August 8th, 2020


Dems claim patriotism, Religion and American exceptionalism at convention

James Hohmann

By James Hohmann The Washington Post

Published July 29, 2016

PHILADELPHIA --- Democrats are now playing offense on the three G's that dogged them for so many years: G0D, gays and guns.

Republicans mercilessly accused Barack Obama of not believing in the notion of American exceptionalism over the years. Some have said he is a closeted Muslim presiding over America's decline. His opponents have talked relentlessly about "values" and suggested that he somehow lacks them. They've used every opportunity to emphasize his otherness, to diminish his Americanism in ways big and small.

Donald Trump has allowed the outgoing president and his party to flip the script. It is the Republican nominee who now talks about malaise, decline and the limitations of U.S. power. His profoundly dark acceptance speech in Cleveland gave an opening for Democrats to present themselves as the hopeful, sunnily optimistic and patriotic party that supports the troops and believes the country's best days are ahead.

On the third night of the Democratic National Convention here, a procession of speakers wrapped themselves in red, white and blue. And the crowd chanted "U-S-A."

While Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama refused to say Trump's name, Obama said it six times and offered an explicit rebuttal of the portrait he painted last week 430 miles to the west.

"America is already great. America is already strong," the president said. "What we heard in Cleveland last week wasn't particularly Republican, and it sure wasn't conservative. . . . Ronald Reagan called America 'a shining city on a hill.' Donald Trump calls it 'a divided crime scene' that only he can fix."

"And that is not the America I know," Obama continued. "The America I know is full of courage, and optimism and ingenuity. The America I know is decent and generous."

In some ways, Obama's speech echoed Reagan's farewell address in January 1989. (Trump did not quote Reagan in his RNC speech - which was inspired instead by Richard Nixon.)

"Sure, we have real anxieties," the current president said. "We get frustrated with political gridlock and worry about racial divisions. . . . We are challenged to do better; to be better. But as I've traveled this country, through all 50 states, as I've rejoiced with you and mourned with you, what I have also seen, more than anything, is what is right with America."

The president spoke with the confidence of someone who feels certain that he's on the right side of history. He placed Trump in a tradition of "home-grown demagogues" who have preyed on the citizenry's fears since the dawn of the Republic. "The American Dream," he said, "is something no wall will ever contain."

Obama's address also functioned as a sort of timeless lecture on "American values." He said Hillary Clinton will be effective "without resorting to torture or banning entire religions from entering our country."

There was irony in Obama painting Trump as fundamentally un-American, after the billionaire spent years insisting that the Hawaii native was actually from Kenya and demanding to see his long-form birth certificate.

Using rhetoric you can imagine from someone like Dick Cheney in years past, Joe Biden accused Trump earlier in the night of embracing "the tactics of our enemies." He cited torture and religious intolerance. "We are America - second to none," the sitting vice president said. "Never, ever bet against America." Commandeering Marco Rubio's 2016 campaign slogan, he bellowed: "The 21st century is going to be the American century! Because we lead not only by example of our power, but by the power of our example."

Trump criticized U.S. foreign entanglements during last week's acceptance speech-calling them a waste of blood and treasure-but he never acknowledged the troops who are stationed in harm's way.

Obama seized this opening, too, making a potent case for internationalism amidst Trump's embrace of isolationism: "Donald Trump calls our military a disaster. Apparently, he doesn't know the men and women who make up the strongest fighting force the world has ever known. He suggests America is weak. He must not hear the billions of men and women and children, from the Baltics to Burma, who still look to America to be the light of freedom and dignity and human rights. He cozies up to Putin, praises Saddam Hussein, tells our NATO allies that stood by our side after 9/11 that they have to pay up if they want our protection. Well, America's promises do not come with a price tag. We meet our commitments. We bear our burdens."

Eight years ago, Obama lost the Democratic primary here in Pennsylvania after videos emerged of appallingly offensive sermons by his pastor. Jeremiah Wright, who had married him and Michelle, had also coined "The Audacity of Hope," which Obama used as the title for his bestseller.

"G0D damn America," Wright said in a sermon delivered while Obama was a member of his congregation. "G0D damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. G0D damn America for as long as she acts like she is G0D and she is supreme."

Wright had also said the U.S. brought on the Sept. 11 attacks. "America's chickens are coming home to roost," he told his congregation.

The Obamas left Wright's flock during the ensuing firestorm, and the president was forced to deliver a defensive speech about race at the Constitution Center - just a few miles from the Wells Fargo Center where he spoke Wednesday night.

Trump blundered by not discussing his personal faith journey during his 75-minute speech in Cleveland. The only reference to a higher power was a "G0D bless you" at the very end, a thank you to evangelicals who have endorsed him and a promise to let them keep their tax-exempt status if he's elected. It was a surprising omission for a Republican standard bearer. Worse, his speech was boastful and immodest. He literally said that he is singularly qualified to fix the world's problems. He certainly does not see himself - or has never tried to portray himself - as a humble servant of Christ.

"Our power doesn't come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order," Obama replied Wednesday night. After touting gains the country has made on his watch, he added that there is more work to do: "We're not done perfecting our union, or living up to our founding creed that all of us are created equal, that all of us are free in the eyes of G0D."

Tim Kaine offered the most powerful and overtly-religious testimony, explaining how his faith drove him to public service: "I went to a Jesuit boys high school," he said. "We had a motto in my school, 'men for others.' And it was there that my faith became something vital. My north star for orienting my life. And when I left high school, I knew that I wanted to battle for social justice. . . . That is why I took a year off from law school to volunteer with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras." He said he was most stuck by the dictatorship in that country "where a few people at the top had all the power and everybody else got left out."

"Now that convinced me that we have got to advance opportunity for everybody, no matter where you come from, how much money you have, what you look like, how you worship or who you love," he said.


05/02/16: 10 reasons Cruz's Fiorina gambit will likely flop 03/31/16: The Dem convention in Philadelphia could be even messier

03/30/16: Rift over social issues tears Republicans' base

03/03/16: Why Ted Cruz might be the last, best hope for conservatives to stop Donald Trump after Super Tuesday

02/25/16: Trump's romp in Nevada shows why the establishment's conventional wisdom about his ceiling may be wrong

02/24/16: Inside Marco Rubio's suburban strategy

02/23/16: Trump seen as losing South Carolina debate .

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