Without once naming presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump in his speech, former President Bill Clinton warned congregants at a popular black California megachurch on Sunday that the billionaire's campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" is a code that means "way more than what it sounds like."
The former president made the comments in a speech during the worship service at the 24,000-member West Angeles Church of God In Christ where he stumped for his wife, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton ahead of her battle with rival Bernie Sanders in California's Democratic primary set for Tuesday.
He argued that despite a recovery from the 2007-2008 financial crisis, people were still not happy because 80 percent of workers haven't received a pay raise after inflation since then. Rising inequality, stagnant wages, declining upward mobility and fear of immigrants are growing concerns around the world that have made some in Europe question the need for democracies.
"This is going on everywhere, the battle for the future over whether the promise or the problem will dominate our thinking. That's why, to the madam singer, I love the hymn you sang today 'cause it's easy to get scared and choose the easier wrong path. That's what this whole election is about. Do you believe we can have shared prosperity like you're trying to create all around this church? If we did what you've done here everywhere in America, could we reduce inequality? Could we restore upward mobility? Could we help bring people back from the depths of despair? I believe we could," said the former president to cheers before the congregants took communion.
"That's why Hillary wants to be president. She said 'we can't leave people out and leave them behind.' Do you believe in inclusive prosperity or do you believe in, what's that slogan 'Make America Great Again,'" he said to laughter.
Clinton then warned the congregation that the message behind the slogan of the Trump campaign was to take things back to the 1960s in the throes of the Civil Rights Movement.
"For the young people here, you can't, you gotta be a certain age to understand that's a code saying. It means way more than what it sounds like. It means 'hey, put me in there and I will make the economy the way it was for you 40 or 50 years ago.' In other words, America wasn't so great 40 or 50 years ago. Including the parents of a lot of the people in this great congregation. The second problem with that is, they can't do it. I see all these attractive young people and I think, 'boy I'd like to be 20 again.' Just to see what's gonna happen. But it ain't gonna happen," said Clinton.
The former president further attacked Trump's proposal to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico as part of his immigration policy as well as what he framed as the billionaire's campaign of division without naming him.
"So we have to decide, are we going to try to promise people a past that can't be achieved and wasn't so hot for people or are we gonna create a future of shared prosperity where we live in the same community and relish our diversity? And where we are citizens together building a whole new chapter of greatness. It is about the future or past. Is it about unity or division? And what about this pesky old world out there? Are we going to wake up every day and look at it with bridges or walls," he said to cheers and encouragement to "preach it."
"And that's the whole deal. I believe that from the time the first human beings rose up on the planet they have been on a journey, for those of us who have faith we believe they have been on a long journey seeking God," he continued.
"When this country was started, the founding fathers were no dummies. They knew slavery was wrong and hoped one day their successors would get rid of it. So they left a system that was flexible enough to change but solemn enough to protect our liberty. And they said our goal will always be to form a more perfect union.
"Nobody has ever found a way to do that unless you widen the circle of opportunity, deepen the meaning of freedom and strengthen the bonds of our common humanity in our community. Communion," he said to a smattering of applause.
The former president then went on to promote his wife as the right candidate to lead America at this time while urging them to reject the politics of division.
"I ask you to go and vote on election day if you haven't already and to be there in November because your country finally has a chance to … to all rise together, to restore that sense that tomorrow can be better than today, to reduce inequality, to create opportunities for people, we're not gonna do it looking backward instead of forward, we're not gonna doing it trying to tear people up instead of bringing them together. We're not gonna do it trying to live behind walls instead of building better bridges. I think you know what to do and I hope you'll do it. God bless you all," he said.
Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake of the West Angeles COGIC would later share a copy of Clinton's speech on his Facebook page which sparked a debate as to whether Clinton should have been allowed to speak at the church without inviting Sanders as well. Concerns were also raised about the promotion of a candidate to the church who supports abortion and gay marriage, which the church opposes.
Blake's son, Charles Blake Jr responded to critics with a post on his father's page declaring that allowing the former president to speak was not an endorsement by the church of his wife.
"We were happy to have former President Clinton at our service today. He was not invited so there would be no reason to invite the other candidates. President Clinton was accepted as a visitor as we acknowledge any visitor that comes to our services," said Blake Jr.
"This was not an endorsement. Bishop has always been a very gracious host and he is not beholden to any political party or candidate. He was very clear in speaking to the issues of abortion and same sex marriage right after President Clinton spoke. After serving and lifting this community and preaching the Gospel for more than 47 years Bishop Blake more than deserves the benefit of the doubt. To his critics, I only ask what have you yourself done to help your community or your people? I humbly ask that you examine a situation fully before you speak in judgement. God Bless," he ended.
Bill Clinton has been accused of making allegedly racist remarks. In 2008, he told Sen. Ted Kennedy that then-presidential candidate Barack Obama "a few years ago ... would have been carrying our bags," and in 2010 he excused Sen. Robert Byrd's KKK membership, saying he only joined the group to help him get elected.