We do not deserve this

2016-10-16 10:54
Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama

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There remains a moral high ground in US 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 Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has so damaged.

“I can’t stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted,” the first lady began.

“So while I would love nothing more than to 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 on to the next thing like this was all a bad dream.”

It was necessary for her to put aside the “normal campaign speech” she was prepared to deliver 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 US politics since last Friday:

Trump’s predatory bragging, in a 2005 recording , about how powerful men “can do anything” they wanted to women.

Though Obama did not mention Trump by name in her speech, she consistently called out his excesses and abuses.

Since she electrified the Democratic National Convention with a powerful rebuke to Trump’s cruel and unusual politics, Obama has emerged as the single most effective critic of the Trump debasement — and the most effective advocate for Clinton’s candidacy.

But her speech was more than just another campaign address – this was a plea for the US to stop and think about what has happened to its 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 behaviour, 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 who 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 ...

"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.”

Obama spoke a truth that must be recognised, and embraced, by everyone who cherishes the US 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,” she 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.”

Nichols is The Nation’s national affairs correspondent

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