Richard Fowler: Democratic Convention showcases competence and empathy — dramatic contrast to Trump failures

Biden understands that happy talk and tweets disassociated from reality will not end the coronavirus pandemic

The unconventional Democratic National Convention formally nominated former Vice President Joe Biden as its presidential candidate Tuesday night, without the usual crowded arena and balloon drop — a virtual gathering due to the coronavirus pandemic that President Trump told us Feb. 24 is “very much under control.”

Speakers stressed that Biden would bring competence to the White House — a welcome change from the incompetent leadership of Trump, who ignores science and facts and has failed to act effectively against COVID-19, which has infected more than 5.4 million Americans and killed more than 171,000.

Coming on the heels of pitch-perfect, compelling and passionate speech from former first lady Michelle Obama on the convention’s opening night Monday, the Tuesday session featured remarks from rising Democratic stars like former Georgia state legislator and gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Also speaking were older statesmen such as former Secretaries of State John Kerry and Colin Powell, and former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.


While the second night of the convention could have benefited from both more diversity in ideology and identity in headliners, there were dozens of everyday American voices woven throughout the convention.

Some engaged in video chats with Biden himself. Others shared their passionate and compelling stories about lacking access to health care, losing their jobs, or fighting for their working families. They spoke directly into computer or cellphone cameras, giving the convention an intimate feel very different from a traditional political convention.

All of these speakers and the accompanying videos had a clear message: Leadership matters at a time when Trump gives us senseless happy talk and lies about the coronavirus, and refuses to take any responsibility for dealing with the pandemic — instead saying each state is responsible for coming up with its own response.

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“It’s going to disappear,” Trump told us Feb. 28 of the coronavirus. “One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” And then, of course, Trump suggested we consume poisonous bleach to get rid of the virus, and now refuses to give states desperately needed funds to fight the battle he is sitting out.


So far, Michelle Obama’s speech Monday night has been the highlight of the convention, when she defined leadership perfectly as empathy.

"Because whenever we look to this White House for some leadership or consolation or any semblance of steadiness, what we get instead is chaos, division, and a total and utter lack of empathy," Michelle Obama said. "Empathy: that's something I've been thinking a lot about lately. The ability to walk in someone else's shoes; the recognition that someone else's experience has value, too. Most of us practice this without a second thought. If we see someone suffering or struggling, we don't stand in judgment."

Michelle Obama's opener set the exact tone, tenor, and message that the Biden team wants to carry throughout the four-day virtual event. Not only did we hear the word " empathy" throughout the second night of the convention Tuesday, but we also witnessed it in the stories we heard about Biden's personal and his political life and legacy in Delaware, on Capitol Hill and in President Barack Obama’s White House.

The American people also heard from Jill Biden, who we Democrats hope will be our nation’s next first lady.

Speaking from an empty and echoing classroom in Wilmington, Del., Jill Biden spoke to the fear and confusion being felt across the country by parents, students and educators who currently lack clarity on reopening school as the coronavirus pandemic rages. During her remarks, she doubled-down on Michelle Obama’s definition of leadership, defining her husband as caring, attentive and responsive to America’s current crisis.

Joe Biden's empathic nature is also evident in how the convention features the up-and-coming leaders of the progressive movement and the Democratic Party. Since the beginning of his campaign, Biden has described himself as the bridge between the Democratic Party's present and future, and that has been evident at the convention.

The convention’s keynote address is usually given to one rising Democratic star. In the past, the coveted spot was occupied by future Texas Gov. Ann Richards and future President Barack Obama.

This year, not only did we hear from Ocasio-Cortez and Abrams —both already famous rising stars — but we also got to hear from 16 new voices who represent the ever-expanding emerging electorate.

Democratic stars like U.S. Rep. Colin Allred of Texas, Georgia State Rep. Sam Park, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, and Pennsylvania State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta.

Kenyatta, a North Philadelphia native and the only Black and LGBTQ person elected to the Pennsylvania state Legislature, told me during a phone interview following his remarks: “Leadership matters. Good government matters. Diversity matters. That was what the group of speakers represented. Trump has failed and proven he cannot lead. Joe Biden has and will — for all of us."

With a lot of focus on empathy — and little attention on how to vote (mail-in ballots, absentee ballots, early voting) during this pandemic, there remains some doubt about whether Biden can overcome Trump's solid base.

While the attacks on Trump at the Democratic Convention were hard-hitting, no one can question that Trump's con game will be hard to beat in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida.

All the opinion polls have Biden ahead, but those polls won’t necessarily translate into votes, especially given the troubles at the Postal Service engineered by Trump, voter suppression, and the ever-spreading COVID-19 pandemic.


With a greater focus on Black and Latinx turnout by Democrats — and Trump's increased spending on targeted digital advertising toward Black men in rural and urban areas — this race will be tight.

Based on the second night of the Democratic Convention, it is clear that people of color and suburban voters are being asked to evaluate Biden on his empathy and trust factors, in contrast to the current chaotic state of affairs and governance via tweet under President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

When asked about the Democratic Party's outreach to Black men, Malcolm Keyentta told me: "We have and must continue to lead with policy. COVID-19 didn't create the inequity we are witnessing, but it has only exasperated it."

And to some extent, the state representative is right. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black and Latinx Americans, and the numbers are alarming. Members of these two groups are four times more likely than White people to be hospitalized with COVID-19. And Black people are twice as likely as White people to die of the virus.

Yet, Trump has been silent on solutions or a national strategy to end the suffering. He continues to tout unproven treatments, demands businesses reopen, demands schools reopen, ignores the advice of federal government doctors, and boasts incessantly about what a wonderful job he has done dealing with the pandemic and all the other challenges he has mishandled.


Biden understands that happy talk and tweets disassociated from reality will not end the coronavirus pandemic, and won’t give comfort to families mourning the loss of their loved ones. Maybe that’s why he and Democrats are focusing so much on empathy, as well as competence.

Maybe having someone in the White House who can feel your pain and do something to solve this health and economic crisis is what the American voters are looking for. If so, chances are good that Biden will move into the White House in January and we can once again have a president who governs based on reality, rather than a president who puts on a nonstop reality TV show that has turned into a national nightmare.