Allen Abel is in Philadelphia writing every day from the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Read his Day 1 dispatch here.
An airplane flew around the globe using only the power of the sun, an aged priest was slain in his church by the agents of a heinous creed, and a woman was nominated for the presidency of the United States of America Tuesday, enfolding in a single week the world’s capacity for genius, horror, and progress.
Long lusted after and—in her view—purloined in 2008 by a less-deserving baby senator from her own home state of Illinois, the methodical roll call vote that elevated Hillary Clinton from beseeching candidate to ratified nominee occurred at a soulless and dangerously overcrowded hockey arena in Philadelphia, the city in which a congress of white-wigged male insurgents once rebelled against their forefathers’ king.
Had someone yelled “Fire!” on the convention floor, hundreds might have been killed in a mad stampede for exits blocked by cheering ushers and infantries of unblinking police officers armed for Armageddon.
“History,” Clinton tweeted.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) July 26, 2016
Blessed from the balcony in an ultimately unsuccessful plea for unanimity by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the rival whom her own advisers tried to defame earlier in the week as an atheist, and cursed by a small posse of bellicose pro-Bernie peaceniks who stormed out of the rink in self-righteous anger after the delegates’ votes were counted, Clinton will formally give her formal acceptance speech on Thursday night in what now will be remembered as the City of Sisterly Love.
The Democratic National Convention will hear Wednesday from Barack Obama, a ritual passing of the party leadership.
But first, on Tuesday night, it was Bill Clinton, the loquacious former president, who waltzed up to the strains of McFadden & Whitehead and arrived at the convention dais he’s spoken at every year for the last decade to start a speech rather unlike the others: “In the spring of 1971, I met a girl.”
Bill shared the story of how they met and fell in love (“I knew this wouldn’t be another tap on the shoulder”); he shared the stories of people she met and the principles she learned that helped fashion her into the party’s historic nominee (“She’s the best darn change-maker I’ve ever met in my entire life”); he explained, in his grinning grandiloquence, how his own successes were forged with the help of Hillary’s hand (After a boast about becoming the first governor to be re-elected after losing the job, he drawled: “My experience is, it’s a pretty good thing to follow her advice.”)
It was a reminder that it had been more than 20 years since the first bumper stickers appeared in this country, sniggering their owners’ desire to IMPEACH CLINTON . . . AND HER HUSBAND. Reviled in conservative quarters since the 1980s as a shrill and strident harridan—and betrayed repeatedly by her own spouse in the most blatant public humiliation a woman could suffer—the ex-Secretary of State and U.S. senator, two-term first lady and one-time Young Republican faces only one more obstacle on her prodigal return to the White House: the crude and mesmerizing billionaire, Donald J. Trump.
Opinion surveys in the fistful of “swing” states that ultimately will decide the election—notably Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, where Clinton’s father and grandfather founded, and later failed at, a silkscreen-printing business—show the contest as a dead heat with only 100 days to go. Four debates are scheduled for September and October, though no one knows if Trump will agree to any face-to-face encounters with the woman he disdains as #CROOKEDHILLARY.
Even Sanders, whose rallying cry of “Let’s start a political revolution today!” was taken literally—perhaps too literally—by unexpected millions of debt-burdened collegians, nostalgic 1960s radicals, and fervent single-issue crusaders, did not escape Trump’s outrageous arrows as he folded his gossamer tent.
“It’s easy to boo, but it is harder to look your kids in the face who would be living under a Donald Trump presidency,” Sanders had told delegates from California at breakfast on Tuesday, trying to forestall what could have been another ugly cacophony at the very hour of Clinton’s acclamation.
(He failed. Hundreds of sore-losing Bern-feelers, chanting “Walkout!” and “This is what democracy looks like,” paraded out the door after the roll call. One of them, a young Georgia delegate named Vincent Venditti, told Maclean’s that Clinton “is going to lose big. We are going to lose seats in Congress. We had the chance to be the party of the next 20 years. It’s rigged and we will not be a part of it.”)
“Bernie’s exhausted, he just wants to shut down and go home to bed!” Trump tweeted when it was over.
But Trump is not the Democratic nominee’s only enemy: Clinton remains deeply unpopular in her own right, even among members of her own party. It is a decades-old deficit of trust that she now has 14 weeks to repair.
“If anyone distrusts Hillary Clinton, they haven’t seen the side of her that reflects her true self in faith, caring, honesty, intelligence and caring,” a Maclean’s reporter on the convention floor was told by Arkansas delegate Karen Garcia, an accountant from Hot Springs who has known and worked with the Clintons since Bill was the Diamond State’s governor.
”There are people who think that, just because Trump keeps calling her ‘crooked’ over and over and over, and just because she has been accused and accused and accused of so many things, they start to believe that it is true. She needs to change people’s perceptions, and she doesn’t have much time.”
“She needs to prove to the American people that she really does have caring in her heart,” said Jorge Luís Garcia, Sr., the delegate’s husband.
“It is all about feelings,” Karen Garcia agreed. “The majority of voters will vote their feelings more than anything else.”
What Sanders was feeling as his improbable rebellion finally was extinguished—at least in the presidential sense—was well-masked as he made his plea for unity, waved, smiled faintly and left the coliseum. But one man in the balcony understood, better than any other man could, what losing would mean to the white-haired Brooklynite.
“He worked his heart out because he truly believed that what he would do for the country would be good for the country,” Sanders’s older brother Larry told Maclean’s in the upper stand, where U.S. citizens who live outside the country were seated under the rubric of “Democrats Abroad.” “He is not surprised; he knew the numbers. But Bernard is an absolutely humble person. This has not gone to his head at all.”
“Did you and your brother know anybody like Trump when you were growing up in New York?” the resident of Oxford, England—and an unsuccessful Green Party candidate for the House of Commons in 2015—was asked.
“When I was growing up,” he replied, “I really didn’t know that there were people with that kind of racism and hatred. I don’t remember anybody expressing that level of contempt for other people.”
“Can that contempt be contagious?” this reporter wondered.
“Yes,” he answered, “but the people have another guide available to them.”
Watching from an even higher vantage as history was made Tuesday night was Victoria California Claflin Woodhull, the pioneering feminist who was nominated for the presidency in 1872 by the Equal Rights Party, the first of her sex to seek the leadership of a country in which she couldn’t even vote.
Born in Ohio 25 years before the start of the Civil War, and married at the age of 15, Woodhull would not win the presidency—she was arrested for “publishing an obscene newspaper” the day before the election, and votes for her were voided—but she would live to see women’s suffrage become a reality in this country. She died in 1927, three weeks after Charles Lindbergh flew the Atlantic with no aid from the sun.
“I well aware that in assuming this position I shall evoke more ridicule than enthusiasm at the outset,” Woodhull said upon her nomination in a speech that, in many ways, Clinton might reprise on Thursday. “But this is an epoch of sudden changes and startling surprises. What may appear absurd today will assume a serious aspect tomorrow.”