At last night’s Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton accepted her party’s nomination for President of the United States in a powerful, unapologetic speech at the end of one of the best pep rallies America has ever thrown for itself. It was, quite frankly, a shocking victory on multiple fronts. The nomination of a woman by a major political party for the first time in United States history. And not just any woman—Hillary Clinton, the country’s perpetual rorschach test for the past 30 years. And not just any party—a revamped party that promises Obama’s America is the Real America. The Democratic Party did a brilliant job reintroducing Hillary Clinton to the world this week, but it it also did a stunning and subversive job reintroducing itself.
To really understand the impact of both of those victories, you have to go back to that fateful night in 1992 when Hillary Clinton was challenged on Nightline about her role as a healthcare policy adviser in Bill Clinton’s campaign. Her response: “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.” The GOP went for her jugular. Here was a woman who hadn’t immediately dropped her maiden name when she married her husband, and now she was refusing to apologize for not staying in the kitchen. With the Cold War behind them, the Republican Party needed a new enemy. It became Hillary Clinton. It became Murphy Brown. It became Ellen DeGeneres. Nuclear war wasn’t a threat anymore, but powerful women sure were.
The whole thing started in 1980, when the Republican National Convention first adopted some of the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition’s ideas into its official platform. The deal was very simple: The GOP would push through legislation to make Jerry Falwell and James Dobson’s socio-political Christian ideology into law, and in return, Jerry Falwell and James Dobson would deliver the votes of white evangelical Christians to the Republican party. A few power-hungry men coming together to decide how to bend the message of the Bible to extort the most votes from it. It was a monumentally successful strategy, and when Fox News launched itself into the world in 1996 with the goal of amplifying their message, the unholy alliance was complete.
Over the next 20 years, Fox News, the GOP, and white evangelical Christianity became indistinguishable from each other, and every event that unfolded in the political arena was a chance for them to play that false dichotomy of Real God-Fearing Americans vs. everyone else. In one of the most effective propaganda campaigns in world history, they managed to isolate the core voters of a major political party from the rest of the world and convince them that no other news source could be trusted, and neither could math, and neither could science. It became God vs. gay people. God vs. women’s healthcare. God vs. immigrants. God vs. people of color. God vs. climate change. God vs. Hillary Clinton. With the blessing of the Republican party, Fox News made villains out of every minority in the country, and from that muck rose Donald Trump.
This week’s Democratic National Convention did the most shocking thing I have ever witnessed in my lifetime: Over the course of four nights, the Democratic Party asserted that it is actually the party of faith, that it is actually the party of family values, that it is actually the party of Real America, and that Real America includes — and always has included — gay people, trans people, people of color, disabled people, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, the old and the young, progressives and moderates, citizens and those on the path to citizenship and undocumented people too. Khizar Khan, the father of a Muslim Army captain who gave his life to save his fellow soldiers, whipped his copy of the Constitution out of his jacket pocket last night and offered to let Donald Trump borrow it.
The Democratic National Convention assured Americans that real faith actually aligns with liberal values. They made that statement when Mothers of the Movement took the stage. They made that statement when the survivors of Charleston did the same. They did it with Michelle and Barack Obama. Real America isn’t only white, and neither is real Christianity.
In four days, the DNC eviscerated 30 years of GOP messaging. And last night, the woman the Republican Party forced into an apron walked out onto a stage in a glowing white pantsuit to the cheers of thousands of people and said, “With humility, determination, and boundless confidence in America’s promise, I accept your nomination for President of the United States.”