Leadership of the Democratic Party effectively changed hands on Wednesday night after Hillary Clinton joined President Barack Obama on stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and the two politicians hugged each other in front of a crowd of cheering supporters who gave them a standing ovation.
“Thank you for this incredible journey,” the president said to Democrats gathered at the Wells Fargo Center. This was the beginning of the end of an era: two presidential terms and eight years of Obama, the first black president of the United States. “Let’s keep it going,” he said after delivering a stirring speech.
That hug sealed the transfer of powers from Obama to Clinton, his former secretary of state and the Democratic presidential candidate. In a strongly patriotic speech, the president quoted Republican icon Ronald Reagan and compared his optimistic vision of a nation making progress in spite of its difficulties; all very much in contrast with the apocalyptic picture Donald Trump painted last week at the Republican National Convention.
Obama’s message: Trump disparages the United States when he says it is no longer a great nation. And with Trump, the GOP is no longer the party of American exceptionalism. Now, he insisted, the Democratic Party carries that banner
Obama presented Clinton, his rival in the 2008 Democratic primaries, as the best guarantor of his legacy of healthcare reform, economic growth, lower unemployment and multilateralism in international politics. His trust, he said, was based on having watched her at work, adding that she will be ready to lead as commander-in-chief from the get go. For Obama, Clinton is a woman who connects with the same American ideals that Trump threatens with his xenophobic remarks and nostalgic vision of a nation that never existed.
What is at stake, the president said, is more than a choice between two parties with different platforms. In November, Americans will not decide between left and right; they will confront an existential quandary that threatens its values, including democracy. On the one hand, Obama argued, voters have the most experienced and trustworthy politician in history. On the other hand, sits an eccentric mogul who is totally out of touch with the people of this diverse and inclusive nation that has optimism ingrained its DNA. A man who only offers “slogans and fears,” a “homegrown demagogue” who scorns the armed forces, praises Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and threatens to end international alliances. A “self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order,” thus threatening democratic values and leading the country to failure, the president said.
Obama predicts that Trump will lose in November because he does not understand the United States and underestimates the American people. “We are not a fragile or frightful people,” he said.
Trump’s speech in Cleveland and Obama’s remarks in Philadelphia tell the stories of two different countries, or perhaps more accurately, of two distant galaxies without not links to one another. A good chunk of Obama’s speech was an attempt to undo the deeply pessimistic vision of the United States as a divided country, a “crime scene” instead of the “shining city on a hill” Reagan talked about in his 1989 farewell speech.
The president also said that the “resentment and blame and anger and hate” seen in Cleveland has nothing to do with the real United States. “That is not the America I know,” he added. He called for an American patriotism whose essential values are humility and courtesy, kindness and respect— values that can attract and bring together people from all over the world, values that do not exclude any ethnic group.
“America has changed over the years. But these values my grandparents taught me— they haven’t gone anywhere. They’re as strong as ever; still cherished by people of every party, every race, and every faith,” Obama said after speaking about his mother’s family, from who immigrated from Kansas to Hawaii and who, given their racial profile and home state, could have been among Trump’s voters.
“What makes us American...is what’s in here,” the president said, pointing to his heart. “That’s why anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end.”
Obama’s message: Trump disparages the United States when he says it is no longer a great nation. And with Trump, the GOP is no longer the party of the flag, the homeland and American exceptionalism. Now, he insisted, the Democratic Party carries that banner. Hillary Clinton will lead the charge after she accepts the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday night. “I have confidence, as I leave this stage tonight, that the Democratic Party is in good hands,” Obama said.
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English version by Dyane Jean François.