A message to unite America versus a fearmongering president who aims to tear us apart

The Democratic National Convention is offering a vision of a nation where we’re truly in this together. Meanwhile, President Trump’s attempts to divide us are sinking to an all-time low.

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Former First Lady Michelle Obama, delivering the keynote speech on the first day of the Democratic National Convention.

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It has been a study in stark contrasts, from an opening prayer by a Latino minister in Florida, who asked God to bless “all of us, Republican, independent and Democrat,” to yet another train wreck of a speech by President Trump, who warned of “radical left” extremists trying to “abolish the suburbs.”

We’ve been watching the first nights of the Democratic National Convention, a strictly digital affair because of the pandemic, and we’re being reminded of the country we love, the one we thought we knew, the one we want back.

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The one where most people care about other people. Where enough of us understand we’re in this together, as much as we might give each other fits. Where most of us know our diversity is our strength, as much as that jabs at our comfortable complacency.

“Help us, oh Lord, to be ever mindful of the most vulnerable among us,” the Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero said in his opening prayer at the convention.

That’s right. We had almost forgotten. We honestly care, as a country, about “the most vulnerable among us.” Words like that used to sound perfunctory. Now they feel imploring.

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Meanwhile on Monday, Trump stood on a tarmac at an airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and warned of hell to come if Joe Biden — amiable, center-left Joe — is elected president, which Trump said will happen only if the election is “rigged.”

“They’re going to take away your Second Amendment. They’re going to make America a sanctuary for criminal aliens,” he said. “They also want to abolish the suburbs by allowing far left Washington bureaucrats to force the construction of low income housing projects in every neighborhood in America.”

In three sentences, Trump hit a scaremonger’s trifecta: Democrats will take your guns, let immigrant thugs kill you in your sleep and station Black gangbangers on every suburban corner.

But back to the Democratic convention. Back to the America we still believe in despite the last 3 12 years.

Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina talked about American unity, which he said he still believes in despite the angry racial justice protests filling our streets — or maybe because of them.

“Much like the country as a whole, we are stepping out from the shadows of our past and beginning to lay the groundwork for a more just future,” he said. “It won’t be easy. We can only succeed if we move forward together. So we will need a president who sees unifying people as a requirement of the job.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, in his own way, talked about unity, too — the kind that defies party differences. The lesson of COVID-19, he said, is that we rise or fall together.

“Americans learned a critical lesson, how vulnerable we are when we are divided,” Cuomo said. “And how many lives can be lost when our government is incompetent.”

Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama deplored “some politicians” who “try to pit us against each other.” And he invoked the names of two civil rights icons to remind us — Lord, how we need reminding — what our nation at its best is all about.

“It was here in Alabama where Rosa Parks helped ignite a movement by refusing to give up her seat on the bus,” Jones said. “And it was here in Alabama where John Lewis marched across a bridge toward freedom.”

Jack Schlossberg, standing next to his mother, Caroline, invoked the words of the grandfather he never met, John F. Kennedy, to remind us that we’re a whole lot better as a nation when a president asks what he can do for his country, not what his country can do for him.

In JFK’s famous speech accepting his party’s presidential nomination, Schlossberg said, he called for “courage, unity, patriotism” — values “as important today as they were in 1960.”

Meanwhile, back on that tarmac in Oshkosh, Trump did his best to cast doubts on Biden’s cognitive health, based on nothing, invoking the names of brutes — the autocrats he admires most — to make his point.

“He’s shot, he’s shot,” Trump said of Biden. “Look, one thing I’ve learned Putin, President Xi of China, Kim Jong Un, Erdogan of Turkey. They are world-class chess players. We can’t have a guy who’s shot and in his best years wasn’t very good.”

Political conventions are not the fun they once were. The party’s choice for president is known beforehand and there’s little intrigue. A virtual convention, it turns out, offers even less excitement. It’s like a telethon.

But we’ll be watching this week all the same. We’re appreciating the measured tone, the lack of bombast, the premium put on basic decency, the respectful effort to communicate.

A sense of things we’ve sorely missed washed over us.

And we’ll keep an eye on Trump, too, just as long as necessary.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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