Often marked by division between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, this week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia ended on a note of conciliation and inclusion. In her nomination acceptance speech, Clinton, the first female presidential candidate of a major American political party, went as far as to draw a parallel between her campaign and one of the mottos of the United States itself, E pluribus unum: ‘out of many, one’.
America’s significant population of religious zealots might find fault with her decision not to focus on the official ‘In god we trust’, but there was a clear intention to distinguish her message from the exclusionary and overtly negative display of the Republicans and Donald Trump at their convention in Cleveland last week.
This approach included some none too subtle overtures in the direction of disgruntled supporters of Sanders, and even Trump himself, and often at the same time. ‘If you believe that we should say “no” to unfair trade deals…that we should stand up to China...that we should support our steelworkers and autoworkers and homegrown manufacturers…join us,’ she said at one point. Later Clinton chastised her Republican opponent for making ‘Trump ties in China, not Colorado’ and ‘Trump suits in Mexico, not Michigan’, with the geographic choices surely not coincidental.
It’s a long shot that Clinton will be able to claw back a statistically significant amount of the blue-collar white vote that has been successfully courted by Trump, but she may yet be able to win over enough disappointed would-be Sanders voters to ensure a large margin of victory in November.
Clinton’s biggest asset at the DNC was Sanders himself, who made a convincing plea for his supporters to fall in line behind the Democratic nominee. It helps that he has had some success in injecting some of his more progressive policies, or at least his rhetoric, into the mainstream party line. As well as trade deals, Clinton’s speech contained exhortations against ‘Wall Street, corporations, and the super rich’, even as she has long attracted the support of the first two and might reasonably be described as a member of the third.
Earlier in the convention, Michelle Obama, principally, made the case of African American voters to form a major bloc within Clinton’s ‘big tent’ election coalition.
The first lady delivered one of the more effective speeches of recent American political history and was not afraid to draw on the some shameful aspects of the country’s history, just as the larger convention didn’t shy away from highlighting black victims of police shootings, while also acknowledging those officers who have themselves been killed in recent retaliatory attacks. Elsewhere, Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine broke out his Spanish language skills for no apparent reason, other than the naked political one.
The contrasting approaches of the Republican and Democratic conventions and larger campaigns thus set the scene for a fascinating test of strategies for responding to a changing America. The country’s evolving demographics are famously not on the side of the conservative side of politics and, rather than attempt to move more toward embracing an increasingly diverse populous, Republicans have chosen to concentrate on consolidating control of the still-extant white majority; an approach which has reached its apotheosis with Trump.
Clinton’s more open and embracing message — seeking support across racial, class, and other divides — would seem a far better political strategy under most circumstances, but this has been one of the strangest, most logic-defying presidential campaigns in recent memory. The other side of the Trump coin is that he has broadened his party’s base to embrace more of the lower rungs of white society, whom some conservative elites had been content to consign to the historical scrapheap. While this demographic does indeed seem to be on a general downward trajectory, it could have one last laugh come November.
Trump himself has, meanwhile, shown a complete inability to stay out of the spotlight during the DNC by challenging Russia to hack Clinton’s email, in a seemingly unprecedented courting of one of America’s ideological and material enemies. The outburst stood in stark contrast with the carefully scripted pronouncements on display in Philadelphia, and served as another reminder that this presidential contest will not be fought within the traditional rules of engagement of American politics. Without question, Clinton and her DNC supporters delivered a more cohesive and accommodating message than Trump and other RNC speakers, but it’s difficult to tell how much that type of thing matters any more.
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