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The Speech Of Her Life: 3 Things Hillary Has To Do On Thursday Night 

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets supporters during a rally, Tuesday, June 7, 2016, in New York. (Julie Jacobson/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets supporters during a rally, Tuesday, June 7, 2016, in New York. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

Whatever other narratives the media peddles about the Democratic National Convention, in the end it will boil down to a single speech, the one in which Hillary Rodham Clinton lays out her case for presidency.

Whatever you thought of Donald Trump’s culminating performance, it was an effective piece of rhetoric. The speech landed with people emotionally. They felt it.

Thursday night, Clinton must find a way to answer the emotionalism at the heart of Trump’s campaign. That is, without a doubt, her greatest challenge. But it’s also her greatest opportunity.

Here’s what she needs to do:

1. Praise Bernie Sanders And Speak To His Supporters

Given what we’ve seen so far, Bernie’s supporters are likely to interrupt Clinton’s speech with chants. It would be foolish of her to ignore them. Instead, early on, she should praise Bernie Sanders and his supporters.

She should declare, joyfully, that Bernie made her reconsider and change a number of her positions. And not because it was the political thing to do. Because it was the right thing to do. Because the revolution that he led — one devoted to economic and social justice — is the right revolution.

Clinton must find a way to answer the emotionalism at the heart of Trump’s campaign. That is, without a doubt, her greatest challenge. But it’s also her greatest opportunity.

If folks start chanting, she should tell the entire convention hall that what makes democracy great is also what makes it messy: passionate conviction.

And she should remind everyone that the other option is the kind of cowardly obedience that Americans witnessed last week in Cleveland, in which the blind worship of power crushed all dissent, and in which people put party unity before their own consciences.

2. Call Out Trump As The Ultimate Establishment Tool

The great unspoken truth of this election is that Donald Trump is the walking embodiment of the Establishment, a man born into wealth, who has spent his entire life trolling for fame from a corporate penthouse.

The notion that Trump is “anti-establishment” makes as much sense as calling the owner of the sweatshop where his hats are made “pro-labor.”

Because the establishment in this country is, and always has been, built on White Male Privilege. This is why Trump has been given permission to insult people of color and women and immigrants and even the handicapped — because our culture is conditioned to allow rich white guys to do and say whatever they want. In this sense, Donald Trump is White Male Privilege run amok.

Clinton should also ask Americans to take a long look at the people in the convention hall in Philadelphia, and to compare what they see to those who filled the arena in Cleveland. Which one looks more like America in 2016?

3. Drop The Political Mask

This will be Clinton’s greatest challenge. She is not an emotional person. This is partly owing to her temperament and her upbringing. But it also has a great deal to do with her gender, and how she has been treated as a public figure.

Clinton needs to find a way to personalize the issues of mistrust and misogyny. She needs to call out the monstrous double standard that still prevails when it comes to gender in this country. The ways in which women that dare to seek power, or simply to claim their voice in the world, are reviled.

Clinton would be wise to acknowledge that more attacks are coming. In the absence of coherent policy ideas, Donald Trump will seek to drag the election into the gutter. Whatever else she might be, Clinton is a survivor. What matters isn’t how often you’re attacked, but whether or not you keep fighting.

She needs to help Americans understand that she has been guarded as a politician because she’s been under assault for virtually her entire adult life.

But she needs to dig deeper. She needs to stare directly into the camera and address every single girl and woman watching her speech about what it’s been like for her to move through the world as this sort of woman. What it’s been like for her to be judged (mostly by men) for how she dresses and wears her hair and laughs, for how she conducts her private life. Because every woman in America — young or old, liberal or conservative, brown or white — suffers the same burden of judgment. Especially from guys like Donald Trump.

She needs to help Americans understand that she has been guarded as a politician because she’s been under assault for virtually her entire adult life.

In the end, Clinton should acknowledge, with humility and even good humor, if she can manage it, that she isn’t the perfect candidate. But she should also remind Americans that politics isn’t reality TV, or a high school popularity contest, or a flame war on Twitter. It’s about something more real, more enduring: public service and advocacy — the work to which she’s dedicated her life.

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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