Updated Aug 20, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Obama lets loose in his DNC speech

Speaking from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, former President Barack Obama tore into President Trump for failing, after four years, to "feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care."

Why it matters: It was an extraordinary moment in American history — an ex-president saying the sitting president would tear down our democracy to hold power.

  • It's hard to overstate the power of the speech — how remarkable it is for a former president to deliver a warning like that about a sitting president.

Between the lines: It was as if Obama, who reinforced the stakes by speaking from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, let loose frustrations he's been holding back for four years.

  • It's not the first time Obama has voiced his concerns about Trump, but he's always kept some level of restraint.
  • You could hear hints of the constitutional law professor he used to be, as well as a former president who seems genuinely appalled by his successor.

What he said: "I have sat in the Oval Office with both of the men who are running for president. I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies. I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care."

  • "But he never did. For close to four years now, he’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; 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. And the consequences of that failure are severe. 170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone while those at the top take in more than ever. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before."

Obama went on to draw a sharp contrast between the Trump administration and the Biden/Harris ticket, arguing: "More than anything, what I know about Joe and Kamala is that they actually care about every American. And they care deeply about this democracy."

  • "They believe that in a democracy, the right to vote is sacred, and we should be making it easier for people to cast their ballot, not harder."
  • "They believe that no one – including the president – is above the law, and that no public official – including the president – should use their office to enrich themselves or their supporters."
  • "They understand that in this democracy, the Commander-in-Chief doesn’t use the men and women of our military, who are willing to risk everything to protect our nation, as political props to deploy against peaceful protesters on our own soil."
  • "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."

The bottom line: "None of this should be controversial," Obama said. "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."

The other side: As Obama lambasted Trump for his failures to take the office of the presidency seriously, the president responded on Twitter: "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?"

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