When I set out to write these Briefs, I promised myself that I would avoid mentioning the current president’s name. But, now I must break that promise for the briefest moment. Obama made me do it.
The world knows that President Obama spoke at the Democratic Convention last week, in the toughest tone I’ve heard from him. And, in doing so, he starkly departed from the norm of not criticizing a predecessor. But, I will stick to one of my own norms here and urge you to read that memorable speech, not just listen to it. https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/19/politics/barack-obama-speech-transcript/index.html
It essentially had three themes: Trump, Biden, and Democracy.
Critique of Trump.
President Obama said:
I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously…
But he never did. For close to four years now, he’s shown no interest in putting in the work…no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves [emphasis added].
(“Get the attention he craves.” My long-time readers may remember my October 19, 2015, Obamagram on Trump’s narcissism: “In my many decades, I have known only two or three people I consider to have a ‘narcissistic personality disorder,’ a mental illness.” I then listed the criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and followed with: “Max Weber’s assertion in his 1919 essay – ‘the boastful but entirely empty gesture…leads nowhere’ – causes me to conclude that Donald Trump’s candidacy ‘leads nowhere.’ I expect that he will not long persevere in the nomination process.” I was dead right about the diagnosis, but dead wrong about the prognosis.)
Praise of Biden.
President Obama said:
So let me tell you about my friend Joe Biden.
Twelve years ago, when I began my search for a vice president, I didn’t know I’d end up finding a brother. Joe and I came from different places and different generations. But what I quickly came to admire about him is his resilience, born of too much struggle; his empathy, born of too much grief. Joe’s a man who learned – early on – to treat every person he meets with respect and dignity, living by the words his parents taught him: “no one’s better than you, Joe, but you’re better than nobody.”
Democracy and Us.
President Obama said:
Joe and Kamala…care deeply about this democracy…
They believe that no one – including the president – is above the law…that our ability to work together to solve big problems like a pandemic depends on a fidelity to facts and science and logic and not just making stuff up…
These shouldn’t be Republican principles or Democratic principles. They’re American principles… [reminiscent of his famous assertion, coincidentally, at the 2004 Democratic Convention about red states and blue states.]
So I am also asking you to believe in your own ability – to embrace your own responsibility as citizens – to make sure that the basic tenets of our democracy endure.
Because that’s what’s at stake right now. Our democracy…
Last month, we lost a giant of American democracy in John Lewis…he told me…that on the very day that I was born, he was marching into a jail cell, trying to end Jim Crow segregation in the South…
Whatever our backgrounds, we’re all the children of Americans who fought the good fight…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…
You can give our democracy new meaning. You can take it to a better place. You’re the missing ingredient – the ones who will decide whether or not America becomes the country that fully lives up to its creed.
We must heed President Obama’s warnings about Trump and the fragility of our democracy and embrace his full-throated endorsement of Vice President Biden.
Please, as always, pass it along.