In a powerful, heartfelt speech that closed the first night of the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama issued her most pointed public criticism yet of Donald Trump, arguing that he is not up to the job of president.
“Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country,” she said, on the only occasion she spoke his name in her nearly 20-minute speech. “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 what we need him to be for us.”
She then added, in a veiled but unmistakable reference to an answer Trump gave in an interview, dismissing concern about the U.S. death toll from COVID-19: “It is what it is.”
Obama’s taped keynote remarks came on the first night of this year’s entirely virtual Democratic National Convention, which was originally scheduled to take place in Milwaukee. The event has been fractured into several multimedia components, with delegates and political superstars alike joining in from their homes.
Obama has been critical of Trump in the past, but her remarks Monday night were particularly cutting.
“Whenever we look to this White House for some leadership, or consolation, or any semblance of steadiness, what we get instead is chaos, division, and a total and utter lack of empathy,” said Obama.
Her speech struck a personal, emotional tone that might not have resonated in an upbeat, balloon-filled convention center. She decried “a total and utter lack of empathy” on the part of the administration, which she said was reflected both in the death toll from the pandemic, the highest of any country in the world, and its response to the current national moment of sometimes violent racial reckoning.
“More than 150,000 people have died, and our economy is in shambles, because of a virus that this president downplayed for too long,” said Obama. (The U.S. death toll in fact recently reached 170,000.)
The former first lady cast Joe Biden as the antithesis of Trump. She portrayed the former vice president as someone who is empathetic, decent and whose religious beliefs will help him rebuild the country, a common motif of Biden’s stump speeches.
“I know Joe,” said Obama. “He is a profoundly decent man guided by faith. He was a terrific vice president. He knows what it takes to rescue an economy, beat back a pandemic and lead our country. And he listens. He will tell the truth and trust science. He will make smart plans and manage a good team. And he will govern as someone who has lived a life that the rest of us can recognize.”
The dark tone of her speech was a departure from the upbeat, hopeful themes that marked her rhetoric, and her husband’s, during Barack Obama’s campaigns and presidency. She offered a stark prediction that political disaster will ensue if Democrats don’t get out to vote.
“If you think things cannot possibly get worse, they can — and they will, if we don’t make a change in this election,” said Obama.
“This is not the time to withhold our votes in protest or play games with candidates who have no chance of winning. We have got to vote like we did in 2008 and 2012. We’ve got to show up with the same level of passion and hope for Joe Biden.”
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