Political conventions have changed dramatically over the years. In this episode, Dr. Bjorn Mercer talks to APU program director Dr. Tom Kelly about the history of each major party’s political convention to nominate a presidential candidate. Also learn why there’s unlikely to ever be a viable third-party candidate, how Democrats and Republicans are trying to target voters outside their traditional base, and discussion about the concept of American exceptionalism.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: My name is Dr. Bjorn Mercer and today at The Everyday Scholar, we are talking to Dr. Tom Kelly, Program Director in the School of Security and Global Studies. And today we’re talking about political conventions in the U.S. Welcome, Tom.
Start a Homeland Security degree at American Military University.
Dr. Tom Kelly: Thanks for having me, Bjorn. This should be fun.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Yeah, definitely. So, last month we had both major political conventions, Republicans and Democrats. And so, I thought it’d be a great time to talk about them as we’re leading up to the 2020 Presidential Election. So, jumping into the first question, can you tell us a little bit about the history of the major party conventions here in the U.S.?
Dr. Tom Kelly: Well, we could write entire books about the history of the conventions. We could write entire books about just the most recent conventions. But the original purpose of them was to choose candidates and for parties to collaborate on a platform that they would put forth to the American public.
Many states used to have party caucuses. Some would have state legislatures, choose who their nominee was going to be. And over the years, more and more states have moved to, almost all states now have primary elections. How it’s changed since then, really has become a platform to present themselves and their image to the American public. Because by the time the convention rolls around, it’s already a foregone conclusion who the nominee is going to be.
Typically in the American system now, we know who the nominee is going to be long before the primary elections or even over half the states haven’t even voted yet for their candidate. And people are already saying that Joe Biden is a presumptive nominee, or that Hillary Clinton is a presumptive nominee, even though Bernie Sanders typically doesn’t want to give up that quickly.
And then, of course, when you have somebody who’s an incumbent, it’s very rare that there’s a serious challenger to the incumbent. Donald Trump did have some people throw their hats in the ring this year, but they weren’t serious challenges, oddly enough.
Some states actually went to cancel their primaries, because again, the purpose no longer really is to choose your candidate. They still get together and work on the platforms, but the candidates seem to ignore them or contradict them, or sometimes in some cases, even be ignorant of their party platform.
So, the Republican Party in 2020, deciding to cancel some of their primaries, it really come[s] down to they want to provide the image of a united front, that the RNC supports Donald Trump, which is a stark contrast to 2016.
But that’s really the history of it. The history of it was to choose your candidate and make your platform, but it is really morphed into creating the best public infomercial to market your brand to the American public.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: That sounds to me—and not being a political scientist myself—not ideal. And so to me, it sounds like the diversity of ideas are really taken off the table when it comes to the conventions.
Now in 2016, there were a lot of candidates for the RNC. And of course, in 2020 there’s, of course, just Trump. So, because of the way they are structured, does that allow for debates within parties?
Dr. Tom Kelly: Well, I think I know what you’re saying here, that this is really does not foster a garden of new ideas. In fact, what you’ve hit on here, Bjorn, is really the purpose is to squelch dissent.
When you have a contentious primary, like 2016, when you have a contentious primary, like 2008, or even just this year, again with Bernie Sanders and the Bernie Bros, they really don’t want those debates. They don’t want that division.
The purpose of these national parties is not to serve the American people. It’s not to come up with new ideas. It’s not even the best interests of the American public. It’s not that they work against these things; it’s just the number one priority of the major parties is to win. And dissent does not help them win. They need a unified front. So, you will see that dissent in new ideas, there’s really no room for that.
And the major parties definitely don’t collude. They are very much in high competition. They’re the only game in town. You vote Democratic, you vote Republican, or you might as well vote for yourself because the third party is not going to win.
What’s important to understand about that, though, despite their fierce competition, they do work together to squeeze out third parties. So again, stopping new ideas from coming into the debate. That is why we have presidential debates without the Green Party, without the Libertarian Party, because then topics come up that neither the RNC nor the DNC wants to talk about.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And I’m really glad you brought Libertarian and the Green Party up, because just recently, I was watching a news report on The Hill, about how the Democrats were squeezing out Green candidates in certain states.
And typically the media will report that Republicans want to squash, say, third party or whatnot. And so, do third-party conventions, do they add anything to the dialogue? And in addition, another question is why is it in the U.S. that there are only two teams, you’re either red or you’re blue?
Dr. Tom Kelly: Okay. Let’s start with that, the de facto two-party system of the United States. There’s nothing in the Constitution about it. There’s nothing in federal law about it, that there have to be two parties.
It is the nature of the electoral system; we don’t have proportional representation like some countries do. Like, if the Republicans get 35% of the vote, then they get 35% of the representatives. We have winner-take-all districts. The states when choosing the electors for our president are winner-take-all.
And that nature of whoever gets the most votes, whether it’s a majority or plurality wins, really gives the incentive to choose one side or the other.
As I’d mentioned before, you may as well vote for yourself rather than vote for the Green Party or the Libertarian party, because they’re not going to get more than 1% of the vote. And why is that, when we have about 60% of Americans say they’re Republican or Democratic, and about 40% of Americans, two out of every five voters, say they’re independent. They’re neither. They don’t like either party. And then people see that huge gap there and think, “Why doesn’t a third party come in here?”
Well, when it comes down to it, when it comes down to vote in a swing state, let’s say like Arizona is a swing state this year. Somebody may look at Donald Trump and think, “This is not a real conservative. This is a big government nationalist. I’m not comfortable with him. But I can’t vote for the side that’s promising to crank up taxes on my business or shut me down because I’m tied in with an oil company.”
So, what do they do at this point? They look and they see, “There is the Libertarian Party. That represents who I am.” Now, they have this choice of, “Do I vote for who best represents me or do I decide to pick the lesser of two evils?” as we often hear. So, this person may decide, “I’m going to hold my nose and vote for Donald Trump because my business goes under a Biden administration.” That’s the person may be thinking that.
So, it really rounds people up into one side or the other, because you’ve got the balance of power tipping one way or the other. And if you vote third party, it really has almost the same practical effect of not voting at all, because you don’t tip either to the blue or the red at that point. You’re outside of the equation.
Now, you asked a different question about, so what’s the point of third parties then? That’s a great question. And you had also mentioned the Democrats trying to squelch the Green Party or the Republicans trying to sit on the Libertarian Party.
Because the Republicans in recent elections have lost some razor-thin close elections, because a Libertarian came in and got one and a half, 2% of the vote and just tipped it far enough away from them. Some might argue, “Well, they take votes from the Democrats too.” But generally not, the Libertarian Party is known for no social programs, really low taxes, free for all gun rights, even more so than the Republican Party. So, they really don’t steal from the Democratic base at all.
Or if you go back to the year 2000, without the Green Party, we have President Gore, because Al Gore ended up losing the state of Florida by about a thousand votes. And then after the recounts closer to 500 votes.
Well, the Green Party sucked in over 30,000 votes that year. And there’s no way to think that had those people, some of them might’ve stayed home and not voted at all, but to think that out of those 30,000-plus that voted for Ralph Nader, that at least a thousand more wouldn’t have voted for Al Gore is just silly.
So, this is the importance of third parties because they are a counterbalance to the major parties rushing to the center. What you often find, especially around election time is very little difference between the major parties and their platforms.
Now, we can come back to 2020 because there’s a stark difference this year. That’s what makes this year very different. But there’s this competition for the middle, for the undecideds, for the moderate voters.
And you will hear Republicans talking like George Bush about compassionate conservatism to get those people over who believe in government programs. Or you have people like Barack Obama talking about making sure the middle class has tax relief so they can grow their businesses. They start to step into each other’s territory.
Well, now you have the third party come in and they serve like an anchor. Like the Green Party, if they see the Democrats floating too far to the right, they begin to siphon-off votes from the left. The Democratic Party can’t have that. So, they can’t venture too far to the center. They can’t venture too far into the enemy’s territory because then they start losing votes on their other flank.
Same thing with the Republican Party, if they start becoming too big government, too much spending, too much deficit spending, and this may hurt them this year, then the Libertarian Party starts looking more and more suitable for people who believe in smaller government and less spending.
Especially now that we have like a $3 trillion deficit this year, Jorgensen is getting more traction than the Libertarian Party typically would get. And most of that support is coming from small government Republicans.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And what you talked about, there’s so much to talk about. And it’s also interesting and relevant. And from my perspective, so somebody who lives in Arizona. Recently, a Democrat was elected to Senate, so Kyrsten Sinema. And it’s interesting because she would not be able to get elected typically in Arizona, but she has to be very centrist. And she votes Republican, put that in quote a lot of the time. And she has been highly criticized.
And so, to me to be a Democrat or to be a Republican, it’s a very large tent. But not having a third party in this country, just like you said, it really limits the diversity of ideas and just choices. There’s absolutely no reason why when you go to the polls, you should only have two options.
Now, is there a way in which in the future, there could be three options? Or would the structure of our electoral system have to change? Because as you said, just the way in which it’s evolved, it’s a winner take all, and it’s not proportional elections.
Dr. Tom Kelly: The nature of the American system really incentivizes the two-party system. It’s not that we cannot have a successful third party. It’s just that that third party will become one of the two major parties. The last successful, if you will, third party was the Republican Party as the Whig Party broke apart.
We’re seeing schisms now in both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. You have a split between traditional liberalism and more of a leftist, more socialist, democratic socialist leaning of the Democratic Party. And the Republican Party has a split between more traditional conservatism and big government nationalism.
Those schisms could result in a third party, if one of the major parties ends up splitting, hopelessly over those different directions. But history would show us, then what would happen, whatever that new party would be, would become the second party.
Let’s say the Republican Party split up into the conservatives and into the nationalists, and the nationalists faded into the ash heap of history like they typically do. Then we might see a two-party system of the Democratic Party and the Libertarian Party, a new energized infused Libertarian, much more centrist, much more like an old, traditional, conservative, small government party.
But what we probably will never see in the U.S. system with the Constitution as it is, is one where you could go in like the multi-party systems like of Europe, and you have your choice. You can vote Communist, Socialist, Green Party, left of center, right of center, Libertarian, Nazi, unless you’re in Germany. But they do have far-right parties that are neo-Nazi parties who gets significant amounts of votes.
But those parliamentary systems are designed that if you vote for the person who best represents your interests, there is the possibility of being rewarded with representation. If somebody here is a true believer in Soviet-style communism, there is a USA communist party and they could vote for that party forever. And they will never see an actual communist probably be president. I know some people can throw in some quips that are about somebody like Bernie Sanders, but he’s not a member of the U.S. Communist Party.
But your point is well taken that the diversity of ideas for discussion are extremely limited. And when we come back and talk about the conventions, there really is no diversity of ideas or different choices. The parties come out and present their platform. And more importantly, the platform is very secondary or even tertiary to their public image.
And they’re just trying to draw that contrast between us and them, ironically, while pushing this unified American message. Both parties love to do that, “We’re the party of unification. Just don’t vote for them because they’re not American.” You see both parties doing that.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Yeah. And the discussion in this election cycle, and it’s always difficult to think when people say, “Oh, it’s worse than it’s ever has been.” And it’s always hard to know, because previous generations had a different experience and different challenges in which they lived under.
But the attacks on either side today are just very lazy. I don’t know if that’s a good term, where Biden is a radical socialist. And obviously he’s not. Because in many ways both parties placate to big business, where at least in the past it seemed like they had their niche.
Why do you think that’s happened in say the last generation that both are big business, and say both are for the military industrial complex?
Dr. Tom Kelly: Yeah. Getting into foreign wars, that’s a whole different can of worms. Well, looking at the history of the two major parties, particularly in the 20th century, the Democratic Party was heavily labor-based. The trade unions, the working man that became almost a trope for what the Democratic Party stood for, the blue collar worker. And the Republican Party more for the white collar, some would say the rich.
Well, union membership has been dwindling. The majority of union members and labor in the country now are government employees. Private union membership among groups like the Teamsters has plummeted over the decades. So, the Democratic Party really doesn’t have the labor base that they used to have.
I won’t get necessarily into the war industry, the money to be made on endless war around the world. It’s a little different talking about so much about the conventions.
But why is it they have so much influence from big business? Well, campaign contributions. Money is power. If we go back to the purpose of a party, it’s to win election and win reelection. That’s the main purpose of a major party.
We could say the third parties, they live by their principles because they’re not going to win anyway. But the major parties need to garner as many votes as possible to beat that other side. And when you have major corporations dangling millions of dollars so they can get their message out, and more importantly than getting their message out, rally up their base to get out and vote. That’s very powerful at that point.
We are seeing though this year, particularly in the Democratic Party, there’s a younger group. If we could talk about as everyone knows her, is AOC. Somebody who really shows a strong, independent streak from corporate interests.
I have not seen any evidence yet that she’s taken major corporation donations. I’m pretty confident that opponents of her would have already put that out there all over the news if it had been happening. But that goes back to the schism we’re seeing in the Democratic Party right now, between the more traditional Democratic Party, which is representative of the big business.
To be fair, the Republicans and Democrats do cater to different businesses. You might have the Republican party more representative of, well, right off the bat, the firearm industry, oil, coal and energy industries, pharmaceutical industries. While you’ll see the Democratic Party is often supported by technology such as Google or Amazon.
Let’s not go down the rabbit hole of assuming though that money necessarily wins elections. But your question is well taken about why is it both parties seem to represent the interest of big businesses; well, the big businesses are coughing up money for them. And then that’s just how the system works, not necessarily in the United States, but much of the world works like that now.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: So, during the last few election cycles, say this one and the previous few, did anything happen that was out of the normal? And for the 2020 conventions, are they considered success, because they are completely virtual and because of COVID-19?
Dr. Tom Kelly: Well, Let’s go back to the last few elections. The first one to know would probably for me would be 2008 because they had the disputes over some states like Michigan. Michigan had moved up their primary. Barack Obama pulled his name off the ballot. Hillary Clinton won that one hands down because Barack Obama technically got zero votes, even though hundreds of thousands of people voted for no vote or uncommitted to show their support for Barack Obama.
So, 2008 rolls around and they get to the convention. And when you tally up the popular votes, Hillary Clinton actually got more votes than Barack Obama did among the Democratic Party, which I guess was kind of a sad foreshadowing what would happen to her in 2016 also.
But that’s the main takeaway from that year was that watching the party players shift position, who they were going to support and who they’re going to put forth as their nominee. Because going into that, originally looked like Hillary Clinton was a hands-down favorite. And then Barack Obama got traction really quickly. That’s the main takeaway from that one. That’s more of a trivial note.
I really noticed nothing in 2012, it was a run of the mill. We’ve got an incumbent, who’s had some success. He’s touting his success. The party is touting his success. The opposition saying it’s a failure, trying to paint him as a failure, trying to talk about how you would do things better.
And this is typical in America when the economy is chugging along okay, wasn’t necessarily roaring in 2012, but it was recovering from a deep recession, that Barack Obama got reelected. So, not much to know. I would say 2012 was almost the prototype of a typical year with an incumbent running for reelection.
Now 2016, this was fascinating. This was fascinating because Bernie Sanders refused to drop out of the race. The DNC had decided that Hillary Clinton was their nominee long before the votes had even started. Sanders wanted to make sure that people had an actual choice in the matter. He was successful in proving that a large portion of the Democratic Party was not interested in having Hillary Clinton as their nominee.
But even more interesting was Donald Trump and the Republicans. The RNC was unified that this guy was trouble. They did not want him. They would get trounced in 2016 if he were the nominee.
But Donald Trump went in, took on the entire RNC establishment. And he went right to the people with unconventional messages, unconventional communication techniques, unconventional grammar. And he decided that he was going to do things his way.
And by the time they get around to the convention, they have to accept now that this is their nominee. And you see this struggle. If people thought that it was an issue unifying the Democratic Party behind Hillary Clinton, you have to read into what’s going on with the Republican Party. And what’s going on in the moves of Donald Trump, talking about who would be in his cabinet, who he’d hire as an advisor. It gave birth to what they call the Never Trumpers, who here we are four years later, Republicans who still refuse to support him.
Those are both challenging years in 2016, because both parties the schisms that we still see today between the more left wing and the traditional liberals in the Democratic and the nationalists in the conservatives and the Republican Party. We’re still seeing that in 2020, as they try to successfully unite behind their candidates.
So, what do we see now in 2020? It looks like the Democratic Party has done a better job of reincorporating Sanders supporters back into the party. Statistically speaking, it’s pretty obvious that disaffected Sanders voters elected Donald Trump.
It turned out it was something like one out of 11 or one out of every 10 of Bernie Sanders voters actually voted for Donald Trump, which was enough to swing Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, razor-thin close states like that, especially those midwestern states where Bernie Sanders was popular. When you have that large of a percentage of people defect, that is essentially what sunk Hillary Clinton. They couldn’t have that again this year.
So, that’s probably why we see things such as, even though she’s new to Congress, we see Representative Cortez up there. I’ve never seen this before. She gives her speech at the virtual DNC, and instead of giving a rousing endorsement of Joe Biden, she decides to use that to second the nomination of Bernard Sanders. Now, that was a point of order. That was a technicality that was supposed to happen anyway. That’s just part of the process.
But to make it part of her national address, that was really a huge concession to the Sanders supporters to placate them, so they don’t affect in either vote Green Party or vote Donald Trump again, or just decide to stay home.
And you had mentioned the success of these conventions. Well, we really don’t know yet exactly how successful they were. We have TV ratings. The DNC, Joe Biden speech got slightly more than the RNC and the Trump speech.
Conventions are already highly scripted and controlled infomercials for the parties. But this year was different because you couldn’t have those live gaffes. They could go back and recut their videos. And they’re even more heavily produced than ever as their speeches were completely tailored and edited and put together however way they wanted to. They could even cut in music and graphics and do all sorts of things.
The purpose of these conventions, they’re not trying to change anyone’s mind. The Democratic Party comes out there, and it’s a foregone conclusion that anyone is better than Donald Trump. So, whatever you think of Joe Biden, whatever you feel about the process, we all have to just come together admit that the first things we have to do is get rid of Donald Trump. And then we go from there.
That was primarily the message of it. The COVID disasters, the fires, climate change, collusion with Russia, while they’ve dropped that, but foreign interference in the elections.
It’s really to put forth a unified message, not to change anyone’s mind. There’s nobody watching that thinking, “Wow, they’re right about Donald Trump. I think I’m going to vote for Biden instead.” Those people aren’t tuning in; it’s a TV show or an internet-based show for the faithful. And that’s to get them all fired up and to get them to run out and vote, to get them to contribute money, so they could buy more radio time, so they get more people out to vote.
Likewise, the Republican Party, there’s going to be nothing in there about specific ideas for the country. It’s all about, “Hey, things are coming along great. We’re doing fine. Imagine how bad things would be if Donald Trump wasn’t president. Imagine how bad things will be if Joe Biden is president.”
And again, they’re not expecting any Biden voters to go home, “My God, what was I thinking, voting for Joe? Of course, I’m going to vote for Donald Trump.” They’re trying to get people at home with their red hats on all fired up so they get out their credit cards. And so, they tell their friends and they put out the Trump signs, and they make sure that they get out and vote or they get their absentee vote. Or in Trump’s case, maybe vote twice, as he had mentioned in one instance.
But I would like to speak on one thing I haven’t mentioned yet. And it has to do with presenting an image. And what I thought was really notable this year, and what some people might not realize, is often the Republican Party has this reputation of being old, white, rich guys. And of course, there’re old, white, rich guys in the Republican Party. And when we look at the demographics, who votes are the Republicans, they do better among the white vote, typically than the Democratic Party does.
Well, this time around, I was looking this up and I saw that one out of every five speakers at the RNC virtual convention was a person of color. Immediately the Democrats will pounce in that. They call them tokens. They call them props. They say, they’re trying to give you a false reality here.
But we have to take a look if Pew graphics show that in 2016, 14% of the people who voted Republican were people of color. That is much lower than the 43% for the Democratic Party. It’s obviously clear that the Republicans are more favorable among the white vote in the United States.
But when we talked 14%, 9 million Americans, 9 million people of color voted for Donald Trump last time around. That was about one in seven of everybody who voted for the Republican Party.
So, when they have one in five speakers coming out there, of course, they’re going to push this image because the demographics of America are changing. The purpose of a party is to win an election. And as United States becomes less and less white, that party will not survive just catering to one racial group like that.
So, they are intentionally trying to diversify their base of that. But the numbers don’t show that having one out of five of their speakers, having 20% of the speakers being people of color is actually not all that deceptive, is the support the party actually has.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And I’m glad you brought that up. And it’s been a conversation for, I think a while where if the Republicans don’t change, they will potentially lose elections in the future, because like you said, of the demographic change in the U.S.
So, one of the things that really stood out to me, it was in 2012, when my first son was born. He was born in the U.S., and for births in 2012, him being white was the minority versus what is typically categorized as a minority in the U.S. became the majority. So, in 2012 on the entire demographic shift has occurred.
And what do you think the Republicans will have to do to continue to foster a more inclusive party? Because if you just look at, and I’m talking totally generic positions here, say Hispanic population or the black population that is religious, should, it seems lean more Republican just because of say certain beliefs or ideas about the world. Now, beyond Trump, what can the Republicans do to grow their coalition?
Dr. Tom Kelly: One of the most important things they can do is make sure that there is economic opportunity for all. It’s not going to work out well, if they pander to racial or ethnic groups. That doesn’t work well in general, for most elections, because people are people and they know when they’re being patronized, doesn’t matter what color they are, their ethnicity. They don’t buy into that.
Now, my last name is Kelly. My heritage, Irish. Look back at the history of the Irish immigrants of the 1800s. That’s when my ancestors came here. Poor, the stereotype. This the whole idea of, a little culturally insensitive, the paddy wagon was used to pick up people who were drunk. And it was named that because they were picking up Irish people. The neighborhoods were often violent, dangerous, substance abuse, all the things you see typically of a very poor community.
And the Irish Americans of that time were heavily, heavily supportive of the Democratic Party. Well, something changed over the generations, is my ancestors economically integrated and became economically diversified. Well, they became politically diversified too. There’s no one doing polls now, “How will the Irish vote go now in America?” Because while it’s too diverse, it doesn’t make any sense to say that.
Now, we’re seeing now that the newest immigrants to America are Hispanic origin, South America from Mexico, Central America. And like any new immigrant group they are on the lower end of the economic spectrum. We’re already seeing this as people of Hispanic descent, diversify economically, their vote is following in. Now, African American voters there’s a different relationship with the parties. If we go back to The New Deal and the way the Democratic Party became the party for African Americans, there’s a little bit of a pushback from the right trying to break that. But that’s a different story.
But when we talk about immigrant groups coming in and the primary demographic change in America. African Americans make up 12%, 13% of the population in the United States. And it’s been stable like that for a long time.
It is [the] Hispanic population that is getting increasingly a larger part of the voting block. A larger part of the youth is with an aging white population. And that is the future, not of the Republican party, but of any successful party.
The idea that Hispanic voters will stay favorable to the Democratic Party, it’s a shortsighted look at history. The whole idea that people of color will vote Democratic just because the Republicans are racist, that stereotype of the Republican Party, it’s just not going to hold water much longer, as the Republican Party is becoming increasingly more diversified.
It’s shown in the numbers they’ve been derogatorily described as props. It’s just not reality. They’re not running around just finding a couple of people of color who is willing to speak. They do speak for millions of people of color who identify more with the Republican Party than they do with the Democratic Party. Now, that it really happens.
But sometimes we have to look outside of the U.S. Mexico has a population that’s heavily of a Hispanic descent. And quite often they elect conservative leaders and conservative governments versus a liberal government. There’s no reason would they’d be any different if someday in the future the United States became, and it is on trajectory to someday become, predominantly people of color. I don’t think it really would factor in anymore as far as how successful the parties are, we would just come back to the ideas.
It’s really an unfair way to categorize people based on skin color, ethnicity. People eventually vote on what’s best for their family, what’s best for their business. And that usually comes down to educational opportunities, business opportunities.
So, to bring back to my original point, if the Republican Party is working to make sure that everyone has a fair chance, then they have a fair chance to get everyone’s vote. Just repeated again, to go out and target groups based on their color or ethnicity or language spoken at home, your average person, regardless of color, can find that insulting, not alluring.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: I completely agree. It’s completely insulting. I grew up in El Paso, Texas, which is now about 85% Hispanic. If Republicans could go to El Paso and find a message that works in El Paso, I think that could be used as a success.
But at the same time, just like you said, the Democrats and the Republicans need to have good ideas that people want to vote for, versus expecting groups of people just to vote for them, just because they’re in a category or a description or a demographic.
And it’s hard to know with [the] 2020 election, because it is so contentious on top of the media and how the media is a dumpster fire these days. And doesn’t really report what should be reported.
My one last question for you is, and it’s not to pick on the Republican convention, but when I watched part of the Republican convention, the message I got was if you vote for Biden, you will die. Some of the rhetoric seems so extreme. Was that just playing to the Republican base? Because I can’t imagine that that message would work on anybody even slightly in the center.
Dr. Tom Kelly: Well, both parties are doing that. The Republicans are saying, “If Biden is elected, there won’t be any more police. All your guns will be confiscated. And they’re going to let all the criminals out of prison. It’ll be chaos.” Is what they say in Ghostbusters, “Dogs and cats sleeping together, mass hysteria.”
But then the Democratic Party out there too, “If you don’t vote for us, climate change and COVID, it’s going to kill us all. Nobody has healthcare. They’re going to take away your healthcare. Everyone’s going to…”
The whole thing about we’re all going to die, if you vote for the other guy, that’s a common trope. It brings you back to what I had said earlier. They’re not trying to convince people in the center. They’re trying to get the people who already agreed with them all fired up to get out there and vote and give them money. That’s all that is.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: It reminds me. And I don’t know if you remember this, there’s an episode of the Simpsons where Krusty the Clown was running for mayor. And his advertisement against the other person who I don’t know if they blatantly said Democrat, but he was supposed to Republican was, “These criminals just getting out of the prison. If you vote for that person, he will let out all of the criminals.”
And so, it’s entertaining or disheartening that in, gosh, almost 30 years since that episode came out, the message is exactly the same in the actual politics that The Simpsons were lampooning some 30 years ago.
Dr. Tom Kelly: What I would say is really concerning about it — well, the satire of The Simpsons has been brilliant at elucidating some of the really sad points of the American system or any political system for that matter — is in their desire to win, it doesn’t seem that either party really is considering the damage they’re doing to the American people in the American system, with these scorched-earth tactics to get power.
And I find myself, somebody who’s never fit in really well with either major party. And who has friends who lean all the way from pure-bred socialists, all the way to they’ve got Trump flags at their house, they worship the man.
The true believers in the political parties, it can be a little bit disheartening because when we cut down to the core, neither party really stands for anything. They don’t really have any core principles. Oh, they have them out there on the platform. They have them out there in their commercials and stuff like that.
But it really comes down to one thing: win, win, win. It doesn’t matter how angry people get. It doesn’t matter if people are literally shooting each other in the streets now over this, “Great, that’s an opportunity to fire up my base even more.”
And I know some that have criticized me for being overly cynical with that. But step outside the United States and look at the history of the world.
What have people done to gain power over other people? Exploiting violence in the streets. That’s nothing compared to what some people have done in the past to get control and power of a country. So, to believe that somehow the American people are any different than people throughout history, that we couldn’t fall prey to those types of things.
But on a more positive note, when people say this is the worst it’s ever been, it’s like, “Come on.” The U.S. split up into a shooting war that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. That’s the worst it’s ever been.
I know people make whispers now about civil war and that type of thing. I don’t see that happening. But something we may see this year that you have never seen in your lifetime is a disputed election. And won’t be the first time in American history.
But we are looking at a real possibility between mail-in ballots, claims of voter fraud, that both sides claim they’ve won. We won’t know in November or December for the next president is going to be.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: No. Yeah. And when people have talked about potential civil war, to me, that is just such an absurd comment or prediction, because who’s willing to die over political ideas that aren’t even that different? Who is willing to die over Trump? Zero. Now, sure, those are very extremely small percentage.
But at the same time, one of the things that people have always talked about is American exceptionalism. And the current political system seems to not embody American exceptionalism at all to me.
And you can tear me apart because again, I’m not a political scientist. American exceptionalism are the good parts of the Constitution, the good parts of the Federalist Papers, all those things that set up this country that works for the most part.
And as you said, when you look at examples throughout the world, they are horrible, horrible examples of countries being torn apart, people dying, civil wars. And I mean, the number one thing that this country needs to do is take care of its people. If you don’t take care of its people, then what do you do? So, and any final words, Tom?
Dr. Tom Kelly: Well, let’s end it with the idea of American exceptionalism. And this is the kind of thing where I can get eggs thrown at me. Luckily this is online.
There’s nothing particularly exceptional about the American people. People are people throughout history. What’s been exceptional is the American system of government, the Constitution, the idea of people ruling, that the government serves the people and the people that don’t serve the government.
That has been American exceptionalism. That is what led to the most powerful country in the world. That’s what led to the country that has been known to go into other countries and liberate them and leave, rather than sending our armies and stay.
But the U.S. is getting away from that. There is a significant portion of the American public who see the Constitution is outdated or hopelessly ensconced in white supremacism because it was written by all white people in an era of white supremacism. And by no means, would ever say the United States, I’m not one who subscribes to the idea that the American system is based in white supremacy.
However, it was construed and constructed in a world that was dominated by Europe. It was during an era where Europeans believed themselves superior. That has affected the way the system was originally constructed. But what was exceptional was that the Constitution was constructed, so it could change with the times. And it has.
The three-fifths clause is now moot. Women now vote. There’s no more slavery. The United States has been able to change with the times. And while America has always fallen short of the American ideal, the country has gotten better and better as it is constantly tried to achieve that idea of government by the people and for the people.
A risk towards American exceptionalism and the American system would be the growing belief that the constitution needs to be replaced. It is the oldest living Constitution in the world. It has served well for centuries. The quality of life for all Americans has gotten better. It’s really easy to point at shortcomings when you have a system that is devised by humans and run by humans, it’s going to be flawed. People are going to make bad decisions. People are going to commit atrocities, that’s human history.
But to maintain that status of American exceptionalism, this is where we just get into just pure opinion based on what I’ve read through history, is that the American system has to stay intact. That if we decide to just trash it and start all over with the new Constitution, then we really lose the American ideal.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: It’s true. And again, people can study the history of other countries, where if the government is not flexible and they trash it, whoever is writing the new document sets the precedent. And you never know who’s going to be there. So, thank you Tom, for this great conversation. We could literally go on for hours.
Dr. Tom Kelly: I know I could. Sorry about that.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: No. It’s great. There’s so many other topics to look at. And although I am generally a pessimist also, I think that there are a lot of positives that occur in this country. There’s a lot of positives that I think will occur with the elections and post-Trump, whatever people’s opinions about Trump are. Hopefully the political parties and systems learn a lot from having someone like Trump as the president. And so, again, any final thoughts?
Dr. Tom Kelly: No, just thanks for having me.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: No, definitely. And so, today we were speaking to Dr. Tom Kelly about the political conventions in the United States. My name is Dr. Bjorn Mercer, here at the Everyday Scholar.
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