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What went down at the 2020 Democratic National Convention?

Over the past two weeks, the eyes of the world turned once again to the presidential election drama unfurling in the US, as the Democratic National Convention (DNC) and Republican National Convention (RNC) were held. Here’s what you might have missed from the DNC.

The Democratic National Convention goes virtual

Originally scheduled to take place at an arena in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the DNC took place mostly online, with only former Vice President Joe Biden, now the Democratic nominee for president, and Senator Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate, delivering speeches from a convention centre in Wilmington, Delaware. The few journalists in attendance were distanced from one another and asked to wear masks due to the threat of COVID-19.

Speeches delivered by top Democrats

The four-night convention featured speeches by some of the most prominent Democrats in the country, including the Obamas and the Clintons. Joe Biden’s acceptance speech was regarded by many as solid and compelling. It was evident that he endeavoured to inspire inclusiveness and unity rather than division, and appealed to the sensibilities of moderate voters.

He enumerated the grievances brought on the American people by the current occupant of the White House, assailed his botched response to the COVID-19 crisis, and vowed to fight for racial, environmental, and economic justice. Despite Biden’s record of gaffe-laced appearances over the past year, which made many question the state of his physical and mental condition, the former vice president delivered a smooth, stutter-free speech and appeared remarkably ‘together’.

Biden’s pick for VP, Senator Kamala Harris of California, made history by being the first African American and Indian American female nominated for the vice presidency. “Years from now, this moment will have passed. And our children and our grandchildren will look in our eyes and ask us: Where were you when the stakes were so high? They will ask us: What was it like? And we will tell them. We will tell them not just how we felt. We will tell them what we did,” the Senator said in her acceptance speech.

Unsurprisingly, Michelle Obama’s speech was credited with being the highlight of the convention. The former first lady took aim at the president in a frank and piercing manner: “Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.”

An effective yet vague appeal to the public

Many pundits have regarded the DNC a success and stated that it presented the Democratic establishment in a positive light. Some have pointed out the fact that the Biden ticket put forth a considerably progressive platform on some issues, including gun control, child care and, to a certain extent—climate change.

On other issues such as healthcare, the party struck an ambiguous tone that left uncertainty about the future. This is particularly worrisome seeing as the country is struggling to survive a global pandemic and many millions of Americans are being stripped from their health insurance.

Furthermore, the convention was headlined mostly by people representing an era and an agenda that do not necessarily resonate with younger voters. Many mainstream Democrats such as Biden and Harris and even the Obamas stand for values and worldviews that do not reflect those of the new generation. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the party’s most prominent representative of left-leaning young voters, was allotted a mere 90-second cameo.

It is fair to say that the convention had put forth a string of Hollywood-style platitudes and hopeful pledges of change, which certainly befits the American way, but gave little substance to chew on for those interested in a more concrete vision of what a Biden presidency would entail.

Joe Biden should step aside instead of denying recent sexual assault allegations

Former US Vice President Joe Biden, who is now the presumptive Democratic nominee for November’s presidential elections, has come under increased scrutiny over the past few weeks as allegations of sexual assault against him were being corroborated. The accuser, Ms Tara Reade, claims that Biden had pinned her against the wall and digitally penetrated her in 1993 when she worked as a junior staffer in his Senator’s office.

How exactly did Biden respond to Reade’s claims?

Although several people have attested to the authenticity of Reade’s claims, Biden continues to vehemently deny them and enjoy the virtually unwavering backing of the Democratic establishment, which fears that any blemish on their candidate’s image would lead to a loss in the upcoming elections. As the story continues to unfold and the elections draw near, it is important to review the nature of the claims made against Biden, the reaction they evoked, and the consequences that ignoring that would have on the future of the #MeToo movement.

Reade first spoke out against Biden in April 2019, when she joined a group of women who claimed the former Vice President touched them in a way that made them uncomfortable. Fast forward to March of this year—after many failed attempts to gain the attention of national news outlets, Reade finally managed to come forward with her claim that Biden sexually assaulted her back in 1993. Reade argues that she had complained to Biden’s senior staffers at the time and informed them about the assault, and claims that their response was to, essentially, force her out of her position.

Over the past few weeks, Reade’s account has been corroborated by a close friend of hers, a former neighbour, and her brother, all of whom confirm that Reade had told them about the assault back in the 1990s. It took mainstream media platforms a few weeks, but ultimately news of her accusation began to spread like wildfire. Now, a resurfaced video of the Larry King Live show from 1993 further authenticates Reade’s claims. The video features the voice of Reade’s mother (now deceased), who called to discuss “problems” her daughter was having while working for a “prominent senator.”

Biden denies Tara Reade’s accusations

Biden and his campaign categorically deny Reade’s accusation, saying that while they believe women should have the right to tell their story freely, this particular story is utterly fabricated. Biden’s assertions have been supported by his aides, former staffers, and a growing number of Democratic party members, all of whom attest to the integrity of his character and what they claim is an exceptionally stellar political record when it comes to fighting for women’s rights.

Some have gone as far as to debunk Reade’s account by questioning her motives (portraying her as a Russian spy) and highlighting the gradual evolvement of her testimony and her often stilted recollection of certain details. Some have also raised scepticism as to why it took Reade so long to come out with her accusation and pointed to several occasions over the past few years in which Reade had praised Biden’s actions as a politician.

It is widely known today that many survivors of sexual assault spend years in silence about their experience, and that those who do come forward eventually often reveal their story gradually and are fuzzy about some of the details surrounding the attack. In an interview for The New York Times, Scott Berkowitz, the founder and president of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), stated that it is common for survivors to have positive feelings towards and even admire their attacker. “With people who work for politicians, there’s usually a strong measure of loyalty or respect in that relationship. So it’s not indicative that someone wasn’t telling the truth,” said Berkowitz.

The Biden scandal, just another scandal?

What is so unnerving about this case is that these exact same arguments were touted by Democrats in 2018 as they supported Dr Christine Blasey Ford when she accused Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her. While neither case has a ‘smoking gun’, Reade has arguably more corroborating elements in her corner that Dr Ford did, and yet, the same Democrats who chose to believe Dr Ford now unanimously opt to stand by Biden, leading many to deduce that Democrats only advocate for women’s rights when it serves them politically to do so.

In an article for The Cut titled The Biden Trap, Rebecca Traister underscores the unique predicament this scandal puts female politicians in, and particularly the women on Biden’s shortlist for VP. Kamala Harris, Stacy Abrams and Amy Klobuchar have all publically stated they stand by Biden, reciting an almost by-the-book announcement that women should be free to tell their stories but their experience of Biden leads them to unequivocally believe him.

But, as Traister points out, whatever position female politicians choose to take at this point will be to their detriment; should they continue to side with Biden, they will be portrayed as hypocrites who betray their professed values in exchange for political clout, and if they so much as question his credibility they will be pegged as radical feminists largely responsible for four more years of Trump.

At the very least, people’s view of Biden should be highly nuanced from this point on, and any support of his candidacy should be balanced with a frank meditation on the grave moral dilemmas arising from having him as a presumptive nominee.

Yet, given the rising credibility of Reade’s allegations, it seems that the only moral course of action would be for the Democratic party to exercise its authority and replace Biden as the nominee. Yes, we face a sensitive situation and a fateful election ahead; and, yes, Trump too has a whole slew of women accusing him of sexual assault.

But Democrats have an opportunity to reject this culture of violence and complacency, and take a bold stance in favour of women’s rights. There will never be a ‘convenient’ time to hold powerful male figures accused of abuse accountable, and one cannot pick and choose when to challenge their impunity and when to give them a pass. Glossing over the testimony of one survivor is equal to silencing them all.