Comparing, Contrasting Clinton and Trump Acceptance Speeches

Instead of consuming filtered characterisations by journalists, opinion-makers and spinmeisters of the important acceptance speeches of the two major party nominees, it is far more instructive to read texts of their acceptance speeches side by side, view the fact-checkers’ analyses,  compare the speeches, and make up one’s own mind.

First, I noted common ground between the acceptance speeches of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: both candidates called for massive investments in infrastructure improvements. Neither was clear on how they will pay for it, except possibly as an “off-budget stimulus.”

Both candidates call for tax penalties for corporations that ship jobs overseas. (Neither explained the details of how that would work in practice, and frankly I am skeptical that tax penalties would lead to a resurgence of American manufacturing jobs.)

They both complain about foreign trade deals that disadvantage American workers. I suspect both candidates are over-simplifying this issue, which is mainly an argument among economic experts who study the global economy full-time. These issues cannot be accurately reduced to 30-second or even 60-second sound bites without simplistic appeals to emotion, resentment, bigotry or false hope.

Secondly, it’s important to read acceptance speeches because they reveal how the candidates describe their own histories and their own motivations. Even if you don’t believe they are fully honest, these descriptions ring at least partly true. Trump thinks of himself as a master builder and deal-maker. Clinton thinks of herself as an advocate and barrier-breaker for those who, like her mother, faced terrible disadvantages or unfair restrictions in life.

Trump channeled Richard Nixon’s 1968 “law and order” campaign against Lyndon Johnson’s Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, promising to speak for “the forgotten men and women of our country.” Nixon called them “the silent majority.” Trump portrayed a dystopia of high crime, a flood of illegal immigrants taking jobs from citizens and driving down wages, routine terrorist attacks from Muslims (failing to mention that a lot of terrorist attacks are homegrown, not from religious zealots but from crazed citizens with guns). He described the country’s current leadership as hapless and ineffectual. Yet he offered few solutions or policy prescriptions other than the frighteningly authoritarian “only I can fix it.”

Hillary Clinton and her surrogates painted a far more optimistic picture of America, speaking of America’s “unlimited promise,” quoting Franklin Roosevelt that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” referring to an expanding economy of 15 million new private sector jobs since Obama took office, 20 million more Americans with health insurance, “and an auto industry that just had its best year ever.”

But she said she wasn’t satisfied with this progress. She said it’s wrong for corporations “to take tax breaks with one hand and give out pink slips with the other. And I believe Wall Street can never, ever be allowed to wreck Main Street again.” She said the minimum wage should be increased, everyone has a right to affordable health care, trade deals should be fair, social security should be expanded, college should be debt-free for all students (parents and students should be able to refinance student debt), parents should be able to find affordable child care and paid family leave, and laws should be passed to “keep guns out of the hands of criminals, terrorists and all others who would do us harm.”

She promised comprehensive immigration reform, offering a path to citizenship for immigrants who are already contributing to our economy, emphasizing that Americans are stronger when they work together, noting that more than 500 people applied for jobs as police officers in Dallas, Texas days after five police officers were shot.

She went on to describe average Americans who inspired her to become an activist and politician because “simply caring is not enough. To drive real progress, you have to change both hearts and laws. You need both understanding and action.”

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