Several years ago while working with a PR firm, I wrote an article for a client’s E-newsletter. My boss wasn’t as in love with it as I hoped he’d be, and advised reworking it slightly, employing the Show Don’t Tell writing tenet. Since then I can’t say my writing has consistently championed this rule, but I have given it more thought and realize it applies to our relationships, motivations, leadership, too – basically, everything.
“We are at a crossroads of broadening or narrowing what we can be.”
– Jon Meacham, American writer and presidential biographer.
Meacham’s recent research and writing has focused on one of our nation’s fallen leaders in His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope, where he examines the choices of light vs. darkness before us. He talks of Lewis’ sacrifices to his own body and dignity, his march for voting rights which paved the way for so many. Lewis showed us what moral, racial and national responsibility looks like. In contrast, Meacham says Trump thinks of us not as a country but as an audience. He tells us what we should be focusing on, all he’s done, is doing and will do for the American people.
There are those precious times you come away from time spent with a group with that feeling that you’re aligned with kindred souls and it feels like home. I felt that way a few years ago at a writer’s workshop, surrounded by people who, like me, could obsess all day over which adjective would best paint the picture in their minds and onto their easels, laptops in this case. It was easy to respect those in this group who bravely revealed their vulnerability, sharing their stories, however early in their creation, and cultivate an affinity for the lack of affectation, and a connection with everyday people you identify with, root for and want to succeed.
The Democratic National Convention gave me a similar feeling as I witnessed straightforward speakers each casting a different light on these times, sharing their own experiences, and delivering insightful reactions on the Democratic nominee. I felt proud and excited as I tuned in every night, hopeful about the possibilities for change, a chance to restore decency, dignity and reinstall intellect and fairness to our collective futures. And to be fair, I also watched the Republican National Convention, though struggled to savor it all in the same way. It felt more like droning in the background and I couldn’t latch on to the messages from these presenters — sometimes screaming, sometimes preaching, always scripted — as they read the teleprompters and consistently piled on praise for this man who continues to hold so many and so much hostage.
They talked of Keeping America America, if that makes any sense (it doesn’t). Vice President Pence even vowed to “Keep American Great Again. Again.” Please, not another round. They spoke in words similarly loyal to their Law and Order president, a self-assigned wartime hero. (I don’t believe wartime heroes typically assign themselves this designation?) As with the DNC, the RNC produced loads of people at the lectern, including Kayleigh McEnany, the current press secretary (his fourth filling the role three and a half years in). McEnany told of breast cancer in her family and with welled up eyes, revealed she was forever beholden to “her” president because thanks to him she could get a preventive mastectomy — and not only that, he even called to check on her after surgery, better explained by the fact she’s a close friend of his daughter, Ivanka’s. Let’s get this straight: She wouldn’t qualify for this same surgery were Joe Biden president? I believe fact checking would reveal another fabrication designed to tug at your heartstrings, planting the seed that the other side wouldn’t help you, and would instead leave you to suffer, sick and alone, which simply is not true. I’ve recently undergone my own necessary breast conserving surgery (lumpectomy), so I do not consider these matters lightly.
As the nights wore on, between presenters an ominous “historic” music (think Gunsmoke theme song) seeped into the show, and B-roll panned to sacrosanct monuments of yesteryear, each sprung from hallowed ground, and on to the home of that resolute desk, the White House, glowing and sexy and cloaked (and nearly choked) in American flags, dramatically lit up at night. On script, our president reminded us of our great American patriots, that “we” built great ships, raised up the skyscrapers. And let’s not forget Annie Oakley and Davie Crockett. I do wonder just as our current Postmaster General admits he doesn’t know how much it costs to mail a postcard, does Donald Trump even understand his own notion of patriotism? Interesting to see how each party looks at this concept. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/07/03/how-views-patriotism-vary-by-party/
One of several African-American presenters, former NFL player Jack Brewer among other things petitioned for bringing back the nuclear family. Did it actually leave, or did we instead simply open the doors to other types of families that don’t resemble the Cleaver household? The thing is you don’t need to feel scared if today’s families don’t look like they used to; you can instead choose how your family looks. Similarly, if Black Lives do in fact matter, it doesn’t mean other lives don’t; the movement was never created in that spirit, so who, why and when did they irresponsibly start suggesting it? If you want your family to mimic a 1950s mentality, the man as the breadwinner, his wife in an apron in the kitchen and children in their Sunday best week after week, you can do that. This is America. If someone else wants to live with their lesbian or gay lover and adopt a black or brown child, they can do that. Still, we all want and deserve the same things, right?
During RNC week I heard many speakers remind us how Donald J. Trump is fighting for this and fighting for that. And by the way, what is this new emphasis on the “J.” ? I can’t help but recall Tiny Fey’s hilarious sketch and if, like me, you need a serving of humor in these troubled times, please do grab a fork and dive in. Maybe the emphasis on the “J” is so we don’t confuse the Donald with his namesake, Donald, Jr., which by extension could remind us of his shrieking, excessively lip-lined girlfriend. Donald J. has spent much of his time in office angrily Tweeting, defensive, curt, ready for a fight. We keep hearing he is Fighting for America. Must it be a fight, though, and is there not a way we can just get along?
Incensed about the fighting and looting of late, he’s promising us if he gets four more years our world won’t look like this, yet he says the violence will continue if Biden wins. The thing is, and as Biden has already underscored, this guy is President now and yet still, there’s fighting and looting happening, all on his watch. Can you assign blame for today’s hostility to a presidential candidate before he is elected? Indeed you can in Trump’s world until it seeps under every MAGA cap and into those fine supporters’ heads, including even one recent underage gun-toting crusader and rally attendee, Kyle Rittenhouse. In addition, even after ten days in, we still haven’t heard Trump mention Jacob Blake’s name.
Between the Gunsmoke theme song alternating with an awards show style musical score, the RNC brought folks from the mountains to the prairies over red carpeted paths to the lectern, their performances resembling a nostalgic cross between a soap opera, Sunday school and a binge watching week of Little House on the Prairie and Andy Griffith. Eventually, though, you come up for air, and when you do, you realize after those simpler times, you know, when America was America, that we snuck in a few things: we now are afforded the benefits of modern medicine, science, the Internet, and hard-fought freedoms for so many different kinds of people, black, brown, gay, straight and everyone in between.
Next came the fireworks. I’ve seen loads in my 57 years, the best probably during a visit to Disney World a decade ago. They went on forever and as I looked up into the night sky there was magic and hope and what felt like no expense sparred which of course there wasn’t. And then it was over and by the time we got to our hotel, the magic had faded.
In lieu of the convention tapering down to a folksy scene – picture an upright piano playing Jesus Loves Me as the Sunday School program ends with waxy Solo cups and Nilla Wafers crumbs underfoot – instead we witnessed an operatic Ave Maria serenading this extended first family. But we did get to watch, so maybe he was serenading us, too?
At RNC, they opened the curtain for us to get a glimpse, for us to watch them in their house at their party. Toward the end of the last night, POTUS, smirk on his face, turned his head to look at the White House behind him, and remarked, “The fact is, I’m here,” he said, a broad smile across his face. “What’s the name of that building?” he asked as the crowd cheered. Turning back to the crowd, he was even more blunt: “But I’ll say it differently. The fact is we’re here, and they’re not.” It’s shameful to taunt this partisan prop, The People’s House, holding what’s clearly a partisan event on government property.
That week of the RNC felt like watching a first-class airline cabin from a close distance, watching it yet not even getting the benefit of walking through it. Surely you know the feeling: You get on a plane and pass First-Class where everyone is head down, nose in a book or pecking away on laptops, Wall Street journals in their lap, half downed cocktail by their side. They briefly greet you looking up, uninterested yet mildly curious, surprised even, that you’d have the gall to crash their private flight which was about to begin before the throngs of you harried and hurried passengers climbed on board. Like you’re late for the private screening of the film, an event that somehow leaked down to the likes of you, and they’re certainly not going to catch you up on the plot. An exhausted mule with saddle bags, you barely fit in the aisle, jacket in a wad under your sweaty armpit. Their pressed jackets were hung up hours ago in a roomy compartment up front. You’re both late to the party but you don’t get to go to the party. You’re holding them up.
I found it interesting but not exactly surprising that so many of these speakers are from the South, the Bible Belt where God is good, God is great and God is feared, and from the American plains, where those amber waves of grain grow. Cue more Gunsmoke music, and we see a young Caucasian crew-cut boy running through a cornfield in his backyard flying the model airplane his daddy helped him make. Ahhh, remember those days? I’m all for working with dad on a project, but what about all those other boys, the ones whose stomachs are grumbling from hunger, who have no Aunt Bea making pies for them in the kitchen, or who’ve got marks on their legs from their own Pa’s beating them, and who can only dream of holding a model airplane in their own hands much less having access to a wide open space in which to fly it? Where in this American Dream do they fit in exactly? Couldn’t this crew cut boy at least be depicted as sharing the fun with a black friend? Again, help me understand, am I missing something? Can’t we all be friends?
Much talk went to this land, our liberties and those who defend it. We were told that the foundation of freedom is faith. What about those who don’t believe in God? Or Jesus? Then what? Are they lesser? Surely, we can all agree with the promise that a society should be built upon love of people and service to others? The RNC message is, “Where Joe Biden sees American darkness, we see American greatness.” Joe may have pointed out some dark times still in our midst –- and to be sure there are many extraordinary challenges with which we must reckon and I prefer a leader to be honest about our nation’s challenges — but is it a fair statement to suggest he also can’t see the greatness? I find it a theatrical stretch at best.
By the end, it all felt like watching a party we’re not invited to. This “genteel” suits and high heels crowd, rallying around their leader, acknowledging that he means what he says and says what he means, even though (hee hee) he says whatever is on his mind. Am I the only one who doesn’t find this charming? What about those “African nation shithole countries” of which he previously spoke, and his proud admission of how “When you’re a star, they (women) let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy.” Are these the family values, that nuclear family purity we’re attempting to resurrect? I don’t think it’s working.
Watching them all, a chorus line bedazzled by the fireworks display above their hallowed grounds, their White House, it felt like the circle was closed off to just these Trumpians, and instead we at home were given limited clearance to merely watch their event. In contrast, watching Joe Biden’s family at the end of the DNC, the circle felt open and I felt invited inside, like I was one of them, and the circle would stay open for me always.
I grew up in the South. I went to church every Sunday. And then I left for college where it was time to look around and see what else existed. I met so many different types of people and despite our varying backgrounds, I found we all wanted the same things. Can’t we all have a piece of the pie? Is it not as delicious if we are all sharing it? I say cut it in slimmer slices and pass the plates. Surely, that’ll show us far more than telling us that we will all get a taste.
2 thoughts on “Show, Don’t Tell”
Susan, As always your perspective is brilliantly articulated. Thank you! I love your metaphor of walking through first class in an airplane. Perfect. I feel like we are in a horror movie, with what’s going on with the man in the White House. Vote! And pray.
Thank you, Susan! Agreed, it does feel like a horror movie. Praying for a single term for this nut job.