Former President Barack Obama delivered an unsparing attack on President Donald Trump at the virtual Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night, accusing his successor of using the nation’s highest office to help himself and his friends, and treating the presidency like a “reality show” to get “the attention he craves.”
Speaking from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia under the convention night’s theme of “A more perfect union,” Obama accused Trump of failing to take the job seriously, resulting in a massive death toll due to the pandemic, job and economic losses, and a diminished U.S. standing around the world.
“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,” Obama said to a prime-time national audience.
“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 said.
Obama’s remarks were his sharpest and most direct attacks on Trump since leaving office after two terms in 2017. It represents the latest evolution of the former hometown president’s decision to go harder on Trump as the election approaches.
And just as Trump has upended many norms in the office, Obama’s speech reflects a decision to dispense with the long-standing tradition that has largely had former presidents remain silent about their successors.
Obama said he was under no illusions that Trump, upon taking over, would continue with his policies or embrace his vision of the country. But Obama said he hoped “for the sake of the country” that Trump would take the job seriously and feel the weight of the office and have some reverence “for the democracy that had been placed in his care.”
“But he never did,” the former president said.
Trump returned the criticism when asked about Obama’s prepared remarks at a White House news conference earlier Wednesday saying he was “bad” and “ineffective.”
“President Obama did not do a good job, and the reason I am here is because of President Obama and Joe Biden,” Trump told reporters. “Because if they did a good job, I wouldn’t be here, and probably if they did a good job, I wouldn’t have even run. I would have been very happy, I enjoyed my previous life very much. But they did such a bad job that I stand before you as president.”
Vouching for the Democrats’ 2020 nominee, Biden, the former Delaware senator whom Obama tapped to be his running mate in 2008, the former president said that in his search for a vice presidential candidate, “I didn’t know I’d end up finding a brother.”
“Joe and I came from different places and different generations. But what I quickly came to admire about Joe Biden is his resilience, born of too much struggle; his empathy, born of too much grief,” Obama said.
“Joe’s a man who learned early on to treat every person he meets with respect and dignity, living by the words his parents taught him: ‘No one’s better than you, Joe, but you’re better than nobody,’” the former president said.
It was Obama’s fifth consecutive address to the Democratic National Convention, the first occurring in 2004 when he delivered the keynote speech in Boston as a U.S. senator from Illinois. That speech, seeking unity and to deny a pundit-driven divide between “red states” and “blue states” and “liberal America” and “conservative America,” was widely regarded as propelling him to the White House four years later.
Seeking to bestow his continued popularity among Democrats on behalf of Biden and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Obama said both have the ability to “lead this country out of dark times and build it back better.”
Still, he warned, “No single American can fix this country alone.”
“So I am also asking you to believe in your own ability — to embrace your own responsibility as citizens — to make sure that the basic tenets of our democracy endure,” Obama said. “Because that’s what’s at stake right now. Our democracy.”
(Article written by Rick Pearson and Bill Ruthhart)