The Democratic Party has been waiting four years for this moment. That moment finally came on Day 3 of the Democratic National Convention when former President Barack Obama unleashed a powerful rebuke of current President Trump and his efforts to undermine traditional American values and norms.
And by all accounts, this speech by Obama, leading up to the vice-presidential nomination acceptance speech by Sen. Kamala Harris, may have been the most demonstrative and stingy of a verbal takedown of a sitting U.S. president by his predecessor in modern American history. Obama, who also endorsed his former Vice President Joe Biden to become the next president, did not mince words about the ineptitude of Trump and what that failure has cost Americans.
“Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” Obama said from a live feed in Philadelphia. “And the consequences of that failure are severe. 170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone while those at the top take in more than ever. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.”
Obama sees President Trump for what he is: a liar and a manipulator of the truth. After all, it was President Trump who falsely promoted the birther conspiracy against Obama beginning in 2011. President Trump kept up this distortion for years and got elected largely on the lie that Obama was not eligible to be President of the United States.
The conspiracy theory caught wind real fast with Republicans that the political party stoked those fires so much that No. 44 would eventually produce his birth certificate to shut everyone’s mouth about the subject.
But the damage had been done to the first Black president of the United States. Four years into his presidency, the falsehoods and deceitful practices have kept coming from President Trump, from immigration bans and mass school shootings. President Trump’s skewed view on racial justice made him look the other way in Charlottesville and allowed him to dismiss foreign interference into the American electoral process in the 2016 election.
Impeached by the House of Representatives in December of 2019, President Trump has been apathetic towards COVID-19 and is now openly trying to suppress American votes by suing states that are expanding mail-in voting options to their constituents.
“We should expect a president to feel a sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of all 330 million of us – regardless of what we look like, how we worship, who we love, how much money we have – or who we voted for,” Obama said. “But we should also expect a president to be the custodian of this democracy. We should expect that regardless of ego, ambition, or political beliefs, the president will preserve, protect, and defend the freedoms and ideals that so many Americans marched for and went to jail for; fought for and died for.”
This was not a panned political speech. This was about as emotional of a livelihood pitch Obama gave to the American public as any he might have given as president. He spoke with passion. He pleaded. he also spoke out of utter disdain at the way President Trump is treating the presidency.
“I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies,” Obama said. “I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care. But he never did. For close to four years now, he’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”
As he lay condemnation at President Trump’s feet for the state the country is in today, Obama made sure give kudos to his former partner in the White House and to the history-making Harris.
“For eight years, Joe was the last one in the room whenever I faced a big decision. He made me a better president – and he’s got the character and the experience to make us a better country,” Obama said. “And in my friend Kamala Harris, he’s chosen an ideal partner who’s more than prepared for the job; someone who knows what it’s like to overcome barriers and who’s made a career fighting to help others live out their own American dream. Along with the experience needed to get things done, Joe and Kamala have concrete policies that will turn their vision of a better, fairer, stronger country into reality.”
But this was an evening for Obama to finally square off against President Trump in a dignified but pointed way. Since he had the floor all to himself and with a global audience watching, didn’t sugarcoat what he sees No. 45 is trying to do: that’s to sow discord among the American people any way he can.
“This president and those in power – those who benefit from keeping things the way they are – they are counting on your cynicism. They know they can’t win you over with their policies,” Obama said. “So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter. That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.”
“We can’t let that happen,” Obama continued. “Do not let them take away your power. Don’t let them take away your democracy. Make a plan right now for how you’re going to get involved and vote. Do it as early as you can and tell your family and friends how they can vote too. Do what Americans have done for over two centuries when faced with even tougher times than this – all those quiet heroes who found the courage to keep marching, keep pushing in the face of hardship and injustice.”
As America ponders its future, Obama painted a hopeful reality about this picture by talking about individuals who could have succumbed to the wills of the earth but kept pushing forward.
“Whatever our backgrounds, we’re all the children of Americans who fought the good fight,” Obama said. “Great grandparents working in firetraps and sweatshops without rights or representation. Farmers losing their dreams to dust. Irish and Italians and Asians and Latinos told to go back where they came from. Jews and Catholics, Muslims and Sikhs, made to feel suspect for the way they worshipped. Black Americans chained and whipped and hanged. Spit on for trying to sit at lunch counters. Beaten for trying to vote.”
“If anyone had a right to believe that this democracy did not work, and could not work, it was those Americans. Our ancestors. They were on the receiving end of a democracy that had fallen short all their lives. They knew how far the daily reality of America strayed from the myth. And yet, instead of giving up, they joined together and said somehow, some way, we are going to make this work. We are going to bring those words, in our founding documents, to life.”
America is now on the clock. The countdown to November’s election has become a race for the future with one eye on the present.
“As you’ve seen by now, this isn’t a normal convention. It’s not a normal time,” said Obama. “I want to talk as plainly as I can about the stakes in this election. Because what we do these next 76 days will echo through generations to come.”
Obama says that both Biden and Harris understands what is really at stake for the American people.
What I know about Joe and Kamala is that they actually care about every American. And they care deeply about this democracy,” Obama said. “They believe that in a democracy, the right to vote is sacred, and we should be making it easier for people to cast their ballot, not harder. They believe that no one – including the president – is above the law, and that no public official – including the president – should use their office to enrich themselves or their supporters.”