Elizabeth Warren feels your anger.
Democratic officials opened their national convention on Monday preaching a hopeful vision of America to restive delegates, some of whom weren’t ready to move past the primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
But Warren, who has labored in recent months to keep faith with both camps, cleverly struck a different tone in her keynote speech: She acknowledged the discontent animating the Sanders holdouts — an outsider rage many share with Donald Trump supporters — and channeled it into an attack on the Republican nominee.
“People get it. The system is rigged,” she said, borrowing one of Trump’s signature phrases. But where Trump invokes the assessment with a whiff of paranoia to explain any outcome that doesn’t break his way personally, Warren repurposed it as a critique of entrenched corporate power.
It’s not the case, she said, that Washington is hopelessly gridlocked, since the wealthiest interests frequently get their way. “But try to do something, anything, for working people, and you’ll have a fight on your hands,” she said.
The Democratic leaders who preceded Warren took on Donald Trump in part by rejecting the dour portrait of a weakened nation he offered in his acceptance speech at the GOP convention last week. But by at least one measure, voters share his pessimism, with nearly three quarters reporting they think the country is on the wrong track, according to the most recent Wall Street Journal/ NBC poll.
Warren echoed that unease, recounting how abundant American opportunity allowed her to rise from the daughter of a janitor to a U.S. Senator. “I’m deeply grateful to that America. I believe in that America,” she said.
“But I’m worried. Worried that my story is locked in the past. Worried that opportunity is slipping away for people who work hard and play by the rules. Look around. Americans bust their tails, some working two or three jobs, but wages stay flat. Meanwhile, the basic costs of making it from month to month keep going up.”
The Massachusetts liberal argued that the uneven economic recovery serves as evidence that the system is rigged. “Here’s the thing: America isn’t going broke,” she said. “The stock market is breaking records. Corporate profits are at all-time highs. CEOs make tens of millions of dollars. There’s lots of wealth in America, but it isn’t trickling down to hard-working families like yours.” And the primary difference between the parties, she argued, is that Republicans are fighting to preserve that inequality while Democrats try to dismantle it: “There is a huge difference between people fighting for a level playing field and the people fighting to keep the system rigged.”
In that way, Warren’s address was a frontal assault on the Bernie-or-bust crowd holding fast to the idea that if Sanders can’t have the nomination — or a spot on the ticket – they abdicate any interest in the election’s outcome. A small but noisy contingent of those delegates kept up a chorus of boos throughout the start of the official program on Monday, prompting concern among convention organizers that they could distract from the picture of party unity that the Clinton campaign is eager to broadcast.
As the night wore on, the crowd appeared to settle. And Warren, by virtue of her status as a trusted emissary to both camps in the party and her place on Monday’s program—just before Sanders himself took the stage—had a key role to play. She drove her point home by highlighting the need to take the fight to Trump, whom she depicted as a cynical manipulator trying to co-opt the anger of those who feel ignored by their elected leaders.
“Donald Trump knows that the American people are angry, a fact so obvious he can see it from the top of the Trump Tower,” she said. “So now he’s insisting that he and he alone can fix the rigged system…. Well, I’ve got news for Donald Trump. The American people are not falling for it. We’ve seen this ugliness before, and we’re not going to be Donald Trump’s hate-filled America. Not now, not ever.”
The Clinton campaign likewise hopes the specter of Trump overwhelms what remains of any misgivings shadowing her coronation in Philadelphia.