If you play chess, you probably know the importance of capturing the center of the board early in the game. In doing so, you push your opponent back into the corners, where the pieces can no longer support each other effectively.
That’s what Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party did this week in Philadelphia against Donald Trump and his remaining Republican campers.
It’s hardly the scenario I had expected at the beginning of the week, especially after seeing the rising poll numbers favoring Trump in the wake of Cleveland. But then Trump’s never faced tough competition in his run through the primary season, where he was more intent in upsetting the board than in playing by the rules, where his abilities might be measured. Not like this, and it’s just beginning.
Yes, now all that’s changed. It’s a new game, and he’s getting clobbered in the full glare of public attention. He’s no longer accepted as an entertaining oddity but as a full-blown election figure. The easy ride’s over. The gloves are off.
Having already confessed my apprehension before the convention – Democrats have, after all, too often shown themselves to be a party with an uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory – what we just witnessed was a masterful display of seasoned discipline, rational persuasion, and deep passion. Unlike some recent debacles, this time the party stirred the heart more often than the head alone. Emotions flowed, often eliciting tears of wonder, relief, and compassion. There was little that was superficial or manipulative in all this – what I experienced was authentic resonance. These were not lectures, but open lessons in the deep meaning and responsibilities of democracy and respect for individuals who have sacrificed much, if not all, for our greater good. The Republican contempt for public service was forcefully countered by examples of common citizens who have made significant differences for the benefit of others. For four nights, a parade of speaker after speaker, from celebrities and famous leaders to everyday Americans, capitalized on Trump’s insults to the military, minorities, women, and allies, and how their side and nominee stood in stark contrast. Shall we say stark relief? What emerged was defiant prophesy, pride, and patriotism. As many veteran Republicans admitted, this was the convention they should have had, but didn’t. To their surprise, many discovered that the usually softhearted liberals have been exercising at the gym and with trainers. Look at those muscles! The consequences will be telling.
The biggest threat to the left, as expected, came from the fringe supporters of Bernie Sanders who had gone on a binge of demonizing his primary rival. Quite frankly, they could have been working for the billionaire Trump in the weeks leading up to the convention, and we’ll have to see how lingering their damage will be.
Sanders, to his credit, rallied the more reasonable majority among them to the greater cause and pledged his support for the nominee and the party. He knows the dangers Trump presents in addition to the One Percent already targeted. Bernie’s real work now will be in campaigning for Democrats in races across the nation, to assure a favorable Congress next January. We can’t afford more obstructionism and gridlock.
By the end of the convention, the few dozen remaining Bernie-or-Bust diehards had gone bust. I suspect the Democratic Party has gained much more in its wider appeal to the center this week than it would have by capitulating to the fringe in their demands Hillary capitulate and hand the nomination to Bernie. Get real! That’s not how things get done in the public arena, and as a Bernie supporter, I doubt he’d be able to carry the campaign to the finish line from here. He’s a theoretician and organizer, not an administrator and bridge-builder. Besides, if Trump wins, the Revolution itself will be toast. Don’t be that suicidal!
From the point of view of the chess game, Hillary understands you’ll likely lose some pieces in capturing the center of the board. Which ones can be a strategic decision in determining the outcome. Keep trying to get in the way, and the Bernie-or-bust spoilers make themselves expendable. Better to have earned themselves a place at the table come November than be shut out in a growing cold.
On the Trump side, meanwhile, the news gets more and more bizarre.
We have his invitation to Russian intelligence to interfere with American politics – a statement he now tries to brush off as a “joke,” even as more damning details emerge. John Hutson, former U.S. Navy Adjutant General and former dean of the University of New Hampshire Law School, bluntly declared Trump’s statement fit criminal intent. Meanwhile, across the Net, you’ll find “treason” being attached to Trump’s name, hardly something you’d expect to see in regard to a Republican nominee. Anyone else see the Trump-Putin campaign signs appearing or the murals of the two of them kissing? (Add to that the motto, “Make Russia Great Again”?)
And now Trump’s trying to backpedal, saying his comments are merely “sarcasm,” which is essentially a bid to claim he hasn’t meant anything he’s said. It’s all a joke? No, as the quotations add up, it’s all too clear what a clear and present danger he presents to the nation and world. This is serious business. Sometimes “you’re fired” is exactly that.
And he doesn’t even see his failure to release his income-tax returns is a public concern? Obviously, he didn’t listen to former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s take down of a “con man” New Yorkers intuitively see through. This, I’m sensing, will be the nail in Trump’s campaign, especially as the Democrats kept hammering away at the vacuity of his greasy “trust me” wheedling. Give us the proof to support your bragging or face the mounting details to the contrary. Trump’s looking more and more the blustery phony.
His apologists, meanwhile, are losing their own credibility. Just look at Bill O’Reilly’s attempted defense of racial slavery regarding the construction of the White House. If he thinks his long-discredited argument’s not racist, he needs to read Abraham Lincoln or Harriet Beecher Stowe. Real history. While many are hailing the First Lady’s speech as a masterpiece, the contempt Reilly and his brand engender positions themselves as spittoons. Well, it is so outrageous, why not sputter?
Truly blatant was the Fox News decision to preempt Khizr Khan’s remarks Thursday night. The father of Muslim-American U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq, Khizr issued a stinging rebuke to Trump that pulled the rug out from under the GOP nominee and his convention. If you haven’t seen it, you must. And if you see it and your eyes are still dry, considering questioning your values. For all of the Republican appeals to the Constitution the previous week, nothing in Cleveland was as mighty as Khizr’s challenge to Trump to read the document, especially to find its words “liberty” and “justice for all.” So Fox failed to report what may be the most potent moment in the 2016 campaign. So much for its “live” coverage. Amazing! No wonder the network’s in trouble, even without taking Roger Ailes’ downfall into account.
And now Mike Pence is whining about President Obama’s description of Trump as a “demagogue,” saying such words shouldn’t be used in public discourse? Where’s Pence been? Listen up! Trump’s smeared all of his opponents with similar labels. If it fits, as they say, or, for that matter, turnabout’s fair game. If you think it’s bad, set a better example if you can, before it gets worse.
That’s the brief account. No way to go into all the details, and besides, they’re easily found online and in print. Here I’d planned on keeping my focus on historical perspectives rather than something more like these “live” commentaries. As you can see, it’s hard enough keeping up with the headlines, even before considering how the grassroots online action is taking off, too. Anyone else chuckling at the “America’s Dad” definitions of Tim Kaine that are going viral? They’re some of the best good-natured humor we’ve seen in ages, and it’s all in support of Hillary’s running mate. Or how about the celebrities’ a cappella “Fight Song” for Hillary, now available on YouTube? That, in addition to the lineup of musical stars performing live? Anyone think the Trump camp can catch up?
This much, for sure: the Democrats have enough excellent “sound bites” from the week to keep hammering away effectively at Trump-Pence to November. The shock waves are just starting.
Now, it looks like the chess match is over and we’re on the way to something that looks more like baseball with each team facing a game a day. Anyone still betting on Trump?