Democratic rising star lamented ‘assault on our deepest values’ in strongly worded speech that alluded to Trump’s spat with NFL
Kamala Harris, a rising star within the Democratic party who is being closely watched as a possible presidential candidate in 2020, delivered a powerful riposte from the altar to Donald Trump on Sunday, accusing him of waging “an assault on our deepest values”.
Speaking in a historically charged venue, the First Congregational Church of Atlanta, one of the oldest African American churches in the US founded in 1867 by freed slaves, the California senator gave a blunt account of the problems facing the nation.
“Racism is real in this country,” she said, “sexism is real in this country, homophobia is real … antisemitism is real.”
She also lamented what she called a “systematic attempt to suppress the vote in America”, citing court rulings that found that “they” – a clear though implicit reference to Republicans – “target African Americans with almost surgical precision”.
Harris, who in January took up the US Senate seat vacated by Barbara Boxer, went on to criticise the vilification and scapegoating of undocumented migrants, the plight of Puerto Ricans in the wake of Hurricane Maria, and the move by the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to “re-escalate the failed war on drugs”.
But she also made a strong bid to reclaim the concept of patriotism and love of country for the progressive movement. Though she did not mention Trump by name, she invoked the president when she said that “there are forces of hate and division trying to tear us apart”.
“Americans have so much more in common than what separates us,” she said.
Her kind of patriotism, Harris said, was to believe in the country’s ideals and fight for them. “When we fight for the ideals behind the constitution of the United States,” she said, “that is the very definition of being a patriot.”
Again, Harris did not refer directly to the ongoing spat between Trump and NFL players who have been protesting racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem. But her purpose was plain.
“When we sing The Star-Spangled Banner, we rightly think of brave men and women who defend the freedom of those they may never meet … We also think about those marching in the streets who demand the ideals of that flag represent them too.”
Harris, 52, began her eye-catching career in public service as a prosecutor, working as district attorney of San Francisco and then attorney general of California from 2010. In eight months in the Senate she has made a mark.
Playing to the left, she backed Bernie Sanders in his plan for “Medicare for all” healthcare reform. Forging bipartisan credentials, she teamed up with the Kentucky Republican senator Rand Paul to introduce legislation to help people put behind bars because they cannot afford bail.
The First Congregational Church has a long history of hosting sermons and addresses by prominent black leaders. Booker T Washington, a leader of former slaves in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, spoke there. In recent years, Calvin Butts and Bernice King, the youngest child of Martin Luther King, have spoken at the church.
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