Politics

Michelle Obama: We Can't Play Games "If We Have Any Hope Of Ending This Chaos"

The former First Lady gave a stirring speech and call to action on the first night of the Democratic National Convention: “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."

The former First Lady gave an emotional and powerful speech on the first night of the 2020 Democratic National Convention. (Credit: DNC Livestream)
The former First Lady gave an emotional and powerful speech on the first night of the 2020 Democratic National Convention. (Credit: DNC Livestream)

Former First Lady Michelle Obama delivered a passionate and powerful speech to close out night one of the Democratic National Convention on Monday night, eliciting a wave of emotional reactions despite speaking solo to a camera in the first all-virtual political convention.

“Let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can. Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country,” Obama said. “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.”

Many saw that matter-of-fact line as a direct dig at President Trump, who said “it is what it is” when confronted earlier this month with the rising COVID-19 death toll in America.

Obama acknowledged the stark change in the public mood from 2016 to 2020, from a time when many Democratic voters were still hopeful about defeating Trump to a time when voters face a pandemic and other mounting obstacles to their basic right to vote—including the president himself.

“Over the past four years, a lot of people have asked me, ‘When others are going so low, does going high still really work?’” Obama said, referencing a line she made famous in her 2016 DNC speech. “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.”

She continued: “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.”

That's when she then emphasized that Trump is the “wrong president for our country.”

Watch the full speech and keep reading below:

Protecting the vote and increasing turnout from 2016

The former First Lady’s  candid and bracingly honest speech drew on feelings she’s been open about under the Trump administration—including recently talking about “dealing with some form of low-grade depression.”

But she was also strategic and practical. 

“Four years ago, too many people chose to believe that their votes didn’t matter,” Obama said. “Maybe they were fed up. Maybe they thought the outcome wouldn’t be close. Maybe the barriers felt too steep. Whatever the reason, in the end, those choices sent someone to the Oval Office who lost the national popular vote by nearly 3,000,000 votes.

“In one of the states that determined the outcome, the winning margin averaged out to just two votes per precinct—two votes,” she emphasized. “And we’ve all been living with the consequences.”

So what is her proposed solution? “We have to vote for Joe Biden in numbers that cannot be ignored,” Obama said. “Because right now, folks who know they cannot win fair and square at the ballot box are doing everything they can to stop us from voting. They’re closing down polling places in minority neighborhoods. They’re purging voter rolls. They’re sending people out to intimidate voters, and they’re lying about the security of our ballots.”

She also added that “this is not the time to withhold our votes in protest or play games with candidates who have no chance of winning,” an oblique reference to third party candidates that could be referencing anyone from Kanye West to another Jill Stein-like candidate.

“We have got to vote like we did in 2008 and 2012,” she said, recalling a time when turnout among some Democratic-voting groups was higher. “We’ve got to show up with the same level of passion and hope for Joe Biden. We’ve got to vote early, in person if we can. We’ve got to request our mail-in ballots right now, tonight, and send them back immediately and follow-up to make sure they’re received. And then, make sure our friends and families do the same.”

“You know I hate politics,” she continued, “but you also know that I care about this nation.” People on Twitter noted that for someone who hates politics, she is an exceptionally gifted public speaker.

A focus on empathy

Obama painted a picture of former vice president Joe Biden’s empathy—something she and her husband believe the current president sorely lacks— and the many personal losses he’s dealt with over the years, including the deaths of his first wife and baby daughter in a car accident, and while he was vice president, the death of his son Beau.

“His life is a testament to getting back up,” Obama said. She also acknowledged that “Joe is not perfect. And he’d be the first to tell you that. But there is no perfect candidate. No perfect president. And his ability to learn and grow—we find in that the kind of humility and maturity that so many of us yearn for right now.”

Related: Michelle Obama’s New Podcast Will Help You Get Through The Rest of 2020

Obama closed out by quoting the late Rep. John Lewis: “When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something.” 

“That is the truest form of empathy,” she said.

“If you take one thing from my words tonight, it is this: if you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can,” Obama said. “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.”