'It is what it is': Michelle Obama picks Trump apart in gripping DNC speech

The former first lady sharply contrasted Joe Biden’s competency and character with that of the president

Michelle Obama eviscerated Donald Trump during her keynote speech at the opening night of the virtual Democratic convention, accusing him of being the “wrong president for our country” and “clearly in over his head”.

In her most political address and her most pointed criticism of Trump to date, the former first lady called on Americans to “vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it” in the November election.

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

Michelle Obama: “Let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can: Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country ... 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." pic.twitter.com/9nUJDOBaij

— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 18, 2020

“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.”

The phrase echoed Trump’s own words earlier this month, who, when asked about the United States’ staggering death toll from coronavirus, responded: “It is what it is.”

Liberals, progressives, moderates and some Republicans came together at the virtual event on Monday night to warn of the threats four more years of a Trump administration pose, and promote visions for a better future.

In her address, Michelle Obama specifically referenced her words at the 2016 convention, in which she told Democrats: “When they go low, we go high.” Obama said tonight, “Going high is the only thing that works.”

She then added: “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.”

Nearly four years after leaving the White House, the former first lady remains a hugely popular figure within the party, and among black women in particular, as well as with some of those outside the party.

In recent years, she published a best-selling memoir called Becoming, traveled the country on a book tour that was later made into a documentary, helped found a new voting rights organization, and recently launched a podcast.

“You know I hate politics,” she said in her speech, repeating a truism that has always disappointed her most ardent supporters, some of whom attempted to draft her into the 2020 primary race.

Michelle Obama: “Right now kids in this country are seeing what happens when we stop requiring empathy of one another. They're looking around wondering if we've been lying to them this whole time about who we are and what we truly value” pic.twitter.com/OHLfNNSYfm

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) August 18, 2020

But it appeared to make her an even more powerful character witness, as she sharply contrasted Joe Biden’s personality and record with Trump’s, calling the former vice-president, who served under her husband president Barack Obama, a “profoundly decent man” who will “tell the truth and trust science”.

“He knows what it takes to rescue an economy, beat back a pandemic and lead our country,” she said.

Trump succeeded Barack Obama in 2017 and promptly set out to undo many of Obama’s achievements on healthcare, the environment and foreign policy, among others. Trump also routinely criticizes Obama’s job performance.

Biden’s sense of empathy was also a key focus of Michelle Obama’s speech. Speaking of the national reckoning on racism sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in May, she said: “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”.

Tragedy has followed Biden, from the deaths of his first wife and baby daughter after he was elected to the Senate in 1972, to the death of his son Beau from brain cancer in 2015.

“His life is a testament to getting back up, and he is going to channel that same grit and passion to pick us all up, to help us heal and guide us forward,” she said of Biden.

A speech like that would typically be met with thunderous applause. But this year, praise was recorded online.

Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris praised Obama for “speaking truth to power” while Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called her remarks “incredibly powerful” and “deeply moving”.

“Because she is not a politician and doesn’t think or speak like one, @MicheleObama is such a powerful communicator,” tweeted David Axelrod, political consultant and former adviser to Barack Obama. “As she is showing again here, she speaks with a moral authority few in public life can summon.”

.@MichelleObama speaking truth to power. Donald Trump is not up for the job—but @JoeBiden is. pic.twitter.com/UDCCofB0Rv

— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) August 18, 2020

Michelle Obama, who leads an effort to help register people to vote, also spoke about the importance of voting in the 3 November election, which will take place amid a coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 170,000 Americans and infected more than 5 million in the US. In the video, she wore a gold chain necklace that said “VOTE”.

Her remarks came as Democrats in Washington have also railed against recent cuts to the US Postal Service, which is headed by a Trump ally and Republican donor. The changes are delaying mail deliveries around the country, raising concerns about whether mail-in ballots will be sent out and returned on time ahead of the election.

Trump, who lags Biden in some national and state polls, has denounced efforts by some states to expand voting-by-mail options and spread misinformation to undermine the practice, which is seeing huge demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Due the coronavirus, Michelle Obama’s remarks were recorded before Biden’s announcement last Tuesday that he had chosen Harris as his running mate.

But the former first lady wrote lengthy posts on her Facebook and Instagram accounts praising Harris, a black woman born to Jamaican and Indian parents, after she joined the Democratic ticket.

Monday’s speech was the fourth Democratic convention address by Michelle Obama, who first introduced herself to the nation during her husband’s groundbreaking campaign. She spoke again in 2012 to urge voters to give him a second term.

Michelle Obama returned to the convention stage in 2016, backing former first lady Hillary Clinton over Trump, who had spent years pushing the lie that Barack Obama was not born in the US and was ineligible for the presidency.

Associated Press contributed to this report


Joan E Greve in Washington, Lauren Gambino in Wilmington and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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