The great drama of the Democratic National Convention has been whether the party could unite its factions behind Hillary Clinton. That question appears to be settled now.
In a bracing, historic speech that called upon Americans to “decide whether we’re going to work together so we can all rise together,” Clinton was cheered raucously on Thursday night by a massive, diverse crowd of delegates that, as the week started, was struggling to rise above her bruising primary against Bernie Sanders.
Many wept as she appeared. Chants of “Hil-la-ry!” filled the arena. In any other year, the prospect of electing the first female president in U.S. history might have been unifying enough.
But this year’s presidential race has been tinged with more unsettling questions. Polarization, globalism, demographic change and a host of other stresses have left many Americans vulnerable and uncertain.
Within her party, Clinton was bitterly challenged by Sanders supporters demanding economic and social justice. Clinton did right by them in her speech, promising to pursue their demands for fairer wages, more equitable taxes, more affordable tuition and tougher regulation of Wall Street.
But she also wisely reached out to moderates regardless of party, and to working-class voters “from Indian country to coal country.” Many have gravitated toward Trump out of a feeling of abandonment in the new world order. She promised opportunity and jobs.
As for Trump himself, Clinton was magnificent in her rebuttal of his opportunistic message of fear, racism, xenophobia and authoritarianism. “This is what Donald Trump doesn’t get,” she said, quoting the 19th century French historian Alexis de Tocqueville. “America is great because America is good.”
Predictably, Trump heckled on Twitter, fuming that she failed to say the words “radical Islam.”
“Donald Trump says, and this is a quote, ‘I know more about ISIS than the generals do,’” the former secretary of state told her supporters. “No, Donald. You don’t.”
Clinton picked up where President Barack Obama left off on Wednesday, reminding in his own speech for the ages that “democracy works, America, but we’ve got to want it.”
“Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order,” the president said. “We don’t look to be ruled.”
He, of course, was the more eloquent. Like Clinton herself, her delivery was less show pony than workhorse. But workhorses can make history, too.