By Barbara Slavin
PHILADELPHIA – Hillary Clinton has made history as the first woman nominee for president of a major U.S. political party after a hard-fought primary campaign and a bumpy beginning to the Democratic National Convention.
Die-hard supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have either stopped their booing any mention of her name or walked out of the convention proceedings, ignoring their candidate’s magnanimous endorsement of the former first lady, senator and secretary of state.
For all the initial appearance of disarray, however, the convention offered an edifying small-d democratic spectacle that resonated across the country and around the world.
While Sanders supporters were protesting peacefully if vociferously, the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was continuing its purge of tens of thousands of political opponents and Vladimir Putin’s regime was condoning if not colluding with Russian hackers of the Democratic National Committee’s emails. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is an admirer of Putin, who has ruthlessly suppressed his own opposition, and has yet to criticize Erdogan, who survived a coup attempt July 15 by members of the military led by generals who apparently feared they were about to be cast aside.
In contrast to last week’s Republican convention in Cleveland, the Democratic convention has been a spectacle of diversity, with delegates representing every race, creed, ethnic background and gender identity. A long roster of talented politicians, many of them black or Hispanic, have addressed the crowd along with A-list celebrities and performers from singer-songwriter Paul Simon to Academy Award winning actress Meryl Streep.
Foreign diplomats and politicians invited by the State Department to observe the conventions remarked on how crowded the Philadelphia venue was compared to the GOP meeting. Jacob Moroza-Rasmussen, a Dane who serves in Brussels as the secretary general of the European Liberal Party, told this analyst that despite the booing on Monday night by Sanders supporters, “there was a lot of positive energy in the room.”
Catarina Caldeira da Silva of the European People’s Party was most impressed by First Lady Michelle Obama who Caldeira said managed to speak to both the Democratic Party elite and the grassroots. “She’s launching her political future in a brilliant way,” the Portuguese adviser to European parliamentarians said, suggesting that Obama would follow Hillary Clinton’s example and run for office after her husband’s term is done.
Refuting Trump’s negativism about the United States, Obama had recounted the story of her own family’s rise and the amazing feeling of waking up each morning in a mansion built by slaves. She embraced Hillary Clinton as a friend and a role model whose conduct as president would exert a powerful positive influence on the nation’s children.
Without mentioning Trump’s name, Obama said she and her husband have told their two daughters not to respond to hatred and insults in kind. Their motto, she said, is “When they go low, we go high.”
In a year when isolationism and nativism is rising around the world amid record refugee flows and terrorist attacks, European politicians said her words resonated.
“It goes beyond Trump,” Caldeira said. The First Lady “was talking about what kind of country do we want our children to live in. This is the same question we are asking ourselves in Europe.”
The Democratic convention has exceeded the Republicans’ in terms of production values, featuring crisp videos highlighting Clinton’s attributes and Trump’s gaffes preceding speeches by people helped by Clinton and harmed by Trump. Particularly moving were the comments of the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants who feared her parents would be deported if Trump wins, the story of a young disabled woman who first met Clinton in 1993 and the testaments of the “Mothers of the Movement” who have lost children to gun violence.
It was also moving to see the genuine passion on the faces of Sanders’ acolytes, many of whom appear to be participating in the political system for the first time. Tears streamed down their faces at the realization that their man had gone all in for Clinton after losing to what he had until recently called a rigged process. It remains to be seen whether they will accept his argument that their best chance of enacting elements of their progressive platform is to get behind Clinton in the fall.
Trump, as usual, took to Twitter to disparage the Democrats and appeal to Sanders supporters by stressing his opposition to trade agreements. He said Sanders looked “exhausted” and that former president Bill Clinton, who gave the ultimate testimonial to his wife’s career, was “highly overrated.”
In public appearances and interviews, the real estate tycoon and reality television star has continued to double down on controversial policies, including expanding a proposed ban on immigration to European allies such as France because of terrorism afflicting those nations.
The world is indeed a scary place as hideous new attacks on innocent civilians in France and Germany show. There is a global temptation to put up walls and support tough-sounding politicians who offer simplistic solutions.
The foreign visitors suggested that Americans, as citizens of the world’s biggest military power, have a special responsibility to carefully consider their choice for president because more than the stability of their own country is at stake.
“We have to find a third way between uncontrolled globalization and isolation,” Esther de Lange, vice president of the European People’s Party group in the European Parliament, told this analyst.
“The US voice is very important in the world for human rights and protecting democracy,” added Qatar’s ambassador to the United States, Mohammed Jaham Al Kuwari. “If it is weaker here, it will reflect itself in other parts of the world.”
Barbara Slavin is Acting Director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council in Washington.