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The recently concluded Democratic and Republican conventions accomplished what their respective organizers expected, if not what they wanted.

Each party reintroduced its standard bearers and officially got each of the tickets nominated. They also rewarded campaign faithful and shined a spotlight on the candidates' families and high-profile surrogates.

Neither convention did much, however, to attract viewers or to hold the attention of the less partisan.

The value of these huge national conventions, particularly as news events, has been in question for decades now. The changes necessitated by the ongoing pandemic further clouded their worth.

The Democratic Party rolled out its A-list of former presidents, presidential contenders and party up-and-comers in a show of solidarity behind the veteran former vice president, Joe Biden.

The virus-subdued convention reminded voters of Biden's long service in the U.S. Senate and as President Barack Obama's vice president, Biden's hands-on knowledge of government and, most of all, his character.

The Democrats strongly criticized President Donald Trump's job performance.

Trump's own convention was similarly loaded with Biden-bashing. It, too, sought to redefine Trump, or at least shake standing perceptions about him and his presidency.

His convention speakers extolled Trump as the Republicans, much like the Democrats, relied largely on pre-recorded speeches to a camera through much of the week.

That changed, of course, with the appearance of first lady Melania Trump in the White House Rose Garden, Vice President Mike Pence's performance at Fort McHenry and Trump's own commandeering of the White House lawn.

Less will be remembered about what any of them said than of where they said it or that they chose to flout coronavirus-related health concerns. They assembled close-quartered, mostly unmasked followers to cheer them on in each venue.

"We're here and they're not," the incumbent Trump taunted, calling the attention of the packed-in crowd of admirers to the White House behind him. It's a celebration he may yet rue, if the virus was also present.

The Democrats' convention outdrew the Republicans', attracting 21.8 million viewers on six major broadcast and cable news networks while the GOP pulled 19.85 million viewers the following week. Both conventions were way down from their 2016 television ratings, however.

In ordinary times, each of the campaigns would have followed the conventions with rigorous road trips, each stop intended to draw large crowds of enthusiastic backers -- and donors.

Instead, Trump is still seeking crowds but at somewhat smaller venues (like airport tarmacs) while Biden, trying to follow health guidelines in the different states, has continued a mostly online campaign.

We'll see lots more of both tickets. But the early campaigns have suffered from major distractions, the virus first among them.

Count, too, the back-to-back hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. The second hurricane, Laura, decimated a swath of the coast and wreaked havoc through Louisiana and all the way into Arkansas. The people affected, already hard hit by the pandemic and the resulting job losses and upheaval in their lives, are looking at weeks, months or years of clean up and rebuilding.

Impacting the whole country is the racial division playing out right now in Portland, Ore., and Kenosha, Wis., where people have recently died on the streets.

The police shooting of a Black man in Kenosha triggered protests and violence there. Jacob Blake, who is paralyzed from the waist down, somehow survived being shot seven times in the back by a police officer; two demonstrators have died and a third was injured at the hands of a 17-year-old wielding a semi-automatic rifle in the crowd of protesters.

The demonstrations in Portland have been longer-lived, triggered by the May 25 death of George Floyd beneath the knee of a Minneapolis, Minn., police officer. Video let us all watch the man's needless death.

Black Lives Matter protests have continued there and elsewhere ever since, decrying the deaths of many Black men and women killed by police.

The situation in Portland worsened last week with the still-unexplained shooting death of a counter-protester in Portland.

Tensions have heightened as President Trump continues his push to bring federal forces to bear there.

Much more peaceably, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched on Washington on the anniversary last week of the historic 1963 March on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This time marchers focused on police reform and sought to capitalize on greater awareness of racial injustice in this country.

While demonstrations in Portland and Kenosha have been accompanied by violence, rioting and destruction of property, many other protests, including several here in Arkansas since Floyd's killing, have been a peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights.

The movement that really began more than a half century ago has a renewed vigor that seemingly won't be denied.

That's why the speeches that reverberated from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last week, made to a mask-wearing assembly of frustrated but determined marchers, will most assuredly drive many voters to the polls this November.

There was no rioting there, no fires set, no gunfire into the crowd. Just impassioned people fixed on a purpose and thus not all that different from the Democrats and Republicans who gathered for their respective conventions.

Brenda Blagg is a freelance columnist and longtime journalist in Northwest Arkansas. Email her at [email protected]

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