The first night of the Democratic National Convention was, to put it mildly, weird. How else can we describe one of the biggest events in American politics turned into a glorified Zoom meeting?
But surreal as it was, the virtual convention included several powerful moments — some reminiscent of normal times, and others reflective of the tremendous abnormality of these times.
Michelle Obama still believes in going high.
Four years after she entered “when they go low, we go high” into the nation’s political lexicon at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama appeared before a very different convention and a very different nation and told it that her mind had not changed.
After four years of President Trump, Mrs. Obama said, some might ask, “Does going high still really work?”
“My answer: Going high is the only thing that works,” she said, “because when we go low, when we use those same tactics of degrading and dehumanizing others, we just become part of the ugly noise that’s drowning out everything else.”
Acknowledging the many obstacles voters are likely to face — not only the risk of contracting the coronavirus, but the Trump administration’s efforts to hinder mail-in voting — Mrs. Obama delivered a detailed call to action.
Vote in person if you can, she said. Request your absentee ballot tonight, submit it immediately, and then get your friends to do the same. Don’t stay home, as many did in 2016, because you think your vote doesn’t matter or because you’re not fully satisfied with Mr. Biden.
“If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can,” she said. “And they will if we don’t make a change in this election.”
Bernie Sanders gives Biden a full-throated endorsement.
It is no secret that Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the runner-up in the Democratic primary, disagrees with Mr. Biden on policy. Nor is it a secret that many of his supporters dislike Mr. Biden.
In a speech more forceful than those he delivered for Hillary Clinton four years ago, Mr. Sanders basically told his supporters to get over it and vote for Mr. Biden.
He emphasized, as he often does, that his campaigns in 2016 and 2020 helped shift the Democratic center of gravity to the left.
“Our campaign ended several months ago, but our movement continues and is getting stronger every day,” he said. “Many of the ideas we fought for, that just a few years before were considered radical, are now mainstream.”
Mr. Biden is much more moderate than the progressive wing of the party would like, Mr. Sanders acknowledged, but “if Donald Trump is re-elected, all the progress we have made will be in jeopardy,” he said. “This election is about preserving our democracy.”
A Covid victim’s daughter blames Trump.
In one of the most personal and emotional speeches of the night — reminiscent of the one Khizr Khan, the father of a soldier killed in Iraq, delivered at the Democratic convention four years ago — a woman whose father died from the coronavirus blamed Mr. Trump for his death.
The woman, Kristin Urquiza, said her father — Mark Anthony Urquiza, a 65-year-old who she said had no underlying health problems — had voted for Mr. Trump and went out one day because he believed the president’s claim that the pandemic was under control. He died soon after, she said, isolated from his family.
“Trump may not have caused the coronavirus, but his dishonesty and his irresponsible actions made it so much worse,” she said.
Her father’s “only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump,” she added, “and for that he paid with his life.”
Kasich, standing at a literal crossroads, tries to bring other Republicans on board.
In a speech meant to convey bipartisan support for the Democratic ticket, former Gov. John Kasich of Ohio — one of Mr. Trump’s Republican primary opponents in 2016 — stood at a literal crossroads and endorsed Mr. Biden.
“I’m a lifelong Republican, but that attachment holds second place to my responsibility to my country,” Mr. Kasich said.
In a sign of the ideological tightrope Mr. Biden is trying to walk, Mr. Kasich, trying to reassure conservative voters, dismissed the notion that the former vice president would move to the left if elected — the very thing some people on the left, trying to reassure progressive voters, are trying to argue he will do.
“I’m sure there are Republicans and independents who couldn’t imagine crossing over to support a Democrat,” Mr. Kasich said. “They fear Joe may turn sharp left and leave them behind. I don’t believe that, because I know the measure of the man.”
His speech was followed by a montage of Republican voters declaring that they would vote for Mr. Biden.
George Floyd’s family leads a moment of silence.
One of the most powerful moments of the night was one of the most understated: a short montage of Americans, eyes closed and heads down, observing a moment of silence for Black people killed by the police.
The family of George Floyd, whose killing by the Minneapolis police set off a national uprising over systemic racism, prefaced the moment of silence by listing the names of just a few of the victims.
“George should be alive today,” Mr. Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd said. “Breonna Taylor should be alive today. Ahmaud Arbery should be alive today. Eric Garner should be alive today. Stephon Clark, Atatiana Jefferson, Sandra Bland — they should all be alive today.”
And there are more, he said: “We will not know the faces, we will never see those who can’t mourn because their murders didn’t go viral.”