“Home of the first city in the USA to institute an 8-hour work day for non-unionized carpenters in 1890 . . .
Home of the first woman under 45 to be elected to a school board . . .
Home of the regional log-rolling champions in 1976 . . .
And home—three years running!—of the winner of the award for Best Teacher in the Midwest . . .
the Great State of Snicklefritz casts both its votes for the next President of these United States, our Presumptive Nominee.”
Forget the speeches—both insipid and inspired—by family members, preachers, businesswomen, victims of crime, police and military veterans, politicians, and veteran politicians. Forget the cheering and the intermittent booing. Forget those conspicuous by their absence, and those who maybe should have been absent. Forget the self-serving partisan commentary. After catching bits of both the Republican and Democratic conventions on TV over the last two weeks, I find it’s the roll call of the States which stands out in my mind.
Delegates crowd around the microphone: less to be on TV, I think, than to really be part of the moment. As the designated speaker calls out their State’s accomplishments, claims to fame, and famous sons and daughters, it sometime looks like a contest to see who can give the longest lead-in to announcing how their State’s votes are allocated: something everyone in the hall already knows.
In these officially unilingual United States, delegates speak in English, Spanish, Lakota, and maybe other languages that I missed. As they conclude, the crowd goes wild, their enthusiasm burning hot even without the fuel of an uncertain outcome. And the roll call moves on to the next Great State.
In an uncontested convention it’s political theatre, of course, not real politics. To get to this point, all the heavy lifting has long since been done; to get to the next point, the real work is just beginning. It’s also community theatre: definitely off-off-off-Broadway, or maybe even amateur hour.
But it’s kinda cool.
Unlike Canadians, Americans are not afraid to crow about themselves. And so we hear about their sandy beaches, first Latino assemblyman, great restaurants, gay marriages, historic African-American milestones, female governors, Native American heritage, sporting championships, technological breakthroughs, and the big businesses that have set up operations in their Great State.
Do some of the featured accomplishments seem a little inconsequential to me, in context? Well, yeah. (Guys. Great restaurants? Really? Is that the best you got?) But how else do we maintain the perspective and grace to appreciate our homes, except by sometimes boasting about things large and small?
And how else do we see what is integral to us, except by noting what we don’t even bother to mention? Like Canadians, Americans take the peaceful (if somewhat histrionic) transfer of power every four or eight years entirely for granted. Now that’s a great state to be in.