During a keynote address at The Democratic National Convention today, former First Lady Michelle Obama issued a rallying cry, urging her countrymen and women to vote for Joe Biden at this year’s election and reclaim an empathetic America.
Obama said that when her husband Barack left office with Biden at his side, America “had a record-breaking stretch of job creation”, and a wide set of progressive policies in place.
“We’d secured the right to healthcare for 20,000,000 people. We were respected around the world, rallying our allies to confront climate change. And our leaders had worked hand-in-hand with scientists to help prevent an Ebola outbreak from becoming a global pandemic.” But that four years later, America under Donald Trump looked starkly different. “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.
She also referred to the recent Black Lives Matter protests and the horrific deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor “and a never ending list of innocent people of colour”.
Citing empathy as a trait she’d been thinking about a lot lately, Obama suggested that “most of us practice this without a second thought,” but implied this was fundamentally lacking in Trump’s leadership.
“Right now, kids in this country are seeing what happens when we stop requiring empathy of one another,” Obama said. “They’re looking around wondering if we’ve been lying to them this whole time about who we are and what we truly value.” She added that kids in America now “see an entitlement that says only certain people belong here, that greed is good, and winning is everything because as long as you come out on top, it doesn’t matter what happens to everyone else. And they see what happens when that lack of empathy is ginned up into outright disdain.”
Because of Trump’s insular and narcissistic leadership, the next generation of Americans are watching and seeing “a nation that’s underperforming not simply on matters of policy but on matters of character. And that’s not just disappointing; it’s downright infuriating,” she added. “When we close out the noise and the fear and truly open our hearts, we know that what’s going on in this country is just not right. This is not who we want to be.”
So, what’s the way forward according to Obama? A Joe Biden presidency and a concerted effort to keep “going high”.
“Over the past four years, a lot of people have asked me, ‘when others are going so low, does going high still really work?’, My answer: going high is the only thing that works. Because when we go low, when we use those same tactics of degrading and dehumanising 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.”
“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.”
The full transcript of Michelle Obama’s speech can be found here.