John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan: Party summits a tale of two Americas

'When they go low we go high," said Michelle Obama to the Democratic Convention. It was almost the only reference she made to the Republicans' depressing convention last week. Her speech was a highlight.

She described her pride watching her daughters, "two beautiful, intelligent, black young women", growing up in the White House, "a house built by slaves" and added, "because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be President of the United States." The following night actress Meryl Streep said much the same thing, describing their candidate's "grit" and "grace".

Watching the succession of poised, intelligent, successful women take the stage at Philadelphia, there can not be a female voter in the United States who did not feel a surge this week. Clinton is running against a gross specimen of mankind, the good sense of women should get her through.

But this is 2016, some sort of devil-may-care idiocy is in the air. A majority in Britain have already taken leave of their senses and a majority of Americans might too. To watch the conventions, as I did by recorded television, was to be presented with two completely different versions of America. Donald Trump's is an angry, battered, spiteful, scared society, predominantly white. The Democrats looked like a multi-hued, modern country that faces its needs and problems in a cheerful, co-operative spirit.

That is not to say the Democrats were totally convincing. Right now America's most urgent problem, I would think, is policemen shooting black men on the streets. It is not a new problem but it has become urgent because just about everyone on the street now carries a movie camera.

I don't think I will ever forget the images live streamed from a phone in the car of that young woman in Minnesota with her companion slumped in the seat beside her and an unseen policeman's gun still poking through the window and she tried to tell the cop, in shock and disbelief, her boyfriend had been reaching for his licence.

Evidently, he had told the officer he had a gun, as licensed owners are supposed to do when approached by the police, so I dare say a case can be made in the cop's defence. In any case, a policeman in America has only to say he feared for his safety, I think, regardless of how unprofessional his fear may be.

America has a problem because blacks, and indeed all fair-minded Americans, know very well that if that young man in the car had been white, he would still be alive.

The incident was just one of several lately that have been recorded on cellphone cameras as they happened and seen by everyone. They sent many many far-minded Americans into the streets to stand behind banners saying, "Black Lives Matter" - until at one such demonstration in Dallas, a deranged ex-serviceman went much further, sniping and killing police on duty.

At the Trump convention (not the Republicans' really) every speaker I heard had a great deal to say about the dead police. They said not a word about the man shot in Minnesota, or the one we saw shot by police as he lay on the street in Baton Rouge, or any of the incidents relayed by cellphones recently. Not a word.

The Democrats invited to their convention the mothers of black youth such as Trayvon Martin, shot by scared white men acting in the name of the law. The women filed into the stage and a few of them spoke briefly. But not much more was said about "black lives matter". It would not have helped the convention's main purposes, one of which was to confront Trump's biggest lie: that America is no longer "great".

The other was to deliver a dire warning to the country. Former CIA Director and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, who has served Republican and Democrat Presidents, explained why Trump is dangerously unfit to be given charge of America's military might. A real businessman and former Mayor of New York, Mike Bloomberg, not a Democrat, said, "Most of us who have created a business ... don't pretend we are smart enough to make every big decision by ourselves. Most of us who have our names on the door know we are only as good as our word. But not Donald Trump.

"Throughout his career, Trump has left behind a well documented record of bankruptcies, thousands of lawsuits, angry shareholders and contractors who feel cheated and ... customers who feel ripped off. Trump says he wants to run the nation like he's run his business. God help us."

Was America listening? There's madness around. Some of it may be anger and fear but mostly it looks like fun. Mindless, reckless, foolish fun.

- NZ Herald

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John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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