Michelle Obama brands Donald Trump a ‘racist’ and a ‘liar’ in plea to voters
Former US first lady Michelle Obama has blasted President Donald Trump, labelling him a racist and a liar in an explosive plea to voters.
Today Mrs Obama appeared in a 26-minute video for the Biden campaign, described as her “closing argument” to the American people before the election.
As we have noted before, it is extremely unusual for a former president – let alone a first lady – to publicly attack the current occupant of the Oval Office.
But Barack and Michelle Obama have both spoken out repeatedly against Mr Trump in the lead-up to November’s election.
During her speech to the Democratic National Convention in August, Mrs Obama delivered a blunt assessment of the President, saying he was “clearly in over his head”.
Compared to the message she sent voters today, that speech was strikingly tactful.
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Mrs Obama started with a fairly mild appeal for every voter to participate in the election.
“Believe it or not, the election is right around the corner,” Mrs Obama said.
“Votes are already being cast. And if you’re still deciding who to vote for, or whether to vote at all, I wanted to take a moment to remind you what’s at stake, and to urge you to make a plan to vote today.
“Let’s be honest. Right now, our country is in chaos because of a President who isn’t up to the job. And if we want to regain any kind of stability, we’ve got to ensure that every eligible voter is informed and engaged in this election.”
Voting is not compulsory in the United States, and each presidential election is held on a Tuesday, when most people are at work. So, both major parties spend a lot of time and resources trying to convince their core supporters to bother showing up.
Fewer than 60 per cent of Americans cast ballots in 2016, with Mr Trump and Hillary Clinton each earning the support of about 27 per cent of the eligible population.
Mrs Obama has spoken previously about her frustration with Democratic voters for staying home instead of casting ballots for Ms Clinton.
“I understand the people who voted for Trump. The people who didn’t vote at all – the young people, the women – that is when you think, man, people think this is a game,” she said in the Netflix documentary Becoming.
“It wasn’t just in this election. Every midterm. Every time Barack didn’t get the Congress he needed, that was because our folks didn’t show up. After all that work, they just couldn’t be bothered to vote at all.”
Mrs Obama clearly fears the same thing could happen again, particularly with the coronavirus pandemic potentially discouraging people from going to the polls.
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With that out of the way, she launched into a sustained attack on Mr Trump. The former first lady spent quite some time condemning his response to the virus.
“If you’re a parent like me, you’re feeling the consequences of this President’s failure to take this pandemic seriously. From his constant downplaying of the importance of masks and social distancing, to his relentless pressure on schools to open without offering a clear plan or meaningful support to keep students and teachers safe,” Mrs Obama said.
She cast doubt on the President’s frequent claim that the virus only affects elderly people with pre-existing conditions, arguing even young people who survive the disease could suffer long-term effects.
“I pray every day that no one faces longer term consequences to this disease, but the truth is we just don’t know yet, and we simply cannot trust this President to tell us the truth about everything,” she said.
“It’s painful to think that months into this crisis, this is still where we are. With no clear plan, no peace of mind. And the worst part is, it didn’t have to be like this.
“Look around the world. So many other countries aren’t experiencing this level of extended suffering and uncertainty. These countries were hit by the same virus we were. They have the same kind of resources to contain it.
“What they didn’t have to contend with was this President. A man who had every resource at his disposal – the finest medical experts, our best intelligence – and yet ignored all the advice and failed to produce a plan to provide enough tests for worried families or protective equipment for our healthcare workers.
“A man who knew how deadly this virus is, but who lied to us and told us it would just disappear.
“Who in the greatest crisis of our lifetimes, doubled down on division, railed against measures that could have mitigated the damage, and continues to hold massive events without requiring masks or social distancing, knowingly exposing his own supporters to a dangerous virus.
“Today, more Americans have died from this virus than died in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Korea combined. Take all those lives bravely sacrificed, and double it. That is roughly the scale of this tragedy, and our commander-in-chief, sadly, has been missing in action.”
For the record, the current coronavirus death toll in the United States stands at 216,000. The combined American death toll from Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Korea is 101,438.
“Seven months later, he still doesn’t have a plan for this virus. Seven months later, he still won’t wear a mask consistently and encourage others to do the same, even when those simple actions could save countless lives,” Mrs Obama continued.
“Instead, he continues to gaslight the American people by acting like this pandemic is not a real threat.”
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Mr Trump himself is infected with the virus at the moment, and recently spent three days being treated by a team of elite doctors at Walter Reed medical centre.
After returning to the White House yesterday – and promptly removing his face mask – he told Americans not to fear the disease.
“Don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment, we have the best medicines, all developed recently. And you’re going to beat it,” the President said.
“Don’t let it dominate your lives. Get out there, be careful. We have the best medicines in the world.”
Mrs Obama tied her critique of Mr Trump’s pandemic response to a broader accusation that he had been “negligent” as President.
“When wildfires rage out west, he says nothing for weeks. When Americans of all backgrounds peacefully protest racism and police violence, he disparages them, yet eggs on heavily armed militias,” she argued.
“When our heroic young men and women answer the call and give their lives for our country, he calls them suckers and losers, and publicly mocks Gold Star families and prisoners of war.
“All this from someone who as a wealthy, connected young man, avoided military service.”
She was referring to an explosive report, published in The Atlantic last month, that Mr Trump called fallen soldiers “losers” during a trip to France in 2018.
Elements of the report were confirmed by several other publications. The President continues to vehemently deny saying any such thing.
Mr Trump received five deferments from the military draft during the Vietnam War – four for being a college student, and one for having “bone spurs” in his foot.
Mrs Obama did eventually get around to mentioning Joe Biden, who served as her husband’s vice president and is now the Democratic Party’s nominee.
“A president’s policies are a direct reflection of their values, and we’re seeing that truth on display with our current President, who has devoted his life to enriching himself, his family and other wealthy people,” she said.
“By contrast, Joe Biden has lived his life guided by values and principles that mirror ones that most Americans can recognise.
“I know Joe. He is a good man who understands the struggles of everyday folks.”
She launched into a lengthy description of Mr Biden’s resume and policies, which I shan’t bore you with here.
“Instead of tearing people apart, he will bring people together. It’s a simple choice, really. A chance for a fresh start, or four more years of this,” said Mrs Obama.
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The most inflammatory part of her speech came near the end, as she slammed Mr Trump’s treatment of African-Americans and other minority groups.
“The President and his allies are trying to tap into (your) frustration and distract from his breathtaking failures by giving folks someone to blame other than them,” said Mrs Obama.
“They’re stoking fears about black and brown Americans. Lying about how minorities will destroy the suburbs, whipping up violence and intimidation. And they’re pinning it all on what’s been an overwhelmingly peaceful movement for racial solidarity.
“It’s true. Research backs it up. Only a tiny fraction of demonstrations have had any violence at all.”
A study by Princeton University, published last month, found there had been violent demonstrations in 220 locations across the United States. Those riots represented 7 per cent of the protests against police brutality at the time, with 93 per cent being peaceful.
Whether or not it’s accurate to describe 7 per cent as “a tiny fraction” is entirely a matter of personal opinion.
“So what the President is doing is, once again, patently false. It’s morally wrong. And yes, it is racist,” Mrs Obama said.
“But that doesn’t mean it won’t work. Because this is a difficult time, a confusing time, and when people hear these lies and crazy conspiracies repeated over and over and over again, they don’t know what to think.
“With everything going on in their lives, they don’t have time to fact check falsehoods being spread throughout the internet, and even reasonable people might get scared. The one thing this President is really, really good at is using fear and confusion and spreading lies to win.
“As a black woman who has, like the overwhelming majority of people of colour in this nation, done everything in my power to live a life of dignity and service and honesty, the knowledge that any of my fellow Americans is more afraid of me than the chaos we are living through right now – well, that hurts. It hurts us all. It is a heaviness that sits on our hearts.”
She asked undecided voters to empathise with the experience of African-Americans.
“Put yourselves in our shoes for just a moment. Imagine how it feels to wake up every day and do your very best to uphold the values that this country claims to hold dear – truth, honour, decency – only to have those efforts met by scorn. Not just by your fellow citizens, but by a sitting President,” Mrs Obama said.
“Imagine how it feels to have suspicion cast on you from the day you were born, simply because of the hue of your skin. To walk around your own country scared that someone’s unjustified fear of you could put you in harm’s way.
“Living with the knowledge that no matter how hard we try, how much good we do in the world, there will be far too many who will never see our humanity. Who will project on us their own fears of retribution for centuries of injustice, and thus only see us as a threat to be restrained.
“Racism, fear, division – these are powerful weapons, and they can destroy this nation if we don’t deal with them head-on.”
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Mrs Obama ended the lengthy message by asking Americans to “search your hearts and your conscience” before settling on a candidate.
“I want to ask every single American, no matter what party you normally vote for, to please take a moment to pause,” she said.
“Click off the news. Think about how you felt over these last four years, how quickly things have turned, and then think about what the next four years could mean for our country’s future.
“Think about what could possibly compel you to accept this level of chaos, violence and confusion under this President, and be willing to watch our country continue to spiral out of control. Because we can no longer pretend that we don’t know exactly who and what this President stands for.
“Search your hearts and your conscience, and then vote for Joe Biden like your lives depend on it.”