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Big speeches by Clinton and Trump reminded me of my reservations about both

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Donald Trump speaking at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, on Wednesday.

Both major party presidential nominees gave yesterday what I suppose will be called “major addresses,” but I didn’t hear much that I considered new or interesting, and both reminded me of some of my biggest reservations about each of them.

Donald Trump flew to Mexico in the morning for a weird, awkward, substanceless joint appearance with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto (which mostly produced a small controversy about whether Peña Nieto told Trump off-camera that Mexico will not pay for Trump’s border, as he claimed, or whether the subject of who will foot the bill never came up, as Trump claimed).Then Trump flew to Phoenix for a prime-time speech on immigration policy that broke no new ground.

He still did not  completely clarify his latest thinking on his probably-expired primary season pledge to round up and deport the estimated 11 million undocumented aliens living in America. He wants to deport those who have committed other crimes on U.S. soil, but the speech was quite consistent with the assumption I wrote about yesterday that he is no longer serious about the mass deportation of the estimated 11 million whose only crime was crossing the border illegally. On the other hand, he added that “anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation. That is what it means to have law.” But the language doesn’t clarify the limits of his goal. Those who entered illegally have always been “subject to deportation,” but millions have been in the U.S. illegally for years and even decades without being deported, so we still don’t know how far President Trump would go to track down and forcibly remove the 11 million.

He also said that he would put a priority on deporting those who came into the United States on a legal visa, and then simply didn’t leave when the visa expired. That is different from the group who simply snuck across the border without a visa and stayed in the United States, in some cases for many years or decades. I don’t know the rationale for prioritizing the visa overstayers for removal ahead of the border jumpers. But the Washington Post story on the speech said experts on the matter believe about 4.5 million of the estimated 11 million undocumented aliens living in the United States came here on visas.

The “First Read” memo issued every morning by NBC News says  “we now have absolute clarity where Donald Trump stands on immigration after a week of uncertainty and mixed messages,” but I disagree. To me, it seems that Trump still has not clarified his plan sufficiently. 

Several Latinos who had been actively supporting Trump until yesterday announced after the speech that they were resigning from the pro-Trump organizations they had joined, Politico reported:

Jacob Monty, a member of Trump’s National Hispanic Advisory Council, quickly resigned after the speech. Another member, Ramiro Pena, a Texas pastor, said Trump’s speech likely cost him the election and said he’d have to reconsider being part of a ‘scam.’  Alfonso Aguilar, the president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said in an interview that he is “inclined” to pull his support.

“I was a strong supporter of Donald Trump when I believed he was going to address the immigration problem realistically and compassionately,” said Monty, a Houston attorney who has aggressively made the Latino case for Trump. “What I heard today was not realistic and not compassionate.”

He withdrew from the board following Trump’s speech in Phoenix.

During the speech, Trump reiterated his opposition to any amnesty program that would give those otherwise-law-abiding long-time U.S. residents a “path to citizenship” unless they leave the country first and then apply for legal re-entry. 

A transcript of Trump’s speech is here.

Hillary Clinton addressing the National Convention of the American Legion
REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
Hillary Clinton addressing the National Convention of the American Legion in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Wednesday.

Hillary Clinton got much less attention for her major address, earlier in the day, to an American Legion audience in Cincinnati.

Her speech was chock full of sly backhanded insults to Trump, although I believe she only mentioned his name once, and referred to him several times namelessly as “my opponent.” As in: “My opponent is wrong when he says America is no longer great.” She fairly successfully painted Trump as reckless, ignorant and weirdly pro-Putin.

She bragged about being in the situation room with President Obama when Osama bin Laden was killed. She didn’t spend any time responding to any of Trump’s efforts to portray her as a corrupt incompetent. She didn’t discuss or apologize for her 2002 vote to authorize the war in Iraq (although she has, previously but belatedly, acknowledged it as a mistake) and she went on at some length about her belief in “American exceptionalism” without seeming to acknowledge any of the many mistakes and slaughters that have been justified by that phrase.

Regular readers of this space might recall that I have a big problem with “American exceptionalism,” a phrase that is used to excuse our tendency to get into more wars and overthrow more foreign governments than anyone else.

Seven mentions of how exceptional we are jammed into this Clintonian passage of yesterday:

If there is one core belief that has guided and inspired me every step of the way, it is this: The United States is an exceptional nation. I believe we are still Lincoln’s ‘last best hope of earth,’ still Reagan’s shining city on a hill, still Robert Kennedy’s great, unselfish, compassionate country. And it’s not just that we have the greatest military or that our economy is larger than any on earth, it is also the strength of our values, the strength of the American people, everyone who works harder, dreams bigger and never, ever stops trying to make our country and the world a better place.

And part of what makes America an exceptional nation is that we are also an indispensable nation. In fact, we are THE indispensable nation. People all over the world look to us and follow our lead. My friends, we are so lucky to be Americans. It is an extraordinary blessing. It is why so many people from so many places want to be Americans. But it is also a serious responsibility. The decisions we make and the actions we take, even the actions we don’t take, affect millions, even billions of lives. You know that. You have seen it. Now, all of this may seem evident has said very clearly that he thinks American Exceptionalism is insulting to the rest of the world. In fact, when Vladimir Putin, of all people, criticized American Exceptionalism, my opponent agreed with him, saying: If you are in Russia, you do not want to hear that America is exceptional.

Well, maybe you don’t want to hear it, but that doesn’t mean it is not true. My opponent misses something important. When we say America is exceptional, it doesn’t mean that people from other places don’t feel a deep national pride, just as we do. It means that we recognize America’s unique and unparalleled ability to be a force for peace and progress, a champion for freedom and opportunity.

Our power comes with a responsibility to lead humbly, thoughtfully and with a fierce commitment to our values, because when America fails to lead, we leave a vacuum that either causes chaos for other countries, or other countries or networks to fill the void. No matter how hard it gets, no matter how great the challenge, America must lead.

There may be some poetry in there; there certainly are a couple of digs at her unnamed “opponent,” but, taken as a whole, when I read a passage like that, I hear war (or wars) a-coming. It would be interesting to hear them through the ears of someone from Vietnam or Iraq, or even American veterans of the wars in those places.

Here is New York Times coverage of the Clinton speech.

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 09/01/2016 - 09:36 am.


    Well, that’s about as far from my feelings about Trump as possible, while still vaguely pointing in the right direction. Whatever damage I may be doing to a vulnerable population by calling Trump mentally unstable and outright dangerous to the welfare of the union, I’ll accept it, because there’s no other way to say it without getting my comments whisked off to the electronic circular file instead of published.

    Sadly, it’s also a tad mild regarding my feelings about Hillary. While my “reservations” aren’t about what most people who don’t like her, they’re no less a problem than “hidden emails” or Benghazi. Quite frankly, I think those “issues” are non-issues. But whatever works for the smear campaign. My first problem is the habit of electing families to the White House–nearly half of America’s population is between 35 and 80, and assuming about 87% of them are natural citizens (probably an underestimate), there are approximately 137 MILLION people eligible to be president. You’d think we wouldn’t need to elect the same people by marriage or birth over and over. My second problem is that I don’t like her overall policy on economics and foreign policy. Too much of a trigger-happy corporatist for my taste. Way too much. But…given her opponent…

    I have never had to hold my nose before in an election. This year, I’ll be taking a hot shower after I vote.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/01/2016 - 11:05 am.

    I don’t think

    …I have anything of substance to add to Ms. Kahler’s comments. Trump shouldn’t be elected to ANY office, at any level, and I have the same reservations about Mrs. Clinton as does Ms. Kahler. However, given Mrs. Clinton’s opponent… Like Ms. Kahler, this is the first time I can recall genuinely feeling that “none of the above” is a valid opinion about the presidential field. But I won’t/can’t just stay home – voting is a civic duty and responsibility – so I’ll trudge to the polling place, hold my nose, and cast a ballot.

  3. Submitted by Brian Simon on 09/01/2016 - 11:35 am.

    Civic duty

    Certainly voting is a civic duty, but treating the POTUS as a binary choice is not required. I’ll likely revert to my habit of third party choices given what’s offered by the majors.

  4. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 09/01/2016 - 12:40 pm.

    The vast right wing conspiracy….

    In May of 2012 Ms. Clinton had a 66% approval rating and a 29% unfavorable rating. The unfavorable rating is now near 60%. The realistic worst case Benghazi argument (excluding far right theorists who also know she killed Vincent Foster) is that she spun the post-incident explanation to make it more favorable to her and had Susan Rice do the dirty work to try to accomplish this goal. Does that equate to a doubling of unfavorables? Not hardly. The conservative political/media complex had no appetite for another bout of Clintonism and launched a series of investigations that have served only to reduce her favorability rating while accomplishing none of their publicly stated goals.

    The simple math of it is that since 1991 over $500 million dollars of public and private funds have been spent to discredit the Clintons. This investment has been a massive failure: WJC Finished out his two terms at a favorability high as fitting for the results attained during his time in office. HRC Will win in November thanks to the GOP gift of Trump. And because she is smart, experienced and competent, she too will achieve favorable results in her two terms as President. And the GOP will spend another $250 million public dollars on wind mill tilting and their right wing sponsors another 250 million of private dollars, getting us to a billion dollars of hate with no results except to divide us.

  5. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 09/01/2016 - 02:57 pm.

    Wars coming?

    So Hillary belittled her opponent, but did so by talking about specific Trump positions. Trump attacks his opponents by naming charging Obama and Cruz with no being Americans. Is Clinton as bad as Trump on this issue? No way!

    And is Hillary going to push for war? Hardly. Who in her party would support that idea? Contrast her with Trump, who thinks he knows more about the military than the generals? Would Trump back out of the Iran agreement? Seems likely to me, and the likely outcome of that is military action – that is totally avoided.

    Trump has already said he is OK with Russia’s invasion of Crimea and every indication is that he wouldn’t favor resisting aggression in the Ukraine or the Baltic states, despite NATO treaty obligations, quite possible because he is in deep debt to Russian bankers.

    Lots of Americans have strong feelings that are impairing their ability to accept the truth. Journalists are there to help us make informed decisions. We are not really interested in what journalists feel about the candidates. That this article suggests our concerns with war mongering should be with Clinton, when it is Trump who advocates hate-filled violent behavior shows how feeling produce bias. Forget your feelings and share insights.

  6. Submitted by Rodgers Adams on 09/01/2016 - 03:10 pm.

    I’m not curious enough to try to do the research and calculations, but I noticed in Trump’s speech that he named a number of categories of people who would be deported soon under his plan, not just criminals and drug dealers. There were the visa over-stayers. There were the folks protected by President Obama’s prioritizing polices, and perhaps those protected in sanctuary cities. TV commentators I heard were focused on what he did or did not say about the “11 million aliens” at some time in the future after all his policies had been implemented. I didn’t hear anyone comment on how many of the 11 million would be left by then, and how many would already have been deported under the policies he did specify.

  7. Submitted by Craig Johnson on 09/02/2016 - 08:45 am.

    The consistency of Eric Black

    make me proud to be a supporter of MinnPost. Likewise the commenters to his column are insightful, respectful, and well researched in their comments.

    This election offers unusually divergent choices. But at the fundamental, the public view is created by the persistent grinding of the right wing narrative. Summed up it means never say anything good about anyone who is not a fellow traveller down the right wing trail. Always attack. Regardless of the fiscal cost, regardless of the social cost, regardless of the personal cost.

    The lack of factual content, the persistent adherence of the narrative has worked well for the Republican Party. In my age, from “Tail Gunner” Joe Mccarthy through, the bumps and grinds of Richard Nixon, to the resolute opposition from Republican Party leaders in Congress.

    I believe that Harry Truman was right when he vigorously declared that the leadership was responsible for actively involved governance. It requires an active involved effort to fix what needs fixing and do what needs to be done. While this philosophy is repudiated by some their objections are frequently based on thin insubstantial arguments and a lack of logic.

    The lasting problem with the ‘narrative’ is that becomes folk lore. Some believe that Clinton was solely responsible for Benghazi, that she hid her emails, that she had Vince Foster killed, that she is responsible for our border immigration problem and so on and on. We would all benefit from a clear response like that of John Welch, an attorney who represented the Army during the McCarthy hearings. Welch courageously pulled the plug on Joe McCarthy. Exasperated by Mccarthy’s unsubstantiated claims and vicious personal attacks he brought down McCarthy with his famous question“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” Solving the narrative problem is a Republican responsibility – the party must set higher standards, better vet, and seek much better candidates. Certainly there is an adequate pool of enlightened conservatives to choose from.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Eckhardt on 09/02/2016 - 02:16 pm.

    I think it’s clear

    Trump ran in the primaries on deporting all 11 million. That’s what his voters want. He hasn’t rejected that. He has given mealy mouthed responses about Oh, maybe when the wall is built if anyone is left then maybe we can do something for them.

    If Trump did get elected and if he sincerely felt that we didn’t have to deport everyone, he would nevertheless come under intense pressure from his supporters and from members of Congress to go full steam ahead on deportation. He wouldn’t stand up to that kind of pressure.

    No, if Trump is elected we will have a “Deportation Force” and they will do their job.

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