Former US president Barack Obama speaks during the virtual Democratic National Convention on August 19 2020. Picture: BLOOMBERG/DANIEL ACKER
Former US president Barack Obama speaks during the virtual Democratic National Convention on August 19 2020. Picture: BLOOMBERG/DANIEL ACKER

Bethesda — Former president Barack Obama gave an impassioned and emotional plea for Americans to vote for Joe Biden this election, evoking the civil rights movement as he argued that democracy itself is at stake.

He began by asserting that his successor did not deserve re-election: “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.”

He then told voters that Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, offered solutions to the many problems that the country faces and the promise of a brighter future. “Along with the experience needed to get things done, Joe and Kamala have concrete policies that will turn their vision of a better, fairer, stronger country into reality,” Obama said, praising the man who served as his vice-president for eight years.

In a slow, measured cadence punctuated by pauses, the former president said that if the descendants of slaves who were “chained and whipped and hanged” didn’t give up on the American idea, no-one should. At times he seemed to be struggling not to let his feelings get the better of him.

“If anyone had a right to believe that this democracy did not work, and could not work, it was those Americans. Our ancestors,” he said. “They knew how far the daily reality of America strayed from the myth. And yet, instead of giving up, they joined together and said somehow, some way, we are going to make this work. We are going to bring those words, in our founding documents, to life.”

He exhorted Americans, reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and its economic aftershocks, that “you can give our democracy new meaning, you can take it to a better place, you are the missing ingredient”.

But Obama said he also understood why Americans of all stripes had lost faith in government.

“I understand why a white factory worker who’s seen his wages cut or his job shipped overseas might feel like the government no longer looks out for him; and why a black mother might feel like it never looked out for her at all,” he said.

He warned that “this president and those in power, those who benefit from the way things are, they’re counting on your cynicism”.

“Do not let them take away your power,” Obama said, “Do not let them take away your democracy.”

Obama spoke from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia on the third night of the Democrats’ virtual convention. Obama took the rare step of a former president criticising his successor.

“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.”


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