As Hillary Clinton accepts the Democratic Party’s nomination for president of the United States, the Republican Party stares oblivion in the face
It wasn’t the best acceptance speech at a Democratic Party national convention by a long shot, but Hillary Clinton’s historic speech got the job done.
Personally, I thought that it started off quite well before getting bogged down into the kind of grinding, laboured pedantry that is often the hallmark of a Hillary Clinton speech. One could almost hear Clinton’s brain checking off the various points she felt obligated to touch on (i.e. absolutely everything) as the speech ground onwards. But the moment Clinton accepted the nomination itself was effective:
And yes, love trumps hate.
That’s the country we’re fighting for. That’s the future we’re working toward.
And so it is with humility, determination, and boundless confidence in America’s promise that I accept your nomination for President of the United States!
And one did feel that slight sense of history in the making that we last felt when a much younger-looking Barack Obama accepted the Democratic Party nomination eight years ago.
This section was powerful too, inasmuch as it sought to make a virtue of the way that Hillary Clinton grinds away behind the scenes, seeking to make incremental progress (an approach which clearly frustrates the millions of Democrats who preferred Senator Bernie Sanders as their nominee):
I remember meeting a young girl in a wheelchair on the small back porch of her house.
She told me how badly she wanted to go to school — it just didn’t seem possible.
And I couldn’t stop thinking of my mother and what she went through as a child.
It became clear to me that simply caring is not enough.
To drive real progress, you have to change both hearts and laws.
You need both understanding and action.
So we gathered facts. We built a coalition. And our work helped convince Congress to ensure access to education for all students with disabilities.
This blog hasn’t done a night-by-night analysis of the Democratic Convention as we did for the Republican Convention in Cleveland last week, but I have been watching closely – both the speeches, the mood of the hall and how it has all gone down in the American media. And right now, I think that the Republican Party should be feeling complete and utter stomach-churning, sweat-inducing dread. For all of the GOP’s political sins are about to catch up with them, and Republicans will be forced to pay for them in a hefty lump.
The Democratic convention was everything that the Republican convention was not, but normally is. Usually, one can expect the GOP to successfully co-opt and monopolise the flag, the military, the constitution and the founding fathers. But not this time. With Donald Trump as their standard bearer, de facto party leader and the ugly face of American conservatism (as far as most people are concerned), the Republicans have utterly ceded patriotic centre ground. Reagan’s “morning in America” has been replace by a darker, dystopian “midnight in America” in Republican rhetoric – a fact noted by Hillary Clinton in her speech. The sunny optimism and the shining city on a hill have been utterly banished, replaced by something insular, nativist, distrustful, selfish and wantonly cruel.
The Republicans used to be the Party of the Constitution (in rhetoric, if not always in practice). But one was hard stretched to hear any substantive mention of freedom, individual liberty and smaller government in Cleveland last week.
The Republicans used to be the Party of the Military. But now they are led by a thin-skinned, authoritarian, egotistical demagogue who has openly bragged that he intends to order the military to commit unconstitutional acts including torture, placing them in an impossible position. And so this week in Philadelphia, the retired four-star generals and distinguished veterans were on stage supporting Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.
The Republicans used to be the Party of God, happy warriors for social conservatism. Now they are led by a twice-divorced adulterer who openly objectifies and belittles women, while the Democrats are led by a woman who (despite her many faults, and those of her husband) has kept her marriage together through thick and thin.
But more than anything else, the Republicans used to be a party of unabashed optimism and patriotism, always seeing the potential and the best in America and seeking to build on that progress in order to open the promise of America to more and more people. Now, they are led by a wannabe strongman who sees only the flaws in America, grotesquely exaggerating and distorting those faults for electoral gain while promising blunt and unsophisticated remedies without acknowledging the disruption and negative consequences of ripping up trade agreements and erecting protectionist and physical barriers against perceived threats. And now the Democrats are the ones with the positive, upbeat message.
Or as Clinton put it in her speech:
Our country’s motto is e pluribus unum: out of many, we are one.
Will we stay true to that motto?
Well, we heard Donald Trump’s answer last week at his convention.
He wants to divide us – from the rest of the world, and from each other.
He’s betting that the perils of today’s world will blind us to its unlimited promise.
He’s taken the Republican Party a long way, from “Morning in America” to “Midnight in America.”
He wants us to fear the future and fear each other.
Well, a great Democratic President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came up with the perfect rebuke to Trump more than eighty years ago, during a much more perilous time.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
In nearly every category where the Republican Party once dominated the political landscape, they are now in retreat. Donald Trump clearly believes that the level of unregistered pain and dissatisfaction in the country is great enough that he can be swept to power purely on the back of an anti-establishment backlash. But my word, it’s an awfully big gamble to cheerfully abandon the constitution, the military, patriotism and fiscal conservatism and assume that this will bring in sufficient new voters, and that the party’s existing voters – who sincerely believe in those things – will stick around even as the Democrats aggressively pitch for their support.
That is not to say that a Trump victory is impossible – far from it. But look at the type of things which would have to happen to make President Trump a reality – more Islamist terror attacks on American soil, driving scared voters toward Trump’s authoritarian appeal, or a further deterioration of the fraught relationship between America’s police forces and the black communities they serve. Trump benefits from this chaos and division, but none of the policies he has offered would make America tangibly safer. You can be assured that Hillary Clinton will be pushing that message through the fall into the general election.
If things remain as they are; if there are no further large extraneous shocks to the economy, to politics or to national security (admittedly a big “if” when Islamist terror attacks in Europe seem to be running at one per week) then Republicans should be very worried indeed. In their embrace of Donald Trump – a man who could never have become their leader had congressional Republicans acted in a more responsible manner throughout the Obama presidency – they have utterly jettisoned their commitment to the constitution, to individual liberty and to small-c conservatism. They have lost the support of this blog and millions of other thinking conservatives, all in the hope of riding a populist wave to the White House, based on promises which they know are largely undeliverable.
And while Hillary Clinton is undoubtedly a flawed candidate offering a continuation of America’s current trajectory, in a binary choice between the status quo and the void, she has effectively positioned herself as the de facto choice for anybody who is serious about protecting the American republic from unpredictable and often irrational constitutional, economic and political vandalism by Donald Trump.
The Republican Party should be afraid. And chastened. And if the day finally comes when the fever breaks and they realise just what eight years of hysterical opposition to President Obama followed by the nomination of Donald Trump hath wrought, they will face an almighty uphill climb to earn back the respect of small-c, constitutional conservatives.
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