US Elections 2016

Hillary Clinton turns focus on unity

'Stronger together' not just a slogan, she says while drawing a clear line between her vision and Trump's philosophy

Mrs Hillary Clinton, now the first woman ever to be nominated for president by a major party, capped off the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia with a speech that attacked Mr Donald Trump and offered the clearest articulation yet of her vision for the country's future.

While Mr Trump's rallying cry - "Make America Great Again" - is well known, it was never completely clear what Mrs Clinton's own driving force was beyond continuing the legacy of President Barack Obama until the climax of the Democratic convention.

"America needs every one of us to lend our energy, our talents, our ambition to making our nation better and stronger. I believe that with all my heart," she said as audience members waved signs that said "Stronger Together".

"That's why 'Stronger Together' is not just a lesson from our history. It's not just a slogan for our campaign. It's a guiding principle for the country we've always been and the future we're going to build."

She even sought in strong terms to draw a clear line between her vision and Mr Trump's philosophy.

Seizing on a line from last week's convention where Mr Trump stressed that he "alone" could fix America's ills, Mrs Clinton compared the businessman to a dictator.

"Americans don't say, 'I alone can fix it.' We say, 'We'll fix it together'," she said.

"Remember, our Founders fought a revolution and wrote a Constitution so America would never be a nation where one person had all the power."

There had been significant pressure on Mrs Clinton to deliver a strong speech after her convention got off to a rocky start on Monday.

And though the divisions were not completely healed by the end, most agree that the former first lady did what was needed.

Dr Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia's Miller Centre, and analysts say Mrs Clinton differentiated herself from her opponent, addressed the more rebellious wing of the party and made a play for the white working-class voters.

"She cannot ignore the group Donald Trump is trying to reach. Even if she doesn't get many of them, the effort will help with the angry people on the left and with independents," Dr Perry said.

Mrs Clinton's cause was aided on Thursday by a carefully selected cast of speakers that helped highlight the contrast between the Clinton campaign and the Trump one.

Where the Republicans had been accused of trying to divide, the final day of the Democratic convention featured one of the most inclusive line-ups assembled for a convention. There was the first convention speech by a transgender person, one by the Hispanic lesbian sheriff of Dallas Lupe Valdez, and an address by the father of a Muslim soldier killed in the line of duty.

Mr Khizr Khan, father of Captain Humayun Khan, pulled out a dog-eared copy of the US Constitution from his coat pocket and asked if Mr Trump had even read it. He then went on: "Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery?

"Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America - you will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing. And no one."

In her speech, Mrs Clinton also sought to address some of her deficiencies as a candidate, especially her awkwardness while in the public eye. "The truth is, through all these years of public service, the 'service' part has always come easier to me than the 'public' part. I get it that some people just don't know what to make of me," she said.

There was even a hat tip to Senator Bernie Sanders who had been critical this week in trying to tamp down disruptions from his supporters. On Thursday, there were occasional signs of unrest.

Dozens dressed in neon green T-shirts sat in silent protest during the entire speech, even as their fellow delegates jumped up and down and cheered. But by the end, as balloons and confetti fell, most in the arena said they were not worried about party unity and just wanted to celebrate a good night. "I will be working very hard for her so that I don't ever look back and think I could have done more," said school counsellor Renay Weiss-Stansell, 37.

Just over 100 days remain until the ballots are cast, and eyes are now focused on which party gets the bigger boost from their convention.

University of Michigan director of debate Aaron Kall said: "Similar to her opponent, Clinton will likely experience a small political boost from the speech and convention in the coming weeks. Given the political divide, the race will likely remain close heading into the pivotal three debates between the two candidates."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2016, with the headline 'Clinton turns focus on unity'. Print Edition | Subscribe