Crowd Reactions at the Democratic Convention Point To a Coming Party Realignment

As Democrats scramble to unify a divergent party under one roof, there’s a new kind of unity on the horizon.

Kate Aronoff

If the Left has patriotism, it’s one that knows America has never been great for most of the people living in it—and knows that loving a country doesn’t mean keeping people out of it or justifying slaughter abroad. (Nicholas Kamm/ Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA — This has not been an uplifting week for the Left. It might be surprising, then, that the most hopeful moment during last night’s speeches at the Democratic National Convention didn’t come from Barack Obama or Joe Biden. It certainly didn’t come from Tim Kaine, either. It came — of all people — from Leon Panetta.

"The Democratic Party is moving left, and men like Panetta are about to be left out of it. It’s moving swiftly, too, against Trump and the toxic ideology he represents."

Or, rather, the hopeful moment came at his expense.

Shortly after the former CIA chief and Obama-era secretary of defense took the stage, the crowd broke out into one of its loudest chants of the night: No more war!”

As Panetta spoke about Donald Trump, people in the crowd booed the Republican nominee, as they have in just about every speech so far this week.

Salon reported, then, that the crowd started chanting, USA,” to counter the anti-war outbreak. But the two chants took place minutes apart from one another, and at different moments in Panetta’s speech.

As the Democratic Party scrambles this week to unify a divergent party under one roof, there’s a new kind of unity — a new kind of party — on the horizon, perfectly explained by those three outbursts: booing Trump, and chanting No more war!” and USA.”

That unity includes a support for Bernie Sanders’ progressivism, but much more than that, too. It’s corralling around issues movements have fought for — like passing a $15 minimum wage, preventing a climate catastrophe, stopping the Trans-Pacific Partnership and ensuring that black lives matter — and around a new and more small‑d democratic politics, without super delegates or elections soaked in corporate cash and influence.

The Democratic Party is moving left, and men like Panetta are about to be left out of it. It’s moving swiftly, too, against Trump and the toxic ideology he represents.

The Left is capable of patriotism, of a sort, and of countering the weaponized nationalism on which Trumpism feeds. It’s not Panetta’s or Trump’s patriotism, defining pride in country by a more militarized border or a zeal to fight wars an ocean away. Theirs is the patriotism that, for many, undergirded USA” chants at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week.

If the Left has patriotism, it’s one that knows America has never been great for most of the people living in it — and knows that loving a country doesn’t mean keeping people out of it or justifying slaughter abroad. The Left’s patriotism is about fighting for an altogether better and fairer country, where unity means more people, rather than less. As Heather McGhee, president of the progressive think tank, Demos, recently told Ezra Klein:

I’m very patriotic because I believe if America is exceptional it’s because of the great diversity of our people, and I believe it’s time for a new story about who we are as a country that says our diversity is our greatest asset. That who we’re becoming demographically—a pluralistic nation with no racial majorityis not the unmaking of America but the fulfillment of it … In his best moments, the president was able to do that — to wrap that plurality in the flag.”

Obama did that again in his speech last night. And as the crowd reactions Wednesday show, a new Democratic left is emerging to fight for a new democratic country — with no more wars, no Trump in the White House and a commitment to making America and the Democratic Party something neither has been before. 

Kate Aronoff is a Brooklyn-based journalist covering climate and U.S. politics, and a contributing writer at The Intercept. Follow her on Twitter @katearonoff.
Subscribe and Save 66%

Less than $1.67 an issue