against nasty protesters invading their neighborhood or they were a symbol of rich, out of touch white people desperately holding onto their privaledge.
Similarly, at the time Sandmann looked like the posterchild for white privaledge when the photo of him first surfaced. He ended up suing and winning a claim that the photo defamed him and his reputation. The speeches haven’t taken place yet, but you can imagine the build up. Both the couple and kid feel like their lives were turned upside down when they weren’t doing anything wrong. Of course, that’s how they might interpret those events.
Symbols are powerful things and you don’t get much more powerful than the MAGA hat. There aren’t too many things that create a natural visceral reaction like the MAGA hat. Credit Mr. Trump for creating something that has transformed itself from cheap campaign apparel to cultural icon. Of course, the phrase itself has always inspired a question that has never been answered: when exactly was America great if it isn’t great now?
A couple of rich, white people holding up guns in front of their megamansion is also a compelling symbol. In some cases, the image is almost too harsh. Maybe they honestly feared for their lives. It’s impossible to get into their head. What is not difficult is finding a love affair with guns and a threat of using those guns to protect themselves online. Elections are about choices and both parties have created about as stark a choice as you can find.
What’s fascinating from a political science perspective is watching how each side is reinforcing the narrative for the other side. Conservative voters see the “American carnage” that Trump described in his inaugural address. Watching thousands of Americans in city streets making their voices heard has reinforced that image. Whether it is them or counterprotesters using subterfuge, the images of businesses being destroyed and conflict with the police has only added fuel to that fire.
On the other side, seeing the gun toting couple and teen in the MAGA hat reinforces the image on the left that the conservative movement has turned a white resentment movement. Again, these are characterizations. Reality is never as simple. Both can be true simultaneously. The couple could be a symbol of both bravely protecting their home and white privaledge.
What’s facinating is that the instinct of most politicians is to shy away from symbols that galvanize their opponents. Neither side is doing that. One party will be successful and the other won’t. Most people have probably made up their minds anyway. All of these speakers are just reinforcing what their people already believe.