Former first lady Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was not just a powerful condemnation of President Donald Trump’s record and handling of the pandemic, it was an appeal aimed at the heart and conscience of every American who has watched the chaos of the last four years and yearned to make things right.
Reprising her role as “the closer” – this time for former Vice President Joe Biden on the convention’s opening night – Obama spoke as the wife of a former President who has seen “the immense weight and awesome power” of the presidency up close. She spoke as a mother trying to teach empathy and instill “a strong moral foundation” in her daughters. And she spoke as an American pained “to see so many people hurting” at a time when the coronavirus has claimed more than 170,000 lives in the US and cast millions into unemployment.
On a night when many convention speakers, including four Republicans, tried to convince Americans of all political persuasions that they should choose country over party, Obama urged them to choose right over wrong, reminding her audience that she hates politics and asked all of her listeners to “close out the noise and the fear” and open their hearts. Those who do that, she said, “know that what’s going on in this country is just not right.”
The 18-minute address represented one of the most effective moral arguments against Trump’s presidency from a prominent Democrat – and came with a stark warning from the former first lady.
“If you take one thing from my words tonight, it is this: if you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can; and they will if we don’t make a change in this election. If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it,” she said in a pre-taped address.
“Let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can. Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country,” the former first lady said, faulting the President for downplaying the virus, stoking racial tensions, separating families at the border and exhibiting almost no empathy for the grief and loss that so many Americans have experienced.
She had harsh words for the President’s derisive attempts to label demonstrators protested Floyd’s death as “THUGS” who present a threat to Americans’ way of life and called him out for coddling white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. And she faulted Trump for refusing to acknowledge the racism inherent in American policing as a “never-ending list of innocent people of color continue to be murdered,” while “stating the simple fact that a Black life matters is still met with derision from the nation’s highest office.”
America’s children, she said, “see our leaders labeling fellow citizens enemies of the state while emboldening torch-bearing white supremacists. They watch in horror as children are torn from their families and thrown into cages, and pepper spray and rubber bullets are used on peaceful protesters for a photo-op. Sadly, this is the America that is on display for the next generation — a nation that’s underperforming not simply on matters of policy but on matters of character.”
America’s children are seeing this White House promote greed, an “entitlement that says only certain people belong here” and the notion that “winning is everything, because as long as you come out on top, it doesn’t matter what happens to everyone else,” Obama added.
“He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us,” she said, before invoking Trump’s callous response when asked about lives lost from coronavirus in this country: “It is what it is.”