It's very common in democracies for parties to nominate their lead candidates during a party convention. But the ostentatious events in the US, where Republicans and Democrats alike celebrate it, are typically American. Even though the winners of the elaborate primaries have been known for months, the respective candidates accept their nomination with a great deal of rhetoric and posturing.
The contenders use the forum to present their political vision and to drive both convinced and undecided voters towards the ballot box. When an incumbent already has the first of two permitted terms of office behind him, he uses the stage and the regalia of power to show what he has already accomplished — and what he still wants to achieve.
This is usually accompanied by considerable applause, euphoria, and showers of confetti and balloons. But during this pandemic year, everything is different. Mass events are not taking place in the country with a high infection rate. Both campaign teams had to launch the critical phase of the battle for the White House in the virtual world.
American people are the real losers
It is still not possible to say who has better mastered these previously nonexistent challenges. Both parties attempted a balancing act of serving the base on the one hand, and, on the other, attempting to attract decidedly undecided voters. Both the Republicans and the Democrats need them for their candidate to win.
Even if these showy events don't indicate the winner, the loser has already been determined: The American people who live in a society that is not even able to agree on the most basic fundamental rules of living together. One such rule is that politicians' claims should stand up to scrutiny. That there are basic scientific assumptions that remain valid until the opposite is proven.
Donald Trump has ridden roughshod over all of this. Anyone who questions his lies and distortions — whether journalist or scientist — is discredited as a rabble-rouser. There are a large number of Americans who only believe what fits their world view. Negative economic figures are glossed over, conspiracy theorists turn other countries into dangerous powers that want to conquer the USA, the deadly virus is talked down.
Casting show instead of hard facts
The party conventions have highlighted further just how divided the US is and just how destructive the deceptive politics of the Trump administration have been in the past few years. Now the fiercest phase of the election campaign is beginning. A battle like never before: where facts play no role. Where, instead of a generally shared understanding of reality, there is a man who holds a large part of the country in his grip with his version of a casting show.
The Democrats are far from having an answer to this. On the contrary, they play into the hands of the enemies of democracy because they have not succeeded in nurturing a new era of politicians from outside of the Washington elite. That is evidence enough for many US voters that the current system is broken and only concerned with self-preservation.
In the next few weeks, we'll be able to observe how democratic forces gather themselves together and whether the remaining systems of checks and balances is able to regain the ability to differentiate between fact and fiction. You really have to worry about this country in the light of these party conventions and the reactions to them. What would the potential reelection of a populist mean for other democracies? Would it be a bellwether for a global trend?
We live in times in which it is increasingly difficult for societies to agree on a mutually experienced reality. The US is becoming more and more like a reality TV show, trying to give its participants — its citizens — the feeling that they are the heroes. Even if that has nothing to do with reality.