Hillary Clinton’s best defense this week

The Observer editorial board

Hillary Clinton needs to offer a different perspective of America than Donald Trump’s pessimistic portrait.
Hillary Clinton needs to offer a different perspective of America than Donald Trump’s pessimistic portrait. AFP/Getty Images

After a week in which Republicans accused, convicted and sentenced Hillary Clinton in Cleveland, Democrats and their presidential candidate get to put on a defense this week in Philadelphia.

What should they be defending?

Clinton should, although she probably won’t, address one of the reasons people are most hesitant about her – the startlingly careless use of a private email server to conduct official business as Secretary of State. Voters care. It speaks to trust issues. She should speak to them, too.

The Democrats should, and they certainly will, do what the Republicans did at their convention – make the case that the other candidate’s flaws are much more threatening to America. Expect a detailed accounting of Donald Trump’s lies, hotheadedness and dangerous policies. Expect his ever-changing Muslim ban to get a lot of airtime, as well as his alarming suggestion last week that he might not come to the defense of NATO allies under attack.

We hope, though, that Democrats learned a lesson from the over-the-top manner in which Republicans went after Clinton. Chants of “lock her up,” encouraged by speakers on the prime-time stage, might rev up the base, but the display was distasteful and unbecoming, especially at a national party convention.

Perhaps most of all, Clinton needs to defend something bigger this week – her country. In Cleveland, Republicans spent four days indicting the United States, culminating with Trump’s apocalyptic portrait of America on Thursday night.

Our country, they said, is exploding with crime and certain to be attacked by terrorists. It has a crippled economy and a dire future. It’s lost all respect among the world’s citizens and leaders.

Some of that was debatable. Some of it was just untrue.

On crime: Americans are actually safer now than they have been in decades, according to FBI data. Although violent crime had a one-year uptick in some cities, overall the rate is down in the last 10 years, and significantly down in the last 25.

On our standing in the world: According to a Pew Research Center study of global attitudes last month, the world’s citizens believe the U.S. plays as important a role or a more important role than it did a decade ago. More people also see the U.S. as a leading economic power than in 2008, when Barack Obama took office.

Clinton also can make a strong case that the U.S. has made significant advances against the Islamic State, and that at home, our economy is stronger after 73 consecutive months of job growth. Yes, ISIS remains a real threat, and yes, too many Americans remain out of work. Clinton should explain to Americans her prescription for each.

But conventions – and campaigns – are about more than the weeds of policy. The winner in November is most often the candidate who offers possibilities we all can share. Making America afraid of your opponent might be an effective political tactic, but making America afraid of its future is risky.

That’s what Trump and his party attempted last week. Clinton’s biggest job now is to convince the country that things aren’t nearly so dire as what it just heard.