Former first lady Michelle Obama delivered the most important speech of the first night of the virtual Democratic National Convention on Monday, forcefully taking down President Donald Trump and making the case for Joe Biden in a sad and strong soliloquy.
“If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can,” she warned.
The speech was apparently recorded before Joe Biden picked Sen. Kamala Harris to be his running mate; that’s why the wife of the nation’s first Black president did not mention Harris, the first Black person to be selected to be a vice president on a major party ticket.
Going high still works, Obama advised.
The highlight of Obama’s 2016 convention speech was her refrain, “when they go low, wego high,” commenting at a time when the election of Trump over Hillary Clinton was impossible to imagine. How’s that working out in this Trump era?
Said Obama, “Over the past four years, a lot of people have asked me, “When others are going so low, does going high still really work?” My answer: going high is the only thing that works, because when we go low, when we use those same tactics of degrading and dehumanizing others, we just become part of the ugly noise that’s drowning out everything else. We degrade ourselves. We degrade the very causes for which we fight.
“But let’s be clear: Going high does not mean putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty. Going high means taking the harder path. It means scraping and clawing our way to that mountain top. Going high means standing fierce against hatred while remembering that we are one nation under God, and if we want to survive, we’ve got to find a way to live together and work together across our differences.
“And going high means unlocking the shackles of lies and mistrust with the only thing that can truly set us free: the cold hard truth.”
On Trump’s empathy deficit, anti-maskers and white supremacists
Obama has talked about how she has been suffered from a low-grade depression, understandable given what we are all going through with the COVID-19 pandemic, economic meltdown and a revived struggle for racial reconciliation.
Said Obama, “Empathy: that’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. The ability to walk in someone else’s shoes; the recognition that someone else’s experience has value, too.
“Most of us practice this without a second thought. If we see someone suffering or struggling, we don’t stand in judgment. We reach out because, ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I.’ It is not a hard concept to grasp. It’s what we teach our children.”
“Now, children see people shouting in grocery stores, unwilling to wear a mask to keep us all safe. They see people calling the police on folks minding their own business just because of the color of their skin. They see an entitlement that says only certain people belong here, that greed is good, and winning is everything because as long as you come out on top, it doesn’t matter what happens to everyone else. And they see what happens when that lack of empathy is ginned up into outright disdain.”
“They 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.”
Warning: Things can get worse
Said Obama, Trump is “the wrong president for our country. 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. It is what it is.
“Now, I understand that my message won’t be heard by some people. We live in a nation that is deeply divided, and I am a Black woman speaking at the Democratic Convention. But enough of you know me by now. You know that I tell you exactly what I’m feeling. You know I hate politics. But you also know that I care about this nation. You know how much I care about all of our children.
“So 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.”