One of the challenges Democrats face when taking on Donald Trump is choosing which of his many flaws to focus on first. The list is daunting: Do you go after the Republican nominee’s inexperience? His ignorance? His brazen dishonesty? Do you target his bigotry? His private-sector failures? What about his radical ideas? And his affection for authoritarian dictators?
At the Democratic National Convention, President Obama didn’t choose any of these, preferring a broader theme: Donald J. Trump just doesn’t understand what make America great. In fact, the GOP candidate is so wrong about the country, that his election would threaten the American experiment itself.
Much of the speech was focused, appropriately, on the president’s praise of Hillary Clinton, and by any measure, Obama made the case for his former Secretary of State better than anyone has before.
But the president’s denunciation of Trump’s vision and values was as complete as any you have (or will) hear.
“Ronald Reagan called America ‘a shining city on a hill.’ Donald Trump calls it ‘a divided crime scene’ that only he can fix…. He’s just offering slogans, and he’s offering fear. He’s betting that if he scares enough people, he might score just enough votes to win this election.“And that’s another bet that Donald Trump will lose. And the reason he’ll lose it is because he’s selling the American people short. We’re not a fragile people. We’re not a frightful people. Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order as long as we do things his way. We don’t look to be ruled. Our power comes from those immortal declarations first put to paper right here in Philadelphia all those years ago: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that We the People, can form a more perfect union.“That’s who we are. That’s our birthright – the capacity to shape our own destiny.”
It’s important to appreciate the irony: Trump has spent much of the last eight years questioning whether the president actually appreciates what it means to be an American. Last night was Obama’s opportunity to not only answer the question, but also to turn the table.
“[A]nyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end.“That is America. That is America. Those bonds of affection; that common creed. We don’t fear the future; we shape it. We embrace it, as one people, stronger together than we are on our own. That’s what Hillary Clinton understands – this fighter, this stateswoman, this mother and grandmother, this public servant, this patriot – that’s the America she’s fighting for.”
And that’s the optimistic, resilient America that Donald J. Trump doesn’t even recognize.
I was struck by many of the reactions on the right, where Obama isn’t an especially respected figure. Note, for example, National Review’s Rich Lowry responding to the president’s remarks: “American exceptionalism and greatness, shining city on hill, founding documents, etc – they’re trying to take all our stuff.”
Well, yes, I suppose so, but Republicans did leave their best stuff lying around, neglected and ignored, so you can hardly blame Democrats for picking it up.
Erick Erickson, no fan of the president, said he received a text from a Republican member of Congress who said after Obama’s remarks, “We were supposed to make that sort of speech.”
The New York Times’ Ross Douthat added that the president’s speech was one “to make Republican elites feel sickened (as they should be) by what their party has nominated.”
And last night wasn’t the end of Obama’s message; it was the beginning. The president has made no secret of the fact that he intends to be the first two-term president of the modern era to maintain a robust campaign schedule, which means Obama will be repeating his message to audiences nationwide for the next 100 days or so.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but as was clear in Cleveland last week, there is simply no one on the Republican Party’s roster who can come close to delivering the kind of message President Obama delivered in Philadelphia.