Evaluation of convention speeches in 2020

In past years, I gave evaluations of the acceptance speeches at our political conventions. I’m not going to do it this year. There’s no point. It doesn’t matter what President Trump and Vice President Biden say or how well they say it because most of you have already made up your minds. You love one and hate the other. For you, the one you love will speak with the flowing eloquence of John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. all rolled up into one. And the one you hate will ramble in indiscernible grunts and incoherent mumbles. The actual quality of their speech and content is irrelevant.

This is a shame because in Toastmasters, I learned to evaluate speeches based on their delivery and content regardless of whether I agreed with them or not. And I have given evaluations for speeches I strongly disagreed with. I owed it to the speaker to give them a fair appraisal of their talk. It also benefitted me because in studying their positions, I can do a better job in stating my case when the time arose.

However, politics have become so divisive that to listen to the other side’s speeches can be considered treason. And if you listen to your team’s speeches and have less-than-glowing feedback, that’s treasonous too. This doesn’t just hamper the art of speech evaluation. It’s dangerous to society.

It’s at this point that I can lay blame at the people I feel are responsible for this situation. I can also cop out and say, “Both sides are to blame,” but I know that is not completely true. The bigger question is how to get out of this situation.

Here’s what you can do: Listen to the candidates on both sides. And I mean, actually listen to them. Don’t listen to what your pundits and late-night hosts of choice say about the speeches. Don’t just look at the memes. Take some time to listen to the speeches in their entirety. You don’t have to agree with them. You can remain as vehemently opposed to their beliefs as you are now. But you should understand their positions well enough to discuss them reasonably.

This is important because when this election is over, we will have to find some way to work with the folks on the other side. We can see how badly scorched-earth politics is working out for us. As long as we continue to demonize those who voted differently, the chasm between us will grow until the country collapses. We’ve seen too many failed states that tore themselves apart because of toxic partisanship.

By understanding the arguments on both sides, we can begin to bridge the gap. We can find common ground. We can make compromises we can live with. We can see the humanity in each other. We can start to build a better and more inclusive society. This may be too much to hope for in our current situation, but we can start by listening to each other.

Ultimately, evaluation is about growth for both the speaker and the evaluator. We build upon our strengths, identify our weaknesses, and chart a direction for growth. Now, it is our turn as citizens and a nation to be evaluators. Listen to the candidates objectively. Look at the state our nation is in. Decide where we want to be as a society. Then, determine which of the candidates will get us there.