The quintessential gentleman, good guy, man of honor that we all know and love as the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack H. Obama finally stood up and said he’s had enough. And he took the gloves off Wednesday night during the 2020 virtual Democratic National Convention in a tough, primetime in your face speech that proved it.
Standing in the room where our Constitution was first drafted and signed in Philadelphia, President Obama set the tone right out the gate. Speaking plainly and with poetic eloquence, he talked about our fight to form a more perfect union in a way that was respectful yet raw. It’s a side of Obama that we haven’t really seen before.
The former President made a strong case, in a most warm and honest way, about why Joe Biden is the right person to be President. Talking about what’s at stake for “we the people,” particularly for people of color, Obama knows how hard the road has been for us before and now after COVID-19. He reminded us that Joe Biden also knows a thing or two about a hard road to walk. Biden knows tragic loss. He knows grief. He knows struggle. But most of all he knows both the power of faith and the power of resilience.
For eight years and even before, during the 2008 presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump assaulted and assailed then candidate Obama about the origins of his birth. We as Black people know that “birtherism” is just “code” for “show your papers boy.” Something out of the dark Jim Crow era and a way to further impede Black men’s legal right to vote. It sits right next to when southern racist election officers would make Black people count jelly beans in large glass jars, pay a poll tax or recite the U.S. Constitution from memory in order to vote.
Trump made clear in 2015, the day he came down that escalator at Trump Tower in New York City announcing his run for the presidency that he was going to be the anti-Obama candidate. He was going to reclaim America and “make it great again,” which, of course, implies that somehow President Obama failed at doing so.
Being the decent soul that he is, Obama, produced his birth certificate. Despite the attacks, the racist tropes and swipes, he never returned fire-for-fire, which seems to have changed, at least a little.
It’s about damn time.
The themes of his speech were clear. He knows that America is not a perfect nation. The Constitution after all doesn’t recognize the existence of full human beings including anyone of color, women, or those who identify within the LGBTQ+ community. We all had to fight to be included, acknowledged, and considered. He made the case against Trump’s ineptitude as President as a man who uses the office for his own greed and has treated the awesome power of democracy that makes this country so unique with complete indifference.
“Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” said Obama. “And the consequences of that failure are severe. 170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.”
This wasn’t just about blasting Trump. It was also about proving to the American people there’s an alternative that could be a saving grace and challenging Americans to rise up.
"Tonight, I am asking you to believe in Joe and Kamala’s ability to lead this country out of dark times and build it back better. But here’s the thing: no single American can fix this country alone. Democracy was never meant to be transactional – you give me your vote; I make everything better. So I am also asking you to believe in your own ability – to embrace your own responsibility as citizens – to make sure that the basic tenets of our democracy endure.”
Obama made it clear. He told us that what’s at stake in this election is bigger than tax cuts, medical coverage, partisan politics, spending cuts, or fights over social issues.
What is at stake is our very democracy which is woven into the fiber that stitches each of us together to form this union. And it is up to you and me to make sure that we do not lose the founder’s vision to establish a more perfect union for a nation where we all matter and where we can live out our founding credo: ePluribus Unum: Out of Many, One.
Sophia A. Nelson is an award-winning journalist and author of the award winning book, “Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama.”
Photo by DNCC via Getty Images