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Hillary Clinton calls on Americans to reject ‘divisive’ Trump candidacy

Hillary Clinton speaks Wednesday in Springfield, Ill.
(Cengiz Yar / AFP / Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton charged Tuesday that the Republican Party, once headed by a president who held the union together, is now led by a man who intentionally stokes divisions for personal gain, as she blasted Donald Trump for “pitting American against American” when the nation needs “a president who can help pull us together, not split us apart.”

Clinton said the “fierce debates” that have emerged after last week’s racially fraught shootings could strengthen the nation, “like steel tempered by fire,” if opposing factions try to understand and appreciate each other’s perspective.

For the record:

5:45 p.m. July 13, 2016This story has been corrected to reflect that the officers who fatally shot black men in two recent high-profile cases were not all white. One of the officers was Latino.

But in a somber but blistering address from the Old Illinois Statehouse from which Abraham Lincoln once declared that a nation divided against itself could not stand, Clinton charged that the Republican Party has “become the party of Trump,” and that he shows “contempt for and ignorance of” the Constitution.

“That’s not just a huge loss for our democracy; it is a threat to it,” she said, “because Donald Trump’s campaign adds up to an ugly, dangerous message to America.”

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At the heart of Clinton’s critique of what she called a campaign “as divisive as any we have seen in our lifetime” was her contention that Trump’s motivations were simply about personal power and not the greater national good.

She catalogued ways in which Trump has “taken aim at some of our most cherished democratic values,” with proposals to ban Muslim immigration, deport the American-born children of immigrants, and order the military to “commit war crimes” like torture.

His comments targeting the Mexican heritage of an Indiana judge presiding over a lawsuit against Trump University were “a cynical, calculated attempt to fan the flames of racial division” and cast doubt on the integrity of the judicial system.

“Why would someone running for president want to do that?” she said.

And as demonstrations continue across the country after black men were shot to death by police officers in Baton Rouge, La., and outside St. Paul, Minn., Clinton quoted Trump as saying a day earlier that he understood systematic bias against African Americans because, as he put it, “Even against me, the system is rigged.”

“Even this, the killing of people, is somehow all about him,” Clinton charged.

At one point she offered a dire warning about what Trump might do with the powers of the presidency.

“Imagine if he had not just Twitter and cable news to go after his critics and opponents, but also the IRS, or for that matter, our entire military,” she said. “Given what we have seen and heard, do any of us think he’d be restrained?”

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Though she summoned Lincoln’s own words and example, Clinton was careful in her address to say the present challenges are hardly in the same category the debate over slavery that ultimately led to the Civil War.

Still she lamented growing “violence and hate” on display after the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, as well as the shooting rampage targeting police in Dallas. These tensions were playing out against “a much broader backdrop of fear and anxiety,” which has contributed to a pessimism among many “about whether America holds anything for them, or cares about them at all.”

Speaking from the rostrum of the former state Capitol’s chambers, a setting akin to one in which a president would deliver the State of the Union, Clinton seemed to acknowledge Americans’ lack of faith in her ability to bridge the nation’s divide.

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But she said her life’s work has always been “built on the conviction we are stronger together,” and outlined some steps she would take to address economic inequality – including her pledge to launch a major infrastructure and jobs program in her first 100 days as president.

But like the two presidents who spoke the day earlier, Clinton also asked Americans to put themselves in the shoes of minorities concerned with criminal justice reform, or the law enforcement officers who face an uncertain future every time they put on their uniforms.

And she asked her own supporters to understand what is motivating many to respond to Trump.

“We may disagree on the causes or the solutions to the challenges we face,” she said. “I believe, like anyone else, they’re just trying to figure out their place in a fast-changing America. They want to know how to make a good living and how to give their kids better lives and opportunities.”

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michael.memoli@latimes.com

For more 2016 campaign coverage, follow @mikememoli on Twitter

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