A citizen's guide to the upcoming conventions

Beside designating each political party's nominee, conventions are opportunities for parties to spread their message and fundraise for the general election.

Gene J. Puskar/AP/File
Balloons are seen during preparations for the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

I’ll save you the guesswork. On July 21, Donald Trump will become the Republican nominee for president of the United States. On July 28, Hillary Clinton will become the Democratic nominee.

Trump’s pending coronation is unsettling many Republican leaders – prompting Republican national chairman, Reince Priebus, to warn them that “if we don’t stick together as a party and stop her, then the only alternative is to get comfortable with the phrase President Hillary Clinton.” 

That’s about as enthusiastic an endorsement Trump is likely to get from the Republican establishment. 

It’s also unsettling many other Americans, some of whom will be demonstrating in downtown Cleveland to protest the nomination of a man who has gone out of his way to denigrate Latinos, blacks, Muslims and immigrants.

But barring a miracle, Trump will be nominated anyway. 

So will Clinton, whose nomination isn’t going down easily with many of Bernie Sanders’s supporters, even after his endorsement of her. 

So why have the conventions at all?

First, because they’re perks awarded to people who worked hard for candidates during the primaries — just as top sales reps in companies are awarded trips to national sales conventions. Delegates will have fun and spend money, which hotels and restaurants in downtown Cleveland and Philadelphia will sop up like dry sponges.

They’ll enjoy circulating on the convention floors for five or six hours each night exchanging gossip and business cards, hugging old friends and meeting new ones, and taking selfies.

And they’ll feel important when they hear party leaders, heads of state delegations, members of Congress and occasional celebrities tell them how critical it is to defeat the opposing party in November, how strong their nominee will be, and what makes America great.

Second, the conventions generate prime-time TV infomercials featuring celebrities, heroes and former presidents (Bush 1 and 2 say they won’t appear at the Republican one) and, most importantly, the nominee on the last night. 

All will speak about the same three themes, although Trump will talk mainly about himself. These segments will be produced and directed by Hollywood professionals and marketing specialists whose goal is to get the major networks (or at least CNN, Fox News and MSNBC) to project stirring images into the living rooms of swing voters.

The third reason for these conventions will be hidden far away from the delegates and the prime-time performers: It’s to ingratiate the big funders — corporate executives, Wall Street investment bankers, partners in major law firms, top Washington lawyers and lobbyists, and billionaires.

The big funders are undermining our democracy but they’ll have the best views in the house. They’ll fill the skyboxes of the convention centers – just above where the media position their cameras and anchors and high above the din of the delegates. And they’ll feast on shrimp, lobster tails, and caviar. 

Each party will try to make these big funders feel like the VIPs they’ve paid to be, letting them shake hands with congressional leaders, Cabinet officers and the nominee’s closest advisers, who will be circulating through the skyboxes like visiting dignitaries. If they’re lucky, the big funders will have a chance to clench the hand of the nominee himself or herself.

The three conventions — for delegates, for prime-time audiences at home and for big funders — will occur simultaneously, but they will occupy different dimensions of reality.

Our two major political parties no longer nominate people to be president. Candidates choose themselves, they run in primaries, and the winners of the primaries become the parties’ nominees.

The parties have instead become giant machines for producing infomercials, raising big money and rewarding top sales reps with big bashes every four years.

That Donald Trump, the most unqualified and divisive person ever to become a major party’s nominee, and Hillary Clinton, among the most qualified yet also among the least trusted ever to become a major party’s nominee, will emerge from the conventions to take each other on in the general election of 2016 is almost beside the point.

This article first appeared at Robertreich.org.

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