Mr Nice Guy Joe Biden looks like he’s no match for a president who has repeatedly shown how low he will go.
Imissed the balloons, the streamers, the strutting around the stage. I missed the lines carefully calibrated for applause and the veering off-script. I missed the theatricality. But the revolution is now streaming. The pandemic meant the Democratic convention was televised online, in four nights of two-hour party political broadcasts.
There was no pizza big enough for this endurance test. The convention felt like a charity marathon without an audience, punctuated with unfunny comedy and sob stories. Tear-jerking speeches informed us that Joe Biden is a nice man. John Legend supplied the light entertainment, John Lewis the heroic archive. What a mishmash it all was.
The US is standing on the faultline of a pandemic, a deepening recession and a racial divide, but the convention still subjected us to endless speeches about how great and good the country is. Though all nations sing their own praises, the US tends to do so for longer and with far bigger production values than others.
During the 2008 election campaign, a friend and I were in Kentucky and were given special seats at a John McCain rally. My friend happens to be black – a fact not lost on the cameras, which homed in on McCain’s “diverse” supporters. The mostly white crowd screamed “Drill, baby, drill” at the mention of Sarah Palin’s name.
This year, the Democratic convention tried to make up for an absent audience with slick production and fake unity. Everyone appeared to love Biden, even those who didn’t before. Bernie Sanders’s speech indicated their friendship; support from rogue Republicans such as Colin Powell and Cindy McCain came as no great surprise. Bill Clinton made a speech, as did Hillary (you may have forgotten that Bernie’s supporters booed Hillary in 2016). We could have done without them, to be frank. If you’re trying to capture wavering voters who feel the Democrats represent the establishment, then the Clintons are its epitome.
Overall, two messages were key. The first? Vote. This is important, beyond everything. The other, which I grew tired of, was that Biden is a good guy while Donald Trump is bad. Yet the Democratic nominee rarely goes so far as to attack the president. Not being Trump seems like Biden’s main pitch.
The Democrats have always drawn celebrities. But this convention felt disjointed and random. Julia Louis-Dreyfus had too much time to tell mediocre jokes; Billie Eilish appeared. All of this was leading up to the Biden speech, by which point I was in a semi-coma after hearing so much about his church attendance and his bleeding-heart empathy.
People sat outside in cars for the drive-in rally. I switched over to watch the former Trump strategist Steve Bannonbeing arrested for fraud. Then Mr Empathy appeared. Biden gave a good speech, albeit a little slurry and vague. Where it was short on policy, it was big on emotions: pain, loss, purpose, compassion, decency.
As Andrew Cuomo has put it: “Donald Trump didn’t create the initial division. The division created Trump. He only made it worse.” This is true, but it’s a concept nobody wanted to take on.
Although Trump was calling the Democrats crazy socialists, there was little anyone could argue with at the convention. I doubt many people watched the full eight hours. But will the right 30-second clips be streaming? Did Biden do enough? It’s not clear to me. I wanted more fight, more policies, and less Mr Nice Guy.
I’ll admit it: I wanted the Democrats not to “go high”, as Michelle Obama says, but to go low – to be on the attack. After four years, they should understand that Trump will go lower yet. And that can’t be met with hugs and empathy. Trump and his administration have to be eviscerated. That may not be nice, but it’s true.
• Suzanne Moore is a Guardian columnist