Saturday, October 15, 2016

What Makes "Going High" Credible

When Donald Trump was caught on tape bragging about committing sexual assault, the game changed.  Not because of that alone (or the statements of an ever-increasing number of women that he had indeed acted on that bragging many times over a quarter century) but because of its place in a pattern of shameless deceit and xenophobic and authoritarian macho.

Certainly Trump merits rejection because he is completely unfit for the job of President in every way.  But to that is added a moral revulsion that requires a moral statement.

Hillary Clinton can make impressive arguments in her favor on fitness and qualification, and on public commitments and personal behavior.  She is compromised to some degree by how people view her past, how she handled putative ethical questions and especially on the weight of relentlessly repeated false charges that too much of the electorate believes, or half-believes.

But she has on her side two unassailable advocates: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.  As individuals and as a couple, they have for eight years been international models of behavior, deportment and attitude.  They have embodied the ethics and ideals they advocate.

There has been not a single scandal involving either of them, or even of anyone prominent in the Obama administration.  It took crazed distortions by political enemies to manufacture the most absurd and groundless charges, like Trump's birth certificate circus.

Instead, for eight years they have been a model couple--loving, humorous, real--and a model family, not only for how they raised two remarkable daughters, but for including and embracing a grandmother in the White House.

They are two of the most admired people in America, and the two most admired Americans in the world.

The contrast with Donald Trump could not be greater.  I defy anyone to watch President Obama participating in a panel discussing cutting edge science with implications for government policy, and credibly substitute Trump in his place. Yet he demonstrates better than even I have realized what the 21st century demands in a US President.

But when the game changed to include an obvious moral crisis, the Obamas had the ability--and the credibility--to address it directly.  When the discourse was going low, they could credibly go high.

Michelle Obama did so in her widely praised speech.  As Maria L La Ganga  reported in the Guardian: "Obama’s oratory was a Clinton campaign highlight Thursday, a much-shared, widely tweeted and overwhelmingly celebrated defense of girls’ and women’s rights not to be demeaned or assaulted by anyone, not a construction worker on the street or the man who would be president."

"Obama's speech will go down as one of the most important of this political cycle, a moment in which she crystallized the feelings of many women in the wake of the Trump tape," wrote Chris Cillizza in the WPost, and he was far from the only one making that evaluation. "She was... speaking to a shared humanity that we could all use more of no matter our political inclinations."

"Michelle Obama may have done the seemingly impossible. She may just have rescued the US elections from the grotesque and demeaning mire into which they have descended," wrote Anne Perkins in the UK Guardian. " With the touch of a poet,[she] held out the possibility of something better. She lent her extraordinary ability to say what people are feeling to every English-speaking woman in the world."

"When she speaks, Michelle Obama doesn’t stop being the wife of the president, but she transcends it. She becomes the personification of the best of her country."

Similarly, when President Obama spoke in Ohio Friday and moved from specific issues and Trump bluster of the day to the essentials that are at stake, his eloquence flew but his character and credibility made them weighty words:

"Donald Trump’s closing argument is 'What do you have to lose?' The answer is: Everything. All the progress we’ve made right now is on the ballot. Civility is on the ballot. Tolerance is on the ballot. Courtesy is on the ballot. Honesty is on the ballot. Equality is on the ballot. Kindness is on the ballot. All the progress we made that last eight years is on the ballot. Democracy itself is on the ballot right now. 

So if you want to send a message, make it loud. Turn back the voices of cynicism. Turn back the voices of ignorance. Send a message of progress. Send a message of hope. Send a message by voting for Hillary Clinton, and show our kids and the rest of the world we remain the greatest country in the world."

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