That’s all it took for first lady Michelle Obama to eviscerate the central theme of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
“Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country is not great,” Obama said on the first night of the Democratic National Convention. “That somehow we need to make it great again. Because this right now is the greatest country on Earth.”
This was the wife of America’s first black president sharing the wonder of seeing her daughters, “two beautiful, intelligent black young women,” playing on the White House lawn. This was a strong, successful woman celebrating, with a parent’s emotion, how her kids, as Hillary Clinton receives the Democratic nomination, will “now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”
Without mentioning Trump’s name, without lowering herself to name-calling, the first lady showed us, eloquently and powerfully, that Trump’s campaign strives for an America that is great for some, but not all.
There are no black presidents in Trump’s great America. There are no women with a chance to become president. There are no Latinos in positions of power, no gay couples marrying, no policies that protect the rights of transgender people.
There is no political correctness. No anti-bullying codes. No laws to prevent discrimination in hiring.
Obama’s speech invited Americans to view the return to greatness Trump is promising through her eyes and the eyes of her daughters: “There but for the grace of God, go I. I want a president who will teach our children that everyone in this country matters.”
Where was Trump during all this? In North Carolina, telling a rally of predominantly white people about his plans to bring back the great America they all think existed.
He was repeatedly calling Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a fierce Trump critic who has said she had Native American ancestors, “Pocahontas” and saying: “She’s got a fresh mouth, other than that she’s got nothing going for her.”
He was calling Clinton “a fool” and saying of America, “We’re not respected anymore. We have leaders that are stupid. We have leaders that are incompetent.”
Juxtapose that with the eloquence of Obama’s speech, which brought an end to an awkward day of Democratic division between Clinton supporters and backers of Sen. Bernie Sanders, filling the Philadelphia arena with thunderous applause.
She spoke of how she and her husband help their daughters understand the hateful rhetoric that has bubbled up from people like Trump, who entered the political realm as a birther:
“That is what Barack and I think about every day as we tried to guide and protect our girls from the challenges of this unusual life and the spotlight. How we urged them to ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith. How we insist that the hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country. How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. Our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”
Trump has only one direction: low. And he’s going low when he promises to make America great again.
Michelle Obama showed us that Monday night.
Here are those sentences again, because they’re worth repeating: “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country is not great. That somehow we need to make it great again. Because this right now is the greatest country on Earth.”
She continued: “And as my daughters set out on the world, I want a leader who is worthy of that truth, a leader worthy of my girls’ promise and all of our kids’ promise. A leader who will be guided every day by the love and hope and impossibly big dreams that we all have for our children.”
All of our children. Not just some.
This was a speech that revealed a truth Americans need to acknowledge.
Make America Great Again is a pithy political slogan. And it’s an affront to anyone whose America is greater now than it ever has been.
Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.