In Philadelphia

Christian Lorentzen

At its most rabid, the Republican National Convention resembled a witch burning. The Democrats in Philadelphia, when they take aim at Donald Trump, do so in the form of a sanctimonious anti-bullying public service announcement. This didn’t work for his Republican rivals during the primaries, but they were talking to Republicans, who may see bullying as a fact of life, feel a bit bullied themselves, and indeed nominated the candidate who sold himself as a national bully. The Democrats ask, do you want your children looking up to a president who’s a bully? Children are ever part of the equation in Philadelphia.

Before the convention could shift into a mode of Hillary Clinton hagiography, the supporters of Bernie Sanders had to be scolded, like children, for not falling in line. ‘To the Bernie or Bust people, you’re being ridiculous,’ the comedian Sarah Silverman, a Sanders supporter throughout the primaries, said on Monday night. At the Wells Fargo Center, it was hard not to feel a little beholden to capital as chants of ‘Bernie! Bernie!’ were rising from the floor to the nosebleed seats and the stage was being set for Paul Simon to sing ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, a number that’s always sounded better when Art Garfunkel performs it. Earlier in the day Sanders had been booed at a rally of his own supporters for telling them to vote for Clinton; there were more boos for Clinton in the convention hall; and on Tuesday a contingent walked out when Sanders himself concluded the roll call of states by calling for Clinton’s nomination by acclamation. In a line that Sanders supporters took to be addressed to them, Michelle Obama also got in on the act: ‘We cannot afford to be tired or frustrated or cynical. No, hear me. Between now and November, we need to do what we did eight years ago and four years ago.’ Left-leaning lack of enthusiasm for centrist Democrats is always cynicism, no matter that, according to one poll, as many as 90 per cent of Sanders voters already say they’ll vote for Clinton in November.

At meetings in advance of the convention, one activist told me, Sanders supporters had been sold a new rhetoric meant to solidify their alliance with the Clinton campaign. A Clinton administration would ‘rewrite the rules of the American economy’. Apparently Clinton has been calling to ‘rewrite the rules’ for many months (the source of the language is the Roosevelt Institute, a progressive Manhattan think tank), but the slogan hasn’t transformed her campaign into a movement for economic justice. In other words, those 90 per cent will have to trade in their revolution for the prospect of some mildly ameliorative technocratic reforms.

Some of them were crying as Sanders watered down his talking points both in substance (free public universities for all v. a substantial reduction in student debt; universal public healthcare v. a public option, the latter a promise Obama made and never delivered) and rhetorically: each policy item is now prefaced by the phrase ‘Hillary Clinton understands’ (and ‘is determined to create millions of new jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure – our roads, bridges, water systems and wastewater plants’). Perhaps Clinton understands all these things. She will have plenty of excuses (chiefly an obstructive Republican Congress) not to pursue them unless Sanders’s supporters continue to hold her feet to the fire. If she’s elected, this will require a challenger to her left in the 2020 primaries. Sanders has failed to leave behind an obvious heir, though on stage he was outstripped by Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who managed at least to speak to Sanders supporters as if they were adults: ‘Not voting is not a protest. It is a surrender.’

After the roll call vote on Tuesday afternoon, the proceedings turned to the life of Hillary Clinton. That on graduating from Yale Law School she had refrained from getting a corporate job and had instead gone to work for the Children’s Defense Fund was repeated like a mantra. Her work to expand children’s health insurance as first lady was highlighted, as were her efforts on behalf of 9/11 workers affected by the scorched air at ground zero. Her tenure as secretary of state was reduced to an overnight trip to Israel from South-East Asia to wrangle a ceasefire to the 'Pillar of Defence' assault on Gaza (the process took days) and her efforts to impose tougher sanctions on Iran. Her orchestration of the intervention in Libya wasn’t mentioned.

Perhaps the oddest thing about the Democratic Convention so far is that after completing the rituals of lip service to Sanders dissenters and shuffling them off stage, it has treated the race as if it’s already been won. Michelle Obama asserted that Clinton had already broken the glass ceiling by being nominated. An air of self-congratulation pervades the proceedings, but the Democrats rest on the laurels of their inclusiveness at the nation’s peril. Bill Clinton was right, speaking on Tuesday night, that the choice was between something ‘real’ and something ‘made up’. The trouble is that voters may prefer Trump’s fictions to the real Hillary Clinton.


  • 27 July 2016 at 9:02pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    The closing sentence of this report is true, and very ominous at that. The critical question then becomes, of the voters who actually turn out in November, do more than 50% hold Trump's fictions (which often exceed those of characters created by surrealistic novelists) to be true?

    • 28 July 2016 at 2:45pm
      Greencoat says: @ Timothy Rogers
      We all know that Mrs Clinton 'mis-speaks' and 'mis-remembers' - she told us so herself - but can we have some examples of Trump's fictions?

    • 1 August 2016 at 1:28am
      Pennywhistler says: @ Greencoat
      You mean just today or the entire weekend?

  • 28 July 2016 at 10:15am
    Joshua K says:
    Casting a vote for Hillary in November guarantees the conveyor belt of corporate Dem nominees will keep rolling indefinitely.

    Those who shriek that failing to line up behind her would let the Republicans in and see the world set ablaze, as in 2000, should consider two things. Firstly, this time all the hardest-core Rep neo-cons are lined up behind Hillary Clinton (that is, people like Robert Kagan, who want to double down on foreign 'interventions'):

    Secondly, we now know that the Bushes and Clintons, far from being diametrically-opposed political enemies, are actually the very best of buddies. Pursuant of the same agenda, two sides of the same coin.

    Ah, but what of the likely vacancies on the SCOTUS in the next five years? Well, anybody who'd expect Hillary to appoint justices who'd help overturn the Citizens United ruling should remember that nobody benefits more from that ruling than her donors.

    So those seeking business-as-usual, and presidential choices like the one presented this year forever, should ensure they make it to the polls and put an X next to Hillary Clinton. The message will be received loud and clear by the DNC.

    • 28 July 2016 at 12:33pm
      cwritesstuff says: @ Joshua K
      A slightly odd post.

      I agree that Hillary Clinton isn't perfect - she's more neocon and less left-wing than I'd like.

      I would vote for her, because the alternative is far worse. You call this a shriek and then point out two issues where Clinton isn't as left wing as you'd like. Fair enough.

      But do you think a Trump would be better? He probably wouldn't appoint a justice in favour of repealing Citizens. But he would appoint a justice in favour of repealing Roe v Wade, and which would seek to control women's bodies etc.

      I don't quite understand why you think that a Trump presidency (the only alternative to Clinton) would benefit any of your causes or support your views. It wouldn't be business as usual - quite the opposite.

    • 30 July 2016 at 3:35pm
      refudiate says: @ Joshua K
      Grow up, dude; if you don't know the difference between corporate dems and corporate pugs then you just don't live in the sphere known as reality. And if you don't know the difference between a Clarence Thomas and a Ruth B. Ginsberg, you're a complete imbecile.

    • 30 July 2016 at 4:33pm
      Stu Bry says: @ cwritesstuff
      The idea that a Trump presidency would be the collapse of civilization doesn't add up. Obama couldn't close Gitmo, can't move an inch forward on gun control and his greatest achievement is a health insurance scheme which still isn't fully rolled out and continues to allow the insurance providers to profit massively while doing nothing about spiraling costs.

      President Trump would be far less likely to start new wars than President Clinton and would at worst domestically paralyze politics. That looks ok to me.

  • 28 July 2016 at 2:17pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    Joshua K makes the standard case from the left (and the holier-than-thou left, at that) about Clinton's defects and the lack of promising policies she might initiate regarding issues that concern him (and me too -- Hillary is far too "interventionist" as far as I'm concerned). And yet the arguments he makes lead down the same path toward the black hole known as Trump. He is NOT an acceptable alternative (or populist "experiment").

    Rather than catalog the long list of reasons why he is unacceptable, I'll merely point out both his penchant for outrageous lying and his vast ignorance. Last night's evening news had two typical Trump snippets.

    First, reacting to the possibility that Russian hackers had been the source of the leaks showing the DNC's partiality toward Clinton, he expressed the hope that "the Russians" will be able to track down and release Hillary's missing e-mails. Then he gave his big "shrug and mug" act, saying, "What's all this about Putin - I don't know the man, I've never had anything to do with him, I have no idea what this is all about." (The gist, not verbatim quotes.) Immediately after this viewers see the clips from several years ago showing him stating that he's gotten to know Putin better and admires him, etc. So which set of statements is true, or in his case, "truish"?

    Second, commenting (or Twittering)about Kaine, Trump makes the offhand remark that "he did a very bad job in New Jersey", apparently unaware of the fact that Kaine's entire career as an office-holder has been in Virginia. How do you "spin" this level of ignorance?

    The idea of such an ignorant buffoon, unshackled by the reality of his past actions and statements, ascending to the presidency is not acceptable, no matter how negatively one judges Clinton.

  • 30 July 2016 at 4:25am
    lordarsenal says:
    Let's make something nice and sparkling clear, there is no true active Left in the United States. David Cameron and his acolytes would be considered centrist, if not outright leftists in the flacid politics of the United States. No country has more timid politics than my misbegotten country. All this talk of Bernie, and how Hilary is going make things happen, is just mere Kabuki theatre; the left hand of the Democratic party offers "progressivism", and the right hand offers betryal. Both political parties adhere to the wink and the nod when it comes to sharing power; they need each other to blame for the ineptitude thst masquerades as governance. What the United States likes to spend it's time doing is waging war. Has it ever occurred to any critical thinking person that all the slobbering about America's exceptionalism is just cover for imposing its will over the world. How this comes about, is the only point of debate between Democrats and Republicans. There isn't really a dimes worth of diffrence between these confederates.

    • 30 July 2016 at 3:34pm
      refudiate says: @ lordarsenal
      You're a moron if you think that there's no difference between Obama and Bush, Carter and Nixon, Clinton and Reagan. You live a nice cushy life that indeed probably feels no difference; others all over the world, and millions in the US, feel the difference in their bodies and their families' suffering or endurance, as the cases might be. Your Nadar-esque cynicism is willfully and indulgently destructive. Use your brain for once.

  • 30 July 2016 at 7:03am
    ludo says:
    There is no democracy in America. A gigantic neoconservative pincer movement is in operation, the purpose of which is to frighten and corral the American voters by causing (or at least have the cover of such a conceivable cause) them to feel existentially obligated to vote for Clinton contra the specter of a Putin-backed American proxy in the politically holographic (hollow) figure of Donald Trump (a fact which Bill Clinton pointed out--invertedly), resulting in a Clinton presidential win (pseudo-democratic coup) as fait accompli (or the cover of the argument as such in the case of outright total electoral fraud).

    • 3 August 2016 at 12:03am
      Mona Williams says: @ ludo
      You have a point about there being no democracy in America, although maybe you are exaggerating a little. The big truth about this somewhat anomalous election is that those of us rationally observing the daily unfolding horror show that is Donald Trump's character and capabilities know that there is no need for any pincer movement to frighten us into doing anything. We are existentially obligated to vote for Clinton if we want to have a country. Period.

  • 30 July 2016 at 10:03am
    Graucho says:
    A parade of creditors owed money by Trump as a result of his four bankruptcies should sink him if done right. Democracy as practised in the U.S. is the biggest argument I know in favour of publicly funded political parties with funds in direct proportion to votes cast with a reasonable threshold. Cannot be done in the U.K. soon enough.

    • 30 July 2016 at 4:35pm
      Stu Bry says: @ Graucho
      A parade of Saudis who fund Clinton's foundation should sink her.

  • 30 July 2016 at 3:31pm
    refudiate says:
    The blog entry ends: "The trouble is that voters may prefer Trump’s fictions to the real Hillary Clinton." But it's snippy, anti-Clinton approach throughout shows no reason to support Clinton, surrendering instead, like much of the moronic commentary that follows on this board, to cheap complaints about "corporate" stoogery, etc. If you don't like the world that Nixon left us, or the world the Bush II left us, get off your sniggering progressive asses and defeat Trump. Then you can critique the Clinton administration as intensely as possible when they fall short of appropriate public policy. But people writing on this board aren't the ones who will suffer deeply with a Trump victory and they shouldn't be so cavalier or cool in their analysis of Clinton's shortcomings.

  • 30 July 2016 at 3:34pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    Plenty of pessimism in the above comments, most of it well-warranted. Regardless of their shared neo-liberal/neo-conservative beliefs and pieties, the Red team and the Blue team handle practical problems (and budgets) differently. None of the characterizations of the US political system being in a state of decay should be used to encourage or effect a voting pattern that puts Trump in office.

  • 31 July 2016 at 2:38am
    sterilepromontory says:
    This discussion requires a reference to William Safire's 1996 op-ed calling HRC a "congenital liar."
    I'm not a huge Hillary fan but Trump is not qualified to be president and he would have defeated Bernie because the US is not ready to elect its first Jewish president. There's not much else that needs to be said. She lies in the sense that public corporations agree to settle their prosecutions "without admission or denial of wrongdoing." It's the only realistic way to return and fight another day--the only way to preserve "political viability" as her husband famously said. But she's not corrupt, as is constantly insinuated. You don't come as far as she has, and work as hard, and be one of the most admired women in the world, or attract as many accomplished people to speak on your behalf, by being corrupt. I'd prefer somebody younger and with less baggage, but she's the only plausible candidate we have right now. All you R. Emmett Tyrell wannabees on the right (or wherever you stand) like to be clever and trade in partisan spin as if it were fact, but in this game you're bluffing. She's the only plausible candidate.

  • 31 July 2016 at 8:59am
    sol_adelman says:
    It was the Clintons - William Jefferson and Hillary Rodham - who brought in welfare and criminal-justice reforms that hammered America's poorest.

  • 31 July 2016 at 2:12pm
    Cervantes says:
    Just a minor observation about the following:

    That on graduating from Yale Law School [Clinton] had refrained from getting a corporate job and had instead gone to work for the Children’s Defense Fund was repeated like a mantra.

    Even repeated on stage by people who had gotten a corporate job right out of law school.

  • 31 July 2016 at 2:46pm
    Graucho says:
    It would appear that Mr. Trump equates building on his large inheritance as a sacrifice equivalent to losing a son. .

  • 12 August 2016 at 7:37pm
    Walter10065 says:
    So familiar from academic leftists are these attacks on Trump accompanied by smears against Hillary Clinton. But if a man can't convince his own father against voting for a racist lunatic, then we are surely safe in proclaiming his arguments insufficient? Indeed, the dislike for Clinton among the LRB's "sophisticated" readers is nothing if not Oedipal -- she's a politician, not your bleepin' mother. If we agree that you're all good little radicals will you stop whining and go to bed?

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