US Elections 2016: THE RACE HEATS UP

Clinton accuses Trump of helping radical fringe group

Shirts and pins on sale outside a campaign event where Mrs Clinton was due to speak in Reno, Nevada, on Thursday. Mrs Clinton listed nearly every racially insensitive comment Mr Trump has made.
Shirts and pins on sale outside a campaign event where Mrs Clinton was due to speak in Reno, Nevada, on Thursday. Mrs Clinton listed nearly every racially insensitive comment Mr Trump has made.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have traded sharp accusations in extraordinary back-to-back speeches that put the politically charged issue of race in the US at the forefront of the campaign for the White House. The Straits Times US bureau looks at the two explosive speeches.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton issued the most scathing denunciation of her Republican opponent Donald Trump to date, accusing him of racism and building a campaign on "prejudice and paranoia".

"He's taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over one of America's two major political parties. His disregard for the values that make our country great is profoundly dangerous," she said, at the top of a pointed 31-minute speech in Nevada, which is expected to be an important battleground state in November.

Calling the New York billionaire "a man with a long history of racial discrimination", she told her audience: "If he doesn't respect all Americans, how can he serve all Americans?"

The speech came after Mr Trump's attempts this week to reach out to African Americans - traditionally supporters of the Democratic party - and soften his hardline immigration stance in the hope of appealing to more moderate voters.

In response, Mrs Clinton hit out, listing nearly every racially insensitive comment Mr Trump has made and even bringing up instances of racial discrimination prior to his election campaign.

LONG RECORD OF PREJUDICE

(Mr Trump is) a man with a long history of racial discrimination. If he doesn't respect all Americans, how can he serve all Americans?

DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE HILLARY CLINTON

"When Trump was getting his start in business, he was sued by the Justice Department for refusing to rent apartments to black and Latino tenants. Their applications would be marked with a C - C for coloured - and then rejected," she said.

And from the time he launched his campaign and described Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, "there has been a steady stream of bigotry", she added.

Mrs Clinton also attempted to link Mr Trump to a group called the Alternative Right, or Alt-Right.

Quoting the Wall Street Journal, she defined the group as a loosely organised movement, mostly online, that "rejects mainstream conservatism, promotes nationalism and views immigration and multiculturalism as threats to white identity".

Mr Trump's link to the group is through his new campaign chief executive, Mr Steve Bannon, former head of right-wing news website Breitbart.com, which is seen as a platform for the group.

Mrs Clinton said: "The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump campaign represents a landmark achievement for the Alt-Right. A fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican party."

She added: "Of course, there's always been a paranoid fringe in our politics, steeped in racial resentment. But it's never had the nominee of a major party stoking it, encouraging it and giving it a national megaphone. Until now."

Agreeing with Mrs Clinton, Associate Professor Robert Dickens, who teaches political science at the University of Nevada, said: "Frankly, the evidence is clear. He has been playing to the anger on the Right, thinking there is a 'neo-fascist' majority in America awaiting his message."

While some accuse Mrs Clinton of raising the profile of the Alt-Right through her speech, others believe she made the right choice to attack the "ugly strain of racism and xenophobia" fuelling the Trump campaign.

Said Mr Nathan Lean, author of The Islamophobia Industry: "She's drawing a clear moral line in the sand by referencing the KKK, white nationalists and other extreme figures and is essentially saying that there are two choices in this election: the extremists and those who reject extremism."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2016, with the headline 'Clinton accuses Trump of helping radical fringe group'. Print Edition | Subscribe