’Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country’
Well, that’s one speech Melania Trump won’t be plagiarizing.
Donald Trump’s wife, who famously stole parts of her 2016 address to the Republican National Convention from a speech Michelle Obama gave before the Democrats in 2008, won’t find much to work with in Obama’s latest oration. That’s because the speech, a galvanizing capstone to the surprisingly effective first night of the Democrats’ virtual convention, prosecuted the case against Melania’s husband with withering power.
Enumerating the sense of perpetual chaos that has attended Trump’s 43 months in the White House — the economic collapse, the pandemic death toll, the eviction crisis, the betrayal of allies, the caging of children, the violent assaults on peaceful protesters, the mainstreaming of racism — she told us what we already know. “Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.”
That, you will recall, is exactly what Trump said recently about tens of thousands of Americans dead on his watch: It is what it is. As they say in church, if you can’t say “Amen,” at least say “ouch.”
But what lifted Obama’s speech beyond the moment was not solely or even primarily its indictment of Trump. Rather, it was its appeal to misplaced ideals of American fairness and compassion, its defense of that which should not need defending, but apparently does, meaning simple decency.
“When we close out the noise and the fear and truly open our hearts,” she said, “we know that what’s going on in this country is just not right.”
It isn’t. And we do. Even those of us who cheer it on or make excuses for it, surely do, albeit perhaps in some subterranean recess of their souls. “Sadly,” said Obama, her eyes alight, her delivery impassioned, “this is the America that is on display for the next generation, a nation that’s underperforming not simply on matters of policy, but on matters of character.”
“This,” she said, “is not who we want to be.” Note that she did not make the earnest, yet ludicrous claim too many others have made. She did not say, “This isn’t who we are.”
Because, of course, it is. But as Obama implicitly reminded us, who we are is a choice. Which means it’s within our reach, even now, to be bigger and better, kinder and gentler than the small and niggardly behavior of recent days.
Bruce Springsteen would surely agree. He appeared briefly in a video set to “The Rising,” his rousing 2002 anthem celebrating the courage and sacrifice of New York City firefighters at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. The video repurposed the song as a call for renewal, counterpointing images of Trump’s dystopian America — polluted skies, police violence, the infamous Bible photo op — against images of Americans in their rainbow-coalition glory, fighting for one another, caring for one another, helping one another, with one another. The drums crack sharply, and Springsteen leads a chorus calling us up to higher ground. Small wonder the clip has gone viral.
Yes, it’s schmaltz, three and a half minutes of manufactured feel-good. And so what? Forty-three dispiriting months later, who needs a pep talk, more than we?
Between them, the former first lady and the bard of the Jersey Shore gave us one for the ages Monday night. They offered a resuscitation of hope. And this prayer to our better angels:
Make America good again.
(Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via e-mail at email@example.com.)