Barack Obama rebukes Trump as ‘homegrown demagogue’

President urges voters to rally behind Clinton as hopeful alternative to Trump’s dystopia

President Obama has urged voters to unite behind Hillary Clinton as the most qualified candidate to protect the country’s values and continue his legacy, In an evocative speech at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia. Video: REUTERS

President Barack Obama raised the stakes in November's presidential election into a defence of American democracy against "home-grown demagogues" and urged Democrats to unite behind Hillary Clinton as the most qualified to protect the country's values and continue his legacy.

In a rousing speech delivered on the third night of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia - the birthplace of the United States - Mr Obama evoked the country's founding principles to reject Donald Trump's pessimistic vision of America as "a divided crime scene that only he can fix."

Mr Obama offered a more hopeful alternative to the dystopian landscape painted by the Republican presidential nominee at the party’s convention in Cleveland last week.

He framed his most full-throated endorsement of Mrs Clinton, his rival for the presidency eight years ago, in an address that moved seamlessly from “the America I know” to “the Hillary I know,” contrasting both with Trump’s America that he argued that he did not recognise.


Addressing a packed convention hall, Mr Obama accused the New York property developer and TV celebrity of “selling the American people short” in his campaign by “offering slogans” and “offering fear… betting that if he scares enough people, he might score just enough votes to win this election.”

“We are not a fragile people. We are not a frightful people. Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared saviour promising that he alone can restore order as long as we do things his way. We don’t look to be ruled,” he said, bringing the crowd to its feet repeatedly during an intensely emotional address.

‘Don’t boo - vote!’

When the crowd booed the president’s first mention of Mr Trump, Mr Obama said: “Don’t boo - vote!” to cheers around the arena.

Mr Obama set the challenge facing the Democratic Party and his would-be successor in the White House in the November 8th election alongside the greatest tests faced by the country over the past century.

Recalling the “immortal declarations” that laid the foundations of American independence and its democracy, he acknowledged that the country had changed over the years but that the universal values of equality and respect for different traditions, colours and religions had remained the same.

“That’s why our military can look the way it does, every share of humanity, forged into common service,” he said.

“That’s why anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end.”

He traced those values all the way back to his “Scotch-Irish” ancestors in the American heartland and to his grandparents who - in a side-swipe at Mr Trump - “didn’t like show-offs” or “didn’t admire braggarts or bullies” but instead “valued traits like honesty and hard work, kindness and courtesy.”

Mr Obama’s speech marked the culmination of a night that, after two days focused on uniting an unhappy party, turned the attention of Democrats to a common adversary, Mr Trump. Speaker after speaker questioned his judgment, his character, his business record, and even whether he was sane.

Hoping to transcend public disillusionment with the political status quo, Mr Obama, in his final, most significant campaign exhortation, made a heartfelt case for a third Democratic term and presented Mrs Clinton as the candidate who best understood the country he knows and the person most qualified to continue with the unfinished business on his presidential record.

Addressing Mrs Clinton’s unpopularity within some Democratic circles and beyond, the US president acknowledged that the former US secretary of state had “made mistakes, just like I have, just like we all do” but that this was a byproduct of her being, not on the sidelines but “in the arena.”

“There is only one candidate in the race who believes in that future, and has devoted her life to it, a mother and grandmother who’d do anything to help our children thrive,” he said.

He called her “a leader with real plans to break down barriers, blast through glass ceilings, and widen the circle of opportunity to every single American, the next president of the United States, Hillary Clinton.”

A quintessentially American dream

Mrs Clinton knew how to insist on a lawful immigration system while still seeing immigrants as “striving students and their toiling parents as loving families, not criminals or rapists” - a dig at Mr Trump.

“She knows their dream is quintessentially American, and the American dream is something no wall will ever contain,” said Mr Obama, in a jab at Mr Trump’s plan to build a wall at the Mexican border.

Urging Democrats to be “as organised and as persistent as Bernie Sanders’s supporters have been” - to cheers from the fans of her beaten rival - Mr Obama implored voters to get “in the arena with her.”

“America isn’t about ‘yes he will’. It’s about ‘yes we can,’” said the president, evoking the slogan of his historic 2008 campaign. “And we’re going to carry Hillary to victory this fall,” he added, eliciting cheers.

A tearful Mr Obama concluded his speech - a mix of valedictory address and call to unify and fight - by applauding his supporters as “the best organisers on the planet.” He expressed his pride in them for “all the change you’ve made possible.”

“Time and again, you’ve picked me up,” he said. “I hope, sometimes, I picked you up too. Tonight, I ask you to do for Hillary Clinton what you did for me. I ask you to carry her the same way you carried me.”

Mr Obama thanked his supporters for vindicating his belief in “the audacity of hope” - a phrase he has made famous - over the past eight years and said he was ready “to pass the baton.”

“This year, in this election, I’m asking you to join me - to reject cynicism, reject fear, to summon what’s best in us, to elect Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States,” he said.

Emotions ran high in Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Centre but soared higher when Mrs Clinton joined Mr Obama on stage in a surprise appearance at the end of his speech, sending the crowd into hysterics and the decibel levels within the arena higher.

A one-man wrecking crew

Earlier in the evening, the convention formally nominated Virginia senator Tim Kaine as Mrs Clinton's vice-presidential running mate. At the outset of his natural, folksy address, the senator noted that his eldest child, a Marine, had been deployed to Europe, saying: "I trust Hillary Clinton with our son's life."

He poked fun at the narcissism of Mrs Clinton’s Republican rival and questioned the businessman’s credibility, telling the crowd that they “cannot believe one word that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth”. Chants of “Not One Word! Not One Word!” resonated around the arena.

“Our nation is too great to put it in the hands of a slick-talking, empty-promising, self-promoting, one-man wrecking crew,” said Mr Kaine, in a speech that was warmly received on the convention floor.

In an animated address, reflecting his personable style, US vice president Joe Biden, speaking before Mr Kaine, rounded on Mr Trump's "You're Fired!" TV catchphrase with his own catchphrase. He pointed to his lack of empathy and compassion over his pride in the phrase that has made him world famous.

“How can there be pleasure in saying, ‘you’re fired?’ He’s trying to tell us he cares about the middle class? Give me a break!” Mr Biden said, before unleashing the notable tagline he used in his 2012 re-election campaign: “That’s a bunch of malarkey!”

The vice president went further. “This guy doesn’t have a clue about the middle class. Not a clue. He has no clue about what makes America Great,” ridiculing Mr Trump’s ubiquitous campaign slogan.

“Actually, he has no clue. Period!” he added, whipping up chants of “Not A Clue! Not A Clue!”

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who for a time explored running as a possible independent candidate in this election, delivered the most devastating critique of Mr Trump's business record with withering putdowns that were all the more damaging coming from a fellow billionaire.

“I’ve built a business and I didn’t start it with a million-dollar cheque from my father,” said Mr Bloomberg, founder of the business news service that bears his name.

"Most of us who have our names on the door know that we are only as good as our word, but not Donald Trump, " he said.

He explained why he, as an Independent, had come to the Democratic convention to rally people to vote against his fellow New York businessman.

“We must unite around the candidate who can defeat a dangerous demagogue,” said Mr Bloomberg, sounding the same alarm bells about the Republican nominee that Mr Obama later rang in his speech.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times