Somewhere north of Columbus, we tuned in to the first night of the Democratic National Convention. News anchors repeated the phrase “unconventional convention” again and again. Then came two hours of tear-jerking montages, a Springsteen song, politicians in their living rooms, and people looking in the wrong direction because video conferencing is still awkward and wrong. It was a stark reminder that we now live in a world without crowds. (That line from Don DeLillo’s Mao II comes to mind again: “To become a crowd is to keep out death.”) The effect was a weirdly intimate blend of traditional political banality delivered by decontextualized faces that could have been live, prerecorded, or algorithmically generated. But there were some welcome signs of reassurance and hope, aside from whenever the actual candidate appeared.

The most powerful moment came from a woman whose father believed the president’s pandemic denial and paid with his life. “There are two Americas,” she said. “The America that Donald Trump lives in, and the America that my father died in.” This should be repeated again and again and again.

Each night in 2020, I wrote a short post for a series called Notes From the End of a World because I wanted to etch these days into my memory. Before the world changed completely.
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