To add to the excitement, surprise guest Hillary Clinton emerged from the wings and walked out on stage to a standing ovation and thunderous applause. Then she and our exceptionally eloquent, departing president beamed and hugged each other for a very long time.
As a powerful image, it was about as optically symbolic as anything we’ve ever seen in this country’s history: the first black president embracing the potential first female president.
Many Democratic viewers shed tears of joy that night, while watching all the optimism, patriotism and inclusiveness on display. (That's after taming some of the obstructive Bernie bots in the hall, of course.)
This was in topsy-turvy contrast to the dystopian description of our country that Trump offered at the Republican convention, when he talked about this being a moment of “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness” for the U.S.
Certainly, the Democratic agenda included some tough takedowns of Trump. But there was no convention corollary for the violent level of Hillary-hatred expressed via “Lock her up!” in Cleveland.
From what I could gather from real-time posts on social media, many Dem viewers, bathing in all the kumbaya, were wondering, “How can hateful misogynist Donald Trump possibly be ahead in the polls? Can’t they see how much more competent, compassionate, reasonable and realistic our side is?”
Well, perhaps this Philadelphia convention will produce a significant bump for Hillary, just as the one in Cleveland did for Trump.
But certainly, Trump’s persistent stickiness in the polls shows that we are hardly one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Rather, we are two warring tribes, hugely divided. And now, more than ever, each side preaches mostly to its own chorus.
There has been much talk that the group Hillary needs to reach -- and persuade -- in order to win, are the people who comprise the heart of the Trump backers: working-class white men and women who feel economically displaced in our post-industrial jobless recovery and silenced by the voices of political correctness.
Just about the best explanation I’ve found in response to why Trump could win comes from cognitive researcher and political writer George Lakoff. (GeorgeLakoff.com). So bear with me, because I would like to quote him at length in order to do justice to his theory.
He says, in essence, that despite all the radical social change we’ve lived through in the last 50 years, if the United States is seen as a family, it’s not one that identifies with the progressive, nurturant, self-esteem-building parental model that some Gen-Xers and many Millennials grew up with.
Rather, psychologically, more of us are stuck in the old, conservative, punitive models, with clear gender divides, he notes. These families tend to be essentially dismissive of the mother, still looking toward the discipline of an authoritarian father.
“In the strict father family,” he writes, “father knows best. He knows right from wrong and has the ultimate authority to make sure his children and his spouse do what he says. ... When his children disobey, it is his moral duty to punish them.”
Thus, Donald’s often rude and punishing style still appeals to evangelicals, despite the fact he’s been married three times and is not, in the parlance that Obama used, “a religion guy.”
Lakoff adds that of the “at least tens of millions of conservatives in America who share strict father morality and its moral hierarchy, many are poor or middle-class, and many are white men who see themselves as superior to immigrants, nonwhites, women, non-Christians, gays and people who take public assistance.”
Before Trump, he says, “they were not allowed to express it, because they would be seen as racists and bigots. Trump made it acceptable to feel this way.”
This explains how he can retweet clearly anti-Semitic or white-supremacy-based messages. They give his base a restored sense of self-respect and control.
And what of the huge, modern, diverse population of people who elected Barack Obama?
“The election of President Barack Hussein Obama created outrage among those conservatives, and they refused to see him as a legitimate American (as in the birther movement), much less as a legitimate authority, especially as his liberal views contradicted almost everything else they believe as conservatives.”
That’s why Trump keeps repeating that Obama is “weak,” and a “disaster.”
In fact, Lakoff says Trump makes very effective, and almost hypnotic, use of repetition and what he calls “framing” — particularly when it comes to Hillary. Trump framed her as “Crooked Hillary,” meaning that she purposely committed crimes for her own benefit. Key words like “Benghazi” and “emails” are shorthand for that illegal framework.
Then, he explains, “there is a common metaphor that Immorality Is Illegality, and that acting against Strict Father Morality (the only kind off morality recognized) is being immoral. “
So, merely by being a powerful working woman and politician, almost everything Hillary Clinton has ever done “has violated Strict Father Morality, and that makes all of her actions immoral.”
Thus, the audience feels a passionate hatred for her as an immoral actor, and feels justified in calls to lock her up.
To add to Hillary’s challenges in getting elected president, even some on the side of progressive, liberal families still seem to exhibit unconscious male bias. This results in a certain amount of “no win” for the first female candidate. Apparently, focus groups find it inauthentic when Clinton talks about her grandchildren. When she is forced to defend herself aggressively, people find her “repulsive” and “shrill.”
Lakoff’s theory explains Trump’s “Make America Great Again” tag line. That’s all about going back to some fictional nostalgic time. Like Pepperidge Farm, Donald Trump remembers.
The answer, I suppose, is just to be mindful. Check ourselves when the message is misogynist and woman-hating.
Obviously, as a country, we can’t go backward. Because in the end, men and women of every stripe have to learn to live together, in order to create, as the Founding Fathers put it so beautifully, a more perfect union.