Democratic Convention Opens Amid Anger at Clinton and Fear of Trump

If the Russians are indeed behind a master plan to leak emails and thus disrupt the Democratic confab in Philadelphia, they did one heck of a job

Supporters of former U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders hold signs at a rally at City Hall in Philadelphia, U.S., July 25, 2016.
Nicholas Kamm, AFP

When Charles Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities that “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” he was referring to London and Paris, not Cleveland and Philadelphia. Nonetheless, Donald Trump’s forceful speech at the end of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week was the best of times for the Republicans, while the tumult in Philadelphia sparked by the embarrassing email scandal involving their party’s top echelons, along with new polls suggesting a Trump surge, are surely the worst of times for the Democrats, or so they hope. And this is before one accounts for the stifling dome of heat and humidity that cast a pall over the opening day of the Democratic convention on Monday.

The disquiet was apparent in downtown Philadelphia, where party headquarters are located and protestors gathered, more than the Wells Fargo Center, where the actual convention is taking place several miles away. Supporters and delegates of Bernie Sanders, who seemed far more vocal and visible than their Clinton-supporting counterparts, arrived in the city on edge, from the heat, from Clinton’s decision to appoint Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her vice presidential candidate but most of all from the email scandal, which, in their eyes, confirmed their worst suspicions. The reports of the contents of some of the emails, inflated in their minds to a grand conspiracy with dark anti-Semitic undertones, convinced many Sanders’ holdouts that the contest between Clinton and the Senator from Vermont had been fixed, that Sanders’ rightful victory had been stolen by malevolent party functionaries.

Democratic National Convention Democratic National Convention / YouTube

It’s not clear yet whether Moscow plotters were behind the Wikileaks publication of over 20,000 emails of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), but if they were, they did one heck of a job. The timing of the leak was nothing less than perfect and its execution equally lethal. It nipped in the bud what was supposed to be the start of Clinton’s restored image and renewed ascent in the public eye. Instead of laying to rest the previous email affair involving her private correspondence at the State Department, from which she had emerged worn and torn, the second email caper, even if she wasn’t directly involved, resuscitated the previous scandal and turned into a double whammy for Clinton’s standing. The FBI announced Monday that it was launching a probe into Russian ties to the hacking of the DNC computers and the Wikileaks publication of the emails that were stolen. Many experts, who had already examined last month’s break-in at the DNC, are convinced that Moscow was behind them, though Trump, the alleged beneficiary of the Russian intervention, claims that it’s all a big joke.

Whether it is or it isn’t, the email leak unnerved Democratic officials and sparked angry protests by Sanders fans. Many of them vowed to vote for anyone but Clinton, citing the Libertarian Party’s former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson’s or the tinier Green Party’s Jill Stein as potential alternatives. Protestors wandered around downtown Philadelphia on Monday with signs about “Crooked Hillary”, as Trump likes to call her, “Indite Clinton” (sic) and other variations on what was, after all, one of the favorite themes of the Sanders campaign. Given enough encouragement, Sanders 1800+ delegates might break out in Trump’s favorite chant “lock her up, lock her up”: their hostility towards the Democratic nominee is sometimes equal if not greater than their distaste for Trump or the Republican’s hatred for Clinton.

Bernie Sanders supporters march through downtown Philadelphia on the first day of the Democratic National Convention on July 25, 2016.
Jeff J. Mitchell, AFP

The effectively deposed Chair of the Party, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, also had a difficult day. Wasserman Schultz, who is widely blamed for the misguided tilt of the DNC against Sanders that is at the heart of the newest brouhaha, was booed off the stage in an appearance before delegates from her won state of Florida. A few hours later, she was stripped of her right to gavel the opening and closing of the convention, which had been left in her hands as a symbolic gesture aimed at preserving whatever was left of her public dignity. On Monday afternoon it turned out that even that nominal appearance was too much for Sanders supporters and her many other critics to stomach.

Several of the more radically inclined and reality challenged Sanders’ delegates had started to talk about an actual revolution on the convention floor. The new revelations about DNC intervention, in their eyes, negate the primary results and set the stage for a decision by the convention to depose Clinton and anoint Sanders instead. Sanders, however, poured cold water on their revolutionary fervor, telling his fans on Monday that his supreme goal is to ensure Trump’s defeat and calling on his supporters to vote and act on behalf of the Clinton/Kaine ticket. His appeal did not go over too well, however, and he was booed by his own crowd, many of whom are finding it difficult to pivot from Clinton, the corrupt servant of Wall Street and big money depicted by Sanders, to Clinton as the last obstacle to the racist regime, also portrayed by their own Sanders. To help ease their transformation, convention organizers reinforced the already formidable opening night starring Bernie Sander and Michelle Obama with the other progressive idol, Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Bernie Sanders stands in a crowd during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 25, 2016.
Paul Sancya, AP

Sanders, who came to terms with Clinton’s victory late and with significant difficulty, is willing to make do with the resignation of Wasserman Schultz, whom he detests, with his achievements in the Democratic platform, including a significant reduction in the influence of super delegates, and in the concessions that he might still extract in exchange for his help in quelling his troops. Unlike some of his supporters, Sanders hasn't reached the point that he can’t tell the difference between Clinton and Trump nor does he believe that were it not for the DNC’s partiality, he would have won the primaries.

The specter of a Trump victory was Clinton’s most effective argument yesterday in trying to quiet the storm. The CNN poll that showed Trump with a significant “bump” from the GOP convention and with a five per cent advantage over Clinton shocked many delegates. The poll does not indicate any significant rise in Trump’s popularity - he received only 44 per cent support - but it did indicate that the attacks on Clinton continued to take a heavy toll, as her support plummeted to 39 per cent. Caught between the malicious right and the indignant left, Clinton has been left undefended by a hesitant center, which is her natural comfort zone. Convention organizers hope that four days of accolades hopefully unmarred by violence or exaggerated protests will start to turn the tide.

But even in the midst of what can only be a depressing launch to the convention for Democratic stalwarts, the differences between their delegates and those who attended the GOP confab in Cleveland couldn’t be starker. The Democrats, first and foremost, are far more colorful, not only in the color of their skin: they are more lively, more committed, definitely more varied and, in Sanders’ case, more militant. Many of them are public employees and social activists all year round, including teachers, social workers, community organizers and NGO employees and volunteers. And it goes without saying that the proportion of Jews is far greater than among Republicans, where they were few and far between.

The Democratic Party, despite its deficiencies and its travails, is what Israeli supporters of Labor and the left dream about at night: a vibrant political organization dedicated to representing the underprivileged and enjoying their support. Now that Wassermann Schultz might have some time on her hands, perhaps she can teach her Israeli counterparts just how it’s done.