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  1. Opinion

LeMieux: Clinton attacks on Trump supporters un-American

I spent a part of my morning on Sunday showing my children videos of the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath.

All four were born in the years following the tragedy. For me, the videos brought back a rush of emotions — anger, sadness, despair. For my children, 13, 11 and 9 (I did not show them to my 6-year-old), the images created confusion and inspired questions: Why would someone kill themselves by flying a plane into a building? How many people died? What happened to their kids?

It was a tough a conversation, but an important one. I tried to convey three points: There is evil in the world, and we have to be vigilant; we are still blessed to live in the freest, most prosperous country; and we are in debt to our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and first responders who put themselves in harm's way every day to keep us safe and free.

There is something else I remember about 9/11. I remember the feeling of unity that burst through as we struggled as a nation with our pain and disbelief. We did not look at each other as Republicans or Democrats; progressives or conservatives; blacks, whites or Hispanics. We held our friends and families close, went to church and synagogue, and reached out to those in need.

Members of Congress from both parties sang God Bless America on the Capitol steps. Expansive powers to fight terrorism were passed by Congress through bipartisanship. The vote in the Senate was 98-1. We lauded our police and firefighters. The world embraced us, and we embraced back. Church bells rang across Europe. Her Majesty's Band played our national anthem. Monuments to 9/11 are not just here at home, but in 11 countries. Russian President Vladimir Putin and the people of Russia gifted a "teardrop" memorial that sits across the river from New York City.

In the 15 years that have followed, America has become more and more divided. We are more fractious now than any time since the 1960s, and it shows in our politics.

The Friday before 9/11, Hillary Clinton gave a speech demonizing Donald Trump's supporters, labeling half of them as a "basket of deplorables" — racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic. This is not the first time a politician has derided the supporters of his or her opponent.

Mitt Romney called 47 percent of Americans "entitled" in 2012. President Barack Obama in 2008 characterized small-town Americans as clinging to their "guns and religion." While those comments were misplaced, they were done in private and were, in my view, undisciplined political commentary not intended for public consumption.

Hillary Clinton's comments are different. Made in public, her words are strident and antagonistic. She labels tens of millions of Americans as racist and bigoted. While the right has criticized Obama for veiled attempts at class warfare, nothing about Clinton's comments were veiled. She was calculated and evidenced her plan to win the election though division and demonization.

Would she not govern the same way?

In the past few weeks, Trump has improved in the polls through better discipline and fewer political gaffes. Now Clinton is working to steal defeat from the jaws of victory by criticizing 25 percent of the electorate. In the end, the winner of this election may be the candidate who says the least between now and Nov. 8.

It should not take a national tragedy to create unity. We deserve elected officials who will set the bar higher, engender our virtues, and call us to work together toward enlightened goals. It is one thing to attack your political opponent. It is a horrible miscalculation to attack his supporters. It's not just bad politics; it's un-American.

George LeMieux served as a Republican U.S. senator, governor's chief of staff and deputy attorney general.