Despite the all-remote format, the first night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) had about as many breakthrough attention-grabbing moments as a typical night of a political convention could hope for. Outlining a vision in which Republican former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Bernie Sanders are in the same fight, in which the Black Lives Matter movement was honored along with victims of the coronavirus pandemic—with Donald Trump’s failures on both subjects front and center—and in which nominee Joe Biden mostly did the listening at a question-and-answer session on systemic racism.
At the top of the list of Monday night’s memorable speeches, of course, was Michelle Obama, who offered a moral vision and a stirring call to fight. Returning to her 2016 theme of “they go low, we go high,” she made clear that it wasn’t about surrender, it was about a different kind of fight.
“Going high does not mean putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty,” Obama said. “Going high means taking the harder path. It means scraping and clawing our way to that mountain top. Going high means standing fierce against hatred while remembering that we are one nation under God, and if we want to survive, we’ve got to find a way to live together and work together across our differences.”
Moments later, Obama showed how it’s done by laying waste to Donald Trump in a couple of lines.
“Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us,” she said. “It is what it is.”
It is what it is. Brutal, yet in no way unfair.
But the night’s major moments weren't restricted to Obama. One of the remote format’s strengths came in showing a large swath of people without all the time spent walking on and off a stage at a live convention. Prerecorded videos could be integrated more seamlessly, and featured Megan Rapinoe, Khizr Khan, Ady Barkan, Virginia Del. Danica Roem, Dolores Huerta, and many more. Several of Biden’s former primary competitors—including his now-running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris—were featured in one video, in some cases highlighting their signature issues that Biden has gone on to embrace. Set to Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising,” another video—which has racked up more than two million views overnight—showed healthcare workers and first responders as the heroes of the coronavirus pandemic, alongside footage showing the size and power of the Black Lives Matter movement, with a clip from a Biden speech cut in.
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a policy case for Biden as something beyond a hold-your-nose vote for Sanders’ supporters, and, for those of his supporters for whom that case falls flat, framed Trump’s possible reelection as an existential threat. “Under this administration authoritarianism has taken root in our country,” Sanders said, going on to highlight how “by rejecting science, [Trump] has put our lives and health in jeopardy” and that “Trump’s negligence has exacerbated the economic crisis we are now experiencing.”
But one of the convention’s obligatory regular people competed with Michelle Obama for the most memorable moment of the night. Kristin Urquiza, whose father was killed by COVID-19, spoke of her father’s fatal decision to go to karaoke night at a bar.
”My dad was a healthy 65-year-old,” she said. “His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump—and for that he paid with his life.”
The DNC continues Tuesday night, again from 9 PM to 11 PM ET, with Jill Biden and former president Bill Clinton headlining. Other speakers include Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, former senator and secretary of state John Kerry, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general who so memorably stood up to Trump. But once again we can anticipate many other voices being folded in through the program, and it’s possible that once again one of them will break through the expected.