By Amanda Becker
In a speech weighted with America’s complicated racial history, Democrat Hillary Clinton laced into Republican presidential rival Donald Trump on Wednesday, accusing him of fueling divisions among Americans over race and religion.
"His campaign is as divisive as any we have seen in our lifetimes," Clinton said at a campaign appearance at the Illinois state house in Springfield. "It is built on stoking mistrust and pitting American against American. It's there in everything he says and everything he promises to do as president."
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Clinton ticked off Trump’s proposals to ban Muslims from entering the country, create a database of Muslims already in the country and step up deportations by creating a special deportation force as policies intended to drive Americans apart. She lambasted Trump’s decision to re-tweet an image from a neo-Nazi and his statements about women.
“We need a president who can help pull us together, not split us apart,” Clinton said.
The two presumptive nominees are heading into July nominating conventions where they are to formally become the Democratic and Republican candidates who will square off in the Nov. 8 presidential election.
Clinton's speech comes a week after a sniper shot and killed five Dallas police officers during a protest of police killings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota. She addressed these incidents and other race-related deaths in Springfield.
Clinton's speech on Wednesday carried the echo of history. The state house in the Illinois capital of Springfield was the site where President Abraham Lincoln delivered an anti-slavery speech during his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1858, warning that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” As the 16th president of the United States, he went on to guide the country through most of the Civil War.
Clinton acknowledged that while “the challenges we face today do not approach those of Lincoln’s time,” the country’s “long struggle with race is far from finished.”
The Illinois state house is also where President Barack Obama, the first African-American to hold the highest office in America, launched his first campaign for president in 2007.
Trump spent months "trying to discredit the citizenship and legitimacy of our first black president," Clinton said.
Trump was loudly fixated on the issue of Obama's birthplace during the 2012 presidential campaign and had also suggested that Obama was a Muslim, despite clear evidence that the president was born in Hawaii and is a Christian.
Clinton acknowledged that she has made some missteps on race. She faced early criticism from the Black Lives Matter movement for past statements, such as one in the 1990s, when she was first lady, calling violent minority youth “super predators.” She told the Washington Post earlier this year that she “shouldn’t have used those words.”
"As someone in the middle of a hotly fought political campaign I cannot stand here and claim that my words and actions haven't sometimes fueled the partisanship that often stands in the way of progress, so I recognize I have to do better, too," she added.
(Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Leslie Adler)