Conventions Set Tone for 2016 Election

Published August 2, 2017

One year ago in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, the two parties had just wrapped up their nominating conventions. The Republican convention opened at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland July 18 with a rebellion on the floor as anti-Trump delegates tried to change a rule so they could “vote their conscience” rather than vote for Donald Trump for the GOP nomination. That failed, of course, and the GOP throng soon galvanized around their hatred for Hillary Clinton.

One of the first speakers at the convention was Patricia Smith, mother of Sean Smith, one of four Americans killed in Benghazi in 2012 while Clinton was secretary of state. Smith blamed Clinton for her son’s death. “Hillary for prison!” she shouted. “She deserves to be in stripes!” What followed the rest of the four days were regular chants of “Lock her up! Lock her up!” from the hate-filled crowd in an atmosphere reminiscent of a Roman forum.

Another highlight from the GOP convention was Melania Trump plagiarizing parts of her speech from a speech delivered by Michelle Obama in 2008. The campaign at first denied it but when it became obvious the speechwriter came out and admitted it, taking responsibility.

Trump’s acceptance speech painted a dark picture of America. He blamed Clinton and Obama for all the country’s ills and proclaimed himself the only one who could fix everything. “The irresponsible rhetoric of our president, who has used his pulpit of the presidency to divide us by race and color, has made America a more dangerous environment,” said the king of irresponsible rhetoric.

The Democrats began their convention the following week on Monday, July 25, in Philadelphia. On the eve of the convention, the website WikiLeaks released nearly 20,000 emails that had been hacked from the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems. The hackers were allegedly linked to Russian intelligence. It was suggested they were Russian agents who did it to help Donald Trump.

One thing the first batch of emails exposed (WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange promised to release more damaging emails later in the campaign) was a clear bias by the DNC for Clinton over Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders during the primaries. This set off Sanders’ supporters, who had just grudgingly accepted Clinton as the party nominee. DNC chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign and Sanders supporters booed Clinton’s name the first night.

Things died down and the rest of the convention was most civil, especially when compared to the bloodthirsty Republicans. Clinton made history as the first female Democratic Party nominee for president. But the most memorable moment came when Khizr Khan, the bereaved father of a Muslim U.S. Army captain who died in Iraq, looked into the camera and asked Donald Trump if he’d ever read the Constitution. “I will gladly lend you my copy,” Khan said, reaching into his jacket and pulling out a pocket-size copy. “Look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law.’”

“Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery?” Khan asked Trump. “Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”

The Democratic crowd roared its approval. It was a moment everyone would remember. But it was not a moment Donald Trump appreciated. He, of the notoriously thin skin, lashed back at Khan and his wife, who had stood by her husband’s side wearing a headscarf but did not speak. “Maybe she wasn’t allowed to,” Trump said, implying Muslim repression of women.

The tone was set for what would be a truly ugly general election campaign.