US ELECTIONS

Divided Democratic Party begins convention to ratify Hillary Clinton nomination

Wikileaks publication of Democratic National Committee internal emails prompts resignation of Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz

A Bernie Sanders supporter in Philadelphia.
A Bernie Sanders supporter in Philadelphia.JEFF J MITCHELL / AFP

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The Democratic convention is kicking off in Philadelphia in an atmosphere of mutual distrust between the left-leaning political base and party leaders who support Hillary Clinton. Hours before the official start of the convention that will ratify Clinton’s nomination, Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz resigned after Wikileaks published 19,000 internal emails revealing that party leaders showed favoritism toward Clinton at the expense of socialist Senator Bernie Sanders. Clinton is hoping that widespread disapproval of her Republican rival Donald Trump will be enough to bring an end to any internal discord and unite the party.

Clinton will look beyond the thousands of delegates and audience members gathered before her at Wells Fargo Center and try to speak to all Americans to warn them against the danger posed by Trump, a candidate who has promoted deporting millions of immigrants, building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and banning Muslims from entering the country.

Trump will be the catalyst for Democratic unity, says Chris Lehane, a former advisor to the Bill Clinton administration

“When someone says ‘I alone can fix it,’ alarms should go off,” Clinton said this weekend in Miami. “That is not a democracy...We fought a revolution because we didn’t want one man making all the decisions for us,” the former secretary of state said in response to Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention (RNC) on Thursday night. The GOP presidential nominee painted a grim picture of the United States as a country plunged in chaos and violence that only he could save.

Trump will be the catalyst for Democratic unity, says Chris Lehane, a former advisor from the Bill Clinton administration. “The convention of darkness and being at the mercy of the elements, of ruin and depression, of America’s dark night will be a galvanizing force to unite the party,” Lehane says in an email. “When the time comes to join together to fight the storm of Trumpism, I think all the wings of the party understand that we are in this together.” According to Lehane, “Trump’s convention has handed the Democratic convention and Clinton the opportunity to send a positive message of unity that looks toward the future.”

But first, Democrats must reconcile among themselves and that mission has taken up most of the party’s last-minute efforts before the conference began.

Sanders voters symbolically received Wasserman-Schultz’s head on a platter. Nearly 20,000 internal DNC emails published by Wikileaks suggest that the chairwoman failed to be impartial while carrying out her duties during the primary season as Clinton and Sanders competed for the party’s nomination between February and June. Many Sanders supporters who see Clinton as a Wall Street accomplice did not take their candidate’s defeat well and believe the DNC machine gave her an advantage.

Besides Wasserman-Schultz’s departure, Sanders has also created a commission to reform the electoral primary system. For example, he wants to weaken the position of superdelegates —convention delegates who are not elected by voters and whose choice of candidate is not tethered to any jurisdiction’s primary results.This time around, powerful superdelegates have tipped the scale in Clinton’s favor.

Democrats must reconcile among themselves and that mission has taken up most of the party’s last-minute efforts before the conference began

The biggest concession that Clinton supporters, the DNC majority, have made to Sanders’ allies, a rebel minority, is the electoral platform. Although the platform is not legally binding in any way, it is meant to be a reflection of the party’s goals. And the party that will take Clinton to the November 8 elections is more progressive —more influenced by Sanders’ ideas— than it was before he leapt into the campaign. The program calls for a $15 minimum wage, free university education for middle class students, and 12 weeks of paid family leave.

Clinton wants to convince the Democratic base that she is progressive enough but her choice of running mate, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, a politician who leans toward pragmatism more than ideology, has disappointed them.

In a year that has seen populists rising up against the establishment on both sides of the political spectrum —Sanders on the left and Trump on the right— the Democratic Party has chosen two candidates who epitomize the establishment: Hillary Clinton, a former first lady, ex-senator and ex-secretary of state and Tim Kaine who served as mayor then governor and now senator. They will face Donald Trump, a novice politician, a businessman and reality TV star who has a talent for stoking the deepest fears of white middle class voters.

Clinton will have to sharpen her message. First, to convince dissatisfied voters that two career politicians understand and will respond to their concerns. And second, to reject Trump’s apocalyptic vision without appearing complacent as if to say a United States under the leadership of Barack Obama is the very best thing possible.

English version by Dyane Jean-François.

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