By Merrill Lynn Hansen
When he first ran for president in 2016, Donald Trump repeatedly told everyone in America, as well as every person who was listening on foreign soil, that America was no longer great, and that only he could make it great again. But, as I watched Michelle Obama speak at the Democratic convention that year, my eyes teared up when she said, "Don't let anyone ever tell you that this country isn't great, that somehow we need to make it great again.” Everyone at the convention cheered, and many of them also wiped away tears, because everyone knew that our country was great.
This year, because of the deadly virus stalking the land, the Democratic National Convention is viral. There is no audience cheering, and we can't watch people wipe away tears when they hear an emotional speech that is a reflection of their own thoughts, values and fears. But I still looked forward to watching Michelle on the first night of the Democratic Convention, because I knew she would do what she likes to do; talk to everyone listening, as if she's sitting in the room with us. After all, the only person Trump envies and fears more than former president Barack Obama, is Michelle Obama.
I didn't know if she was going to go high, or ignore her own motto, and go low. But if anyone has a right to pierce Trump's famously thin skin, Michelle Obama does, because of his unrelenting attempts to erase her husband's presidency, and all the insults he and his supporters heaped upon her and her family for years. More importantly, Michelle understands what is happening to our country because of racist politics. But, for my own selfish reason, I hoped she would cut close to the bone, for the millions of Americans, of whom I am one, who feel that our country has been under attack by Trump and his administration. I hoped Michelle would tell us exactly what she was feeling--and she did.
In a gripping speech, Obama reminded us that she is one of only a handful of people who knows the "awesome power of the presidency.” When she listed the qualities the job requires--clear-headed judgment, a devotion to facts and history, a moral compass, and an ability to listen--she didn't need to say anything further, or mention our current president's name. It was clear she was telling us those were not qualities he possesses. But, then, she went further, and left no doubt about how strongly she feels about Trump. This time, she mentioned his name:
"Let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can. Donald 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."
And there were those words: "It is what it is.” The very words Trump had spoken, when casually discussing the number of COVID-19 deaths in our country, as if losing our friends and family members was something we just needed to get used to. But now, Michelle Obama was telling us that Donald Trump cannot be who we need him to be, and that it should be no more acceptable to us, than the loss of family and friends to COVID-19.
Michelle didn't just say that Trump is unable to be what we need him to be. She dug deeper and was far more personal. She not only spoke about the chaos and division we get when we look to the White House for leadership, consolation and "any semblance of steadiness,”; she emphasized that there is a "total and utter lack of empathy.” What can be more personal than saying our president is so selfish that he disregards other people’s feelings, and is unable to grasp the concept of reaching out, rather than judging? Michelle seemed almost baffled that Trump didn't understand this concept, one that he should have learned as a child. When she said, "It is something parents teach their children,” I couldn't help but wonder whether she was not only referring to Trump's lack of empathy, but his children’s as well.
Michelle Obama didn't want us to believe that Joe Biden lacks any of the requisite qualities and empathy to be our new president, or that her only goal was to get rid of Trump. She didn't want to leave the impression that this is a campaign about the lesser of two evils, like some Trump voters felt in 2016. She strongly praised Biden's experience, and the decency and character in him that she and her husband have witnessed for years. "His life is a testament to getting back up,” she declared and assured everyone listening that Biden was going to channel his grit and passion, and "pick us all up, to help us all heal, and guide us forward.”
Michelle may worry that some people won’t pay attention to her message, because she is a partisan woman speaking at a Democratic convention, in a nation that is deeply divided. But I'm certain there are people who heard and understood what she meant when she said "being president doesn't change who you are, It reveals who you are. “ She reminded us that it reveals who we are. Her warning was riveting:
"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 to go vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it.”
With that, Michelle Obama not only let everyone know who Trump is, she let Trump know who he never can be.
Merrill Hansen is a legal assistant, living in West Bloomfield, Michigan. She describes herself as a frustrated writer, who wishes she could be Nora Ephron (when she was alive), if only for a day. She is a news-, political- and FB-junkie, a combination that requires a constant reminder that she needs to take deep cleansing breaths when responding to people who don't agree with her.