“A lot of people have asked me, ‘When others are going so low, does going high still really work?’ My answer: going high is the only thing that works.”
Former First Lady Michelle Obama said this in the midst of a passionate and heartfelt, memorable plea to the American people to rescue the nation from the clutches of Donald Trump on the first night of the virtual Democratic National Convention Monday night.
She went on to say this: “When we go low, when we use those same tactics of degrading and dehumanizing others, we just become part of the ugly noise that’s drowning out everything else. We degrade ourselves. We degrade the very causes for which we fight.”
But she made it clear that the high road “does not mean putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty.”
On the contrary, she said, “Going high means taking the harder path. It means scraping and clawing our way to that mountain top. Going high means standing fierce against hatred while remembering that we are one nation under God, and if we want to survive, we’ve got to find a way to live together and work together across our differences. And going high means unlocking the shackles of lies and mistrust with the only thing that can truly set us free: the cold hard truth.”
Michelle Obama’s remarks Monday night, and those of a would-be First Lady Jill Biden on Tuesday night, touched on core themes that are completely and totally lost on President Trump and his sycophant followers in crime.
They will never get what Michelle Obama and Jill Biden were talking about, taking their words to be mere ephemeral platitudes providing comfort to the weak.
But they cannot know how basic the sentiments expressed by those women are to the mass electoral uprising that is rising to sweep that foul sack of pus wrapped in a thin orange skin out of the White House.
The office of the presidency has the power to influence the entire population by acting to “summon our better angels or awaken our worst instincts,” and Trump has nothing to offer but “chaos, division, and a total and utter lack of empathy,” Michelle Obama said.
She continued that theme: “Empathy: that’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. The ability to walk in someone else’s shoes; the recognition that someone else’s experience has value, too. Most of us practice this without a second thought. If we see someone suffering or struggling, we don’t stand in judgment. We reach out because, ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I.’ It is not a hard concept to grasp. It’s what we teach our children.”
But, she noted, now our children “see people shouting in grocery stores, unwilling to wear a mask to keep us all safe. They see people calling the police on folks minding their own business just because of the color of their skin. They see an entitlement that says only certain people belong here, that greed is good, and winning is everything because as long as you come out on top, it doesn’t matter what happens to everyone else. And they see what happens when that lack of empathy is ginned up into outright disdain.
“They see our leaders labeling fellow citizens enemies of the state while emboldening torch-bearing white supremacists. They watch in horror as children are torn from their families and thrown into cages, and pepper spray and rubber bullets are used on peaceful protestors for a photo-op.
“Sadly, 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,” she said.
Donald Trump and his ilk live in a hateful postmodern bubble built on the notion that there is really no such thing as love, only power and pleasure. They think perpetuating their rule is by the exercise of raw power, of “shock and awe.”
So, the contest for the soul of American is between Trump and those who can access the reality of a higher power that resides in love, compassion and empathy.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.