A D.N.C. Opening Night for the New Abnormal



For three and a half years of Donald Trump’s presidency, Democrats have repeated a phrase as a reminder, talisman and battle cry: “This is not normal.”

Monday night, they gathered virtually to nominate a challenger, Joseph R. Biden. And boy, was it ever not normal — in ways that even Mr. Trump’s direst critics in 2016 could not have predicted.

The first night of the Democratic National Convention, exiled by coronavirus to the ether of teleconferencing and prerecording, was an experiment in how to sound the theme “We the People” with a “we” constructed entirely virtually.

At its shakiest, it was, like much pandemic-era TV, uncanny, disjointed and unsettlingly weird. (To its credit, though, there were few of the glitches that have riddled so much bandwidth-dependent live television.) At its most engaging, it dispensed with some relics of televised conventions and found faster-paced and more intimate alternatives.

The program’s very existence was a kind of political argument: If this doesn’t look normal, it’s because none of this is normal right now. President Trump, the presentation said visually, had broken normality; the Democrats, with an assortment of appeals both to Republicans and to their own party’s left, promised to restore it.

Some viewers on social media said the show looked like a telethon, and it often did, from the stories of hardship to the heart-tugging sea-to-shining-sea musical numbers. (These included Leon Bridges on a rooftop and Maggie Rogers on a Maine shore.)

But why do you hold a telethon? For disasters and diseases. For emergencies.

Some of the most memorable moments in the first hour leaned into this feeling of crisis, like Ms. Longoria’s interviews with Americans affected by the pandemic and economic crash. A testimonial from Kristin Urquiza, whose father voted for Mr. Trump and died of coronavirus, was especially searing. “His only pre-existing condition,” she said, “was trusting Donald Trump.”

A virtual chorus sang the national anthem in red, white and blue T-shirts. The program quickly rotated in Democratic stars of the resistance and pandemic eras — Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York and his PowerPoint charts, a string of Mr. Biden’s primary challengers and their dueling bookcases.

Their testimonials for the nominee framed the election as a choice between his experience and caring (a case of aspirin to anyone who had “empathy” in their drinking game) and Mr. Trump’s chaos and rage. Mr. Biden appeared himself, unusually for a nominee on the first night of a convention, hosting a round table on race and policing, his guests arrayed on a semicircle of screens.



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