There was a point when Barack Obama at least hoped that Donald Trump would try and approach his job as president “seriously.”
But as the former president made clear in a devastating critique of Trump’s time in office, even those hopes were too ambitious.
“This administration has shown it will tear our democracy down if that’s what it takes to win,” Obama said. “So we have to get busy building it up.”
Speaking from Philadelphia as part of the third night of the Democratic National Convention, Obama delivered both a brutal look at the damage of Trump’s presidency and a call to action to support Joe Biden, his former vice president, and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, as they try to help America recover from what the Democratic leader sees as the repeated attacks weakening the democratic principles of the country.
Trump, Obama said, has “no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”
“Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” Obama said, pointing to the nation’s death toll of more than 170,000 from the coronavirus pandemic. “And the consequences of that failure are severe.”
Obama noted that in these polarized times, many have already decided what they’ll do in November. And that’s when the former president briefly halted his fire at Trump, and the warmth Obama feels for Biden was clear as he painted a picture of how he believes Biden can heal the country from the divisiveness and turmoil that has dominated the Trump era.
He talked about Biden’s love for his kids, his empathy for the grieving parents of soldiers as a man who can relate to their struggles and sorrows, praising his resilience and strength.
“But more than anything, what I know about Joe and Kamala is that they actually care about every American,” Obama said. “And they care deeply about this democracy.”
Again and again Wednesday night, however, Obama made clear that his message was two-pronged, championing a man he believes will protect democracy while condemning the man who has helped weaken it.
“They understand that political opponents aren’t un-American just because they disagree with you, that a free press isn’t the enemy but the way we hold officials accountable, 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,” Obama said. “None of this should be controversial. These shouldn’t be Republican principles or Democratic principles. They’re American principles. But at this moment, this president and those who enable him have shown they don’t believe in these things.”
Obama made clear no one person can cure what ails the country, “not even a president.” And as Obama spoke,Trump tore into him on Twitter with an all caps conspiracy lie.
Minutes later, Trump went a step further, tweeting “WHY DID HE REFUSE TO ENDORSE SLOW JOE UNTIL IT WAS ALL OVER, AND EVEN THEN WAS VERY LATE? WHY DID HE TRY TO GET HIM NOT TO RUN?”
Obama said he could understand why immigrants to the country could have concerning questions, how the younger generation could look on in horror at the country’s politics as it descends into even worse rancor as Election Day approaches, seeing “the meanness and the lies and crazy conspiracy theories and think, what’s the point?”
“Well, here’s the point,” Obama said. “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. 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.”
And by accomplishing that trick, Obama said, “that’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.”
“We can’t let that happen,” Obama said. “Do not let them take away your power. Don’t let them take away your democracy.”