Friday, October 14, 2016

Michelle Obama opens the doors of perception

For the second time* in this election season, Michelle Obama riveted the country and the world with moral clarity, in a speech delivered yesterday in New Hampshire. She named Donald Trump before the world. She detailed the effects of his sexual predation -- on herself, voice shaking a little, and on a series of concentric audiences -- the one before her, the nation's children, the world. As she did at the convention, she set Trump's manifest depravity against an idealized portrait of American values as she (or her husband) strives to embody them.

The denunciation was as carefully structured as it was deeply personal. She began, by way of contrast, with a norm as she experiences it, American values that she strives to advance, as expressed in an International Day of the Girl event at the White House  (part of her Let Girls Learn program). There she "had the pleasure of spending hours talking to some of the most amazing young women you will ever meet, young girls here in the U.S. and all around the world." That opened a window on the ravages of male dominance throughout human society - and the route out:
See, because many of these girls have faced unthinkable obstacles just to attend school, jeopardizing their personal safety, their freedom, risking the rejection of their families and communities.

I wanted them to understand that the measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls. And I told them that they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and I told them that they should disregard anyone who demeans or devalues them, and that they should make their voices heard in the world.
In Michelle Obama's world view, as she would state directly later in the speech, the United States (and Hillary Clinton) has set the measuring standard by championing women's rights. But now, there's an obstacle:
The fact is that in this election, we have a candidate for President of the United States who, over the course of his lifetime and the course of this campaign, has said things about women that are so shocking, so demeaning that I simply will not repeat anything here today. And last week, we saw this candidate actually bragging about sexually assaulting women. And I can't believe that I'm saying that a candidate for President of the United States has bragged about sexually assaulting women.
In tracing the danger and damage of that shocking fact, Obama began closest to home, with the effect on herself. repeatedly, gesturing toward her heart. She then moved out in ever widening circles to trace Trump's malign influence, or that of the kind of dominance he exemplifies.

First, the effect on "me":
And I have to tell you that I can't stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn't have predicted. So while I'd love nothing more than to pretend like this isn't happening, and to come out here and do my normal campaign speech, it would be dishonest and disingenuous to me to just move on to the next thing like this was all just a bad dream.
And then, on "you":
And to make matters worse, it now seems very clear that this isn't an isolated incident. It's one of countless examples of how he has treated women his whole life. And I have to tell you that I listen to all of this and I feel it so personally, and I'm sure that many of you do too, particularly the women. The shameful comments about our bodies. The disrespect of our ambitions and intellect. The belief that you can do anything you want to a woman.
On your mothers:
It reminds us of stories we heard from our mothers and grandmothers about how, back in their day, the boss could say and do whatever he pleased to the women in the office, and even though they worked so hard, jumped over every hurdle to prove themselves, it was never enough.
On our children:
Because consider this: If all of this is painful to us as grown women, what do you think this is doing to our children? What message are our little girls hearing about who they should look like, how they should act? What lessons are they learning about their value as professionals, as human beings, about their dreams and aspirations? And how is this affecting men and boys in this country?
And on the world:
And remember, we won't just be setting a bad example for our kids, but for our entire world. Because for so long, America has been a model for countries across the globe, pushing them to educate their girls, insisting that they give more rights to their women. But if we have a President who routinely degrades women, who brags about sexually assaulting women, then how can we maintain our moral authority in the world? How can we continue to be a beacon of freedom and justice and human dignity?
The antidote, of course, was Hillary Clinton -- as a champion of women's rights, as a person who looks for the potential in all and seeks to empower rather than dominate, and as an embodiment of the perseverance she was honoring and seeking to foster at the Let Girls Learn event. The conclusion of that paean brought her full circle:
And if any of us had raised a daughter like Hillary Clinton, we would be so proud. We would be proud.
A topic for another  essay would be Michelle Obama's wizardry in spotlighting exactly what Trump stands for -- predation, dominance, rapine -- without stooping to quote him or detail his crimes in any detail. Rhetorically, she made good use of apophasis, saying something by promising not to say it. Trump she averred,
has said things about women that are so shocking, so demeaning that I simply will not repeat anything here today
That, however, was not strictly true. She did cite one of Trump's famous locutions, at one clarifying remove:
In fact, someone recently told me a story about their six-year-old son who one day was watching the news — they were watching the news together. And the little boy, out of the blue, said, "I think Hillary Clinton will be President." And his mom said, "Well, why do you say that?" And this little six-year-old said, "Because the other guy called someone a piggy, and," he said, "you cannot be President if you call someone a piggy."

So even a six-year-old knows better. A six-year-old knows that this is not how adults behave. This is not how decent human beings behave. And this is certainly not how someone who wants to be President of the United States behaves.
I love that tale, streamlined and shaped though it may have been, because it encapsulates what I have felt from the beginning about Trump's attraction for millions: a six-year old should have the emotional intelligence to reject him. It has nothing to do with education level, or political belief system: someone who constantly puffs himself up and tears down anyone who opposes or criticizes him is a fraud by definition. You have to willfully shut down your most basic, primitive social radar not to see this. That can only happen when Trump's blaming self aggrandizement -- his demonizing various groups and his promises to magically reverse longstanding ills by sheer force of will -- feels so gratifying that a person shuts down their basic faculties.

Perhaps Michelle's ability to name and shame evil will open a few doors of perception.

If you haven't watched the speech yet, do yourself a favor

1 comment:

  1. ~That can only happen when Trump's blaming self aggrandizement -- his demonizing various groups and his promises to magically reverse longstanding ills by sheer force of will -- feels so gratifying that a person shuts down their basic faculties.~