“Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform? Are you going to look me in the face and tell me that?”
That was the incredulous question posed by President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, to Hillary Clinton campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri last week at the Harvard Institute of Politics’ quadrennial first-draft-of-history discussion of the general election campaign. And there is no escaping the truth: Conway most definitely did.
What elicited Conway’s defensive and dismissive query was Palmieri’s comment that “I am more proud of Hillary Clinton’s alt-right speech than any other moment on the campaign trail.” So am I. In fact, Clinton’s boldness on race was a highlight of her White House bid.
Folks focus on Clinton’s terrific speech on the so-called alt-right (read: white supremacy) as if it were a one-off. Nope. The Democratic presidential nominee had delivered three other speeches on race, division and healing by the time she traveled to Reno, Nev., to give that address last August. And the notoriously press-shy Clinton talked to me on July 14 to lay out her concerns about the divisive campaign that Trump was waging.
Clinton: … We have to reject Trump’s divisive rhetoric. It’s a threat to our democracy. I don’t care what your race, your ethnicity, your religion. Pitting people against one another, stoking mistrust. Everything he says, everything he promises to do as president would drive even further divisive barriers between us. So, I think he is the one who for whatever reason, I can’t look into his heart, has chosen to incite bigotry and bias and, as we unfortunately have seen, violence.
JC: Why do you think he’s stoking those emotions?
Clinton: I don’t know. As I say, I can’t look in the man’s heart. But if you look at everything he has said, it’s clearly meant for political purposes. Wanting to ban Muslims from coming the U.S., demeaning women, promoting an anti-Semitic image pushed by Neo-Nazis and when confronted refusing to acknowledge how hurtful that is. Saying that he would round up 11 million people and kick them out of our country. Ordering our troops to commit war crimes. Banishing members of the press who [have] criticized him, even encouraging violence towards protesters. I have to believe that is what he believes. You know Maya Angelou had that great quote, “When someone shows you what they believe, believe them.” When they show you who they are, believe them. So that is who he has presented himself to be and it is troubling. And, frankly frightening that someone running for president of the United States wants to sow such discord and divisiveness.
By engaging in the messy yet necessary conversation on race at a time when emotions were high and raw, Clinton showed the kind of understanding and leadership Americans should expect from their elected officials — especially the president. Sadly, Clinton will not be our president. Instead, our president will be a man who “disavows” the white nationalists who hailed his victory at a gathering in Washington last month while elevating the man who gave their racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia a “platform” to chief White House strategist and senior counselor.
Palmieri got it exactly right in her op-ed for The Post. “If Trump expects the Americans who did not vote for him to accept him as president, he needs to show that he accepts all of them as Americans,” she wrote. “We all have a role to play here. But it’s the winner who carries the burden of taking the lead in uniting the country. It’s the burden of leadership. It’s the burden of being the president of the United States.” And, so far, I’ve seen no evidence of Trump’s ability to meet this urgent challenge.
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