Random Observations on the First Night of the DNC in Philadelphia

1. There was more diversity and hope in the first night of the Democratic National Convention than in all four nights of the Republican one. Hell, there was more than in the last three RNCs, at least. The gathered delegates represented each party faithful's idealized America. At the RNC, the floor was filled overwhelmingly with white people, to the point that any non-white people looked like aberrations, the burnt Rice Krispie or two in the milk. At the DNC, the floor was as multiracial and multigendered as Democrats want to believe we are, a bowl of Lucky Charms.

2. Before Michelle Obama pretty much made the rest of the convention unnecessary, there were other powerful speakers. Little Karla Ortiz put the most adorably human face on the immigration crisis facing families where the parents are undocumented with a child born in the United States. Sure, some dickhead Republicans would want to see them deported and then change birthright citizenship so they can get rid of Karla, but she was a dynamo, laying bare the emotional impact of how too many people who love this country are treated: "My parents came here, looking for a better life, for the American dream. But I don't feel brave every day. On most days I'm scared. I'm scared that at any moment, my mom and my dad will be forced to leave." I'd take a thousand Ortizes any day over one Donald Trump.

3. Disability rights advocate Anastasia Somoza, who is wheelchair bound and has cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia, punched Trump right in the taint with her remarks: "I fear the day we elect a president who defines being an American in the narrowest possible of terms, who shouts, bullies and profits off of the vulnerable Americans. Donald Trump has shown us who he really he is. I honestly feel bad for anyone with that much hate in their heart." One of the themes of the night was that the Americans that Republican policies harm are not abstractions. They are not "takers." They are, in fact, people who can articulate hopes, dreams, sorrows, and anger as clearly and compellingly as any politician. Ortiz and Somoza and others represented something other than a parade of victims, like the GOP offered. They demonstrated that, against terrible odds and terrible people who make terrible policies that actively harm them, you can still believe in this country. Unlike the cynical parade of Benghazi-affected anger and sorrow machines at the GOP, here you had optimism against sorrow and defeating rage.

4. This is not to say that the DNC is completely free of aggrieved parties. Tonight, the Mothers of the Movement, the moms of black men and women killed by police and police wannabes (like George Zimmerman), will speak. And last night, another African American woman, Cheryl Lankford, went right at Trump, and, unlike the Hillary-anger at the RNC, which was mostly hate-by-proxy, not because of any direct actions taken by Clinton, she was talking about something that Donald Trump did to her. Lankford is a widow of a soldier killed in Baghdad in 2007 who took money she received after her husband's death and sent it to Trump University, believing its namesake's promise that his lessons would make her wealthier. It didn't, of course, because it was a scam, with Trump as its chief con man. And Lankford drew a direct line between that con artist and his presidential campaign: "Donald Trump made big promises about Trump University, and I was fooled into believing him. Now, he’s making big promises about America. Please don’t make that same mistake."

5. But the night belonged to Michelle Obama. Yes, Cory Booker was good and Elizabeth Warren was great and Bernie Sanders couldn't have tried to change his most ardent (and loud) supporters' minds more if he had taken out a watch and hypnotized each and every one of them. However, Michelle Obama's speech was a series of gut-punches. She brilliantly framed everything as being about the future by making children the central focus of the speech. It was her children being raised in the glare of the spotlight and having to hear that their father was a Muslim Kenyan who hates America. Then she expanded it to how the election is about how all children will be influenced by whomever is put in the White House, with the clear implication that a preening buffoon ain't exactly a role model.

Even as she cut Donald Trump to pieces, even as she made a better case for Hillary Clinton than Clinton herself has ever made, she was telling the story of where this country really is and what it really is and was. The United States is not the violent wasteland of the RNC. No, it's a place where people struggle to make it better for the most people. The instantly quotable line of the night was "I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn." But before that, Obama had been talking about how Hillary Clinton has kept working no matter how many times she has been slapped down. Obama said, "That is the story of this country. The story that has brought me to this stage tonight. The story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done." And shortly after, she said, "Don't let anyone ever tell you that this country isn't great, that somehow we need to make it great again, because this right now is the greatest country on earth."

The message was clear. We know when the country wasn't great. We know that it can always be better, but it has nearly always gotten better. To deny that is to deny the incredible hard work done by those who came before, including the Obamas, including Hillary Clinton. But it doesn't deny that there is more work to do. There always is. There are always ones who will try to stop it, who will try to undo that work. At the end of the speech, Obama offered a simple plea: "So let's get to work."

And this gets us back to the first thing up there. Who should we be working to improve the country for? The Republican vision of whiteness superior once again? Or the Democratic vision of an inclusive nation?