There remains a moral high ground in American politics, and on Thursday Michelle Obama spoke from it.
In so doing she provided precisely the clarity that has been needed to raise the quality of the discourse that Donald Trump has so damaged.
“I can’t stop thinking about this. It has shaken to me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted,” the first lady of the United States began. “So while I would love nothing more than pretend that this isn’t happening and come out here and do my normal campaign speech, it would be dishonest and disingenuous to just move onto the next thing like this was all a bad dream. This is not something we can ignore.”
It was necessary for Obama to put aside the “normal campaign speech” she was prepared to deliver Thursday on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the battleground state of New Hampshire. It was necessary that she address the topic that has transfixed American politics since last Friday: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s predatory bragging, on a 2005 tape, about how powerful men “can do anything” they want to women.
Though the first lady does not mention Trump by name when she speaks on the 2016 campaign trail, she consistently calls out his excesses and abuses. And the latest excesses and abuses needed to be addressed — as only Michelle Obama can.
Since she electrified the Democratic National Convention with a powerful rebuke to the Republican nominee’s cruel and unusual politics, Obama has emerged as the single most effective critic of the Trump debasement — and the single most effective advocate for Clinton’s candidacy.
But the address the first lady delivered in Manchester Thursday was more than just another campaign speech.
This was a heartfelt plea for America to stop and think about what has happened to our politics.
“This is not something that we can ignore,” said Obama, who went on to say:
It’s not something we can just sweep under the rug as just another disturbing footnote in a sad election season. Because this was not just a “lewd conversation.” This wasn’t just locker-room banter. This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior, and actually bragging about kissing and groping women, using language so obscene that many of us were worried about our children hearing it when we turn on the TV.
And to make matters worse, it now seems very clear that this isn’t an isolated incident. It’s one of countless examples of how he has treated women his whole life. And I have to tell you that I listen to all of this and I feel it so personally, and I’m sure that many of you do too, particularly the women. The shameful comments about our bodies. The disrespect of our ambitions and intellect. The belief that you can do anything you want to a woman.
It is cruel. It’s frightening. And the truth is, it hurts. It hurts. It’s like that sick, sinking feeling you get when you’re walking down the street minding your own business and some guy yells out vulgar words about your body. Or when you see that guy at work that stands just a little too close, stares a little too long, and makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin.
It’s that feeling of terror and violation that too many women have felt when someone has grabbed them, or forced himself on them and they’ve said no but he didn’t listen — something that we know happens on college campuses and countless other places every single day. It reminds us of stories we heard from our mothers and grandmothers about how, back in their day, the boss could say and do whatever he pleased to the women in the office, and even though they worked so hard, jumped over every hurdle to prove themselves, it was never enough.
Michelle Obama spoke a truth that must be recognized, and embraced, by everyone who cherishes the American experiment.
“This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable. And it doesn’t matter what party you belong to—Democrat, Republican, independent—no woman deserves to be treated this way. None of us deserves this kind of abuse,” Obama said.
“I know it’s a campaign, but this isn’t about politics. It’s about basic human decency. It’s about right and wrong,” declared the first lady. “And we simply cannot endure this, or expose our children to this any longer—not for another minute, and let alone for four years. Now is the time for all of us to stand up and say enough is enough. This has got to stop right now.”