Michelle Obama did not spare President Donald Trump in her virtual address to the Democratic convention.
Four years ago the then first lady had told the party meeting during Hillary Clinton’s doomed bid for the presidency “when they (the Republicans) go low, we go high”.
After nearly four years of Mr Trump’s presidency, she did not mince her words.
“If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me they can; and they will, if we don’t make a change in this election,” Mrs Obama told her party in a blunt and emotional appeal that capped the first night of the Democrats’ convention.
Warning of possible voter suppression, she told Americans they must vote for Joe Biden “in numbers that cannot be ignored” if they want to preserve the “most basic requirements for a functioning society”.
The scathing assessment was delivered in the last and longest speech in Democrats’ experiment with a virtual convention in the coronavirus era, a spot Mrs Obama earned through her overwhelming popularity in her party.
She delivered her remarks in a casual setting, a living room, with a Biden campaign sign on the mantelpiece, and identified as much with the beleaguered voters of the US as the line-up of politicians that preceded her in the programme.
“You know I hate politics,” she said, before diving into a speech that appealed to both her longtime fans in the Democratic coalition and a broad audience she has drawn since leaving the White House and becoming a bestselling author.
“He cannot meet this moment.”
“It is what it is,” Mrs Obama said, echoing a remark Mr Trump made recently about the US death toll from the coronavirus.
Citing the pandemic, the flagging economy, the political unrest that has broken out nationwide over systemic racism and what she described as America’s lack of leadership on the world stage, Mrs Obama said the nation is “underperforming not simply on matters of policy, but on matters of character”.
She recounted how Mr Biden has prevailed through the personal tragedy of losing his first wife, baby daughter and adult son and said Mr Biden will “channel that same grit and passion to help us heal and guide us forward”.
Republican Donald Trump succeeded President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in 2017 and has tried to undo many of Mr Obama’s achievements on health care, the environment and foreign policy, among others.
On Monday, before the event, Mr Trump took a dig at the former first lady’s coming speech, noting that her remarks were prerecorded and that his own speech at the Republican National Convention next week will be live.
“Who wants to listen to Michelle Obama do a taped speech?” he said at a rally in Wisconsin.
Wearing a necklace that spelled out the word Vote, she noted Mr Trump lost the popular vote but still won the White House, and “we’ve all been suffering the consequences”.
Her remarks came as debate rages in Washington about US Postal Service changes that are delaying mail deliveries around the country, and amid legal battles in several states over access to mail-in ballots.
Mrs Obama issued a call to action to those who sat out the last election: Now is not the time to “withhold our votes in protest or play games”, she said.
“We have got to grab our comfortable shoes, put on our masks, pack a brown bag dinner and maybe breakfast too, because we’ve got to be willing to stand in line all night if we have to,” she said.
Her speech was the fourth Democratic convention address by Michelle Obama, who first introduced herself to the nation during her husband’s groundbreaking campaign in 2008.
She spoke again in 2012 to urge voters to give him a second term.
Michelle Obama returned to the convention stage in 2016, backing former first lady Hillary Clinton over Mr Trump, who had spent years pushing the lie that Barack Obama was not born in the US and was ineligible for the presidency.
She spoke of the code her family lives by: “Our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”
This time Mrs Obama put an asterisk on that 2016 rallying cry.
“Let’s be clear: going high does not mean putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty,” she said.
“Going high means taking the harder path.”