2016 Democratic National Convention, Night One: Michelle Obama Transcends Humanity

The main thing you need to know about day one of the Democratic National Convention is: Michelle Obama. After last week’s hate-filled, fear-mongering, dictator-promising dumpster fire of a Republican National Convention painted the United States as a lawless wasteland overrun with non-Americans (people who are not white male evangelical Christians), Michelle Obama stepped up to the microphone last night and said: “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country is not great. That somehow we need to make it great again. Because this right now is the greatest country on Earth,” among other inspiring, brilliant, hopeful, intelligent, compassionate, remarkable things. She didn’t mention Donald Trump by name one single time, but she fully and wholly eviscerated him.

She said the motto she and President Obama share with their daughters is: “When they go low, we go high.” And then she demonstrated it to the point of transcendence.

The day leading up to the DNC’s primetime show was fraught. Bernie Sanders’ supporters protested in earnest and many were unreceptive to a pre-convention speech he delivered in which he implored them to acknowledge the “real world that we live in” where the Republican presidential nominee “is a bully and a demagogue” and “has made bigotry and hatred the cornerstone of his campaign” and “does not respect the Constitution of the United States or civil liberties.” He followed up his speech with texts, emails, and tweets to his supporters urging them not to heckle or boo the speakers at the DNC, and not to walk out on them. “I ask you as a personal courtesy to me to not engage in any kind of protest on the floor,” he texted. “Its of utmost importance you explain this to your delegations.”

Despite his pleas, the early hours of the convention involved Sanders’ supporters — many of whom were deeply frustrated by the recent DNC leaks that showed the Democratic party’s bias toward Hillary Clinton — chanting over the party’s leaders. They even broke out with shouts of “We trusted you!” when Elizabeth Warren began her speech.

Despite their unrest, when Michelle Obama took the stage, the crowd joined in thrusting their “Michelle!” banners into the air and a reverent hush fell over the audience as she spoke for 15 minutes about the character and legacy of her husband, why she endorses Hillary Clinton, and what she believes is possible for the future of the United States.

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Michelle Obama’s speech was the most majestic, but it was also indicative of the DNC’s very conscious decision to set itself up as the polar opposite of last week’s RNC. From elementary schooler Karla Ortiz, whose parents are undocumented, to gay former NBA player Jason Collins to disability advocate Anastasia Somoza, who came on stage in her wheelchair and delivered a powerhouse speech about how Donald Trump does not speak for her, a diverse parade of Democrats took the stage throughout the night to talk about where they fit into the party. It was a glorious half hour into primetime before a white man was allowed anywhere near a microphone.

The big names to join Michelle Obama were Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders. Eva Longoria introduced Booker with piercing speech about how she’s a ninth generation American from a family in south Texas who did not cross the U.S. border, but were instead crossed by the U.S. border when the Mexican territory was claimed by the United States. “I’m a Latina from Texas introducing the first black senator from New Jersey the week we nominate our first female president,” she said. “So guess what, Donald? It turns out America is pretty great already.”

Elizabeth Warren went full Elizabeth Warren, bashing Donald Trump into the ground with unceasing vigor and speaking about the middle class causes she and Bernie Sanders have been championing for their entire careers.

The biggest cheers of the night, however, were for Bernie Sanders. His arrival on stage brought down the house and had first time voters crying in the aisles. The video package that ushered him onto stage was a more diverse edit of his viral “America” ad that made me cry like a little baby every time I saw it. (It’s one of the greatest political ads of all time.) And in diametric opposition to Donald Trump, who went on a baffling rant about Ted Cruz at his first post-RNC press conference and promised to put millions of dollars into super PACs to destroy the careers of everyone who ran against him, Bernie was quick and thorough as he pointed out again and again that while he lost the Democratic primary, his ideas won, and so did his supporters. And he is, of course, absolutely right. Citizens United, the $15 minimum wage, debt-free public college: he pulled the party further left than they ever have been on those issues and was able to secure their place in the official platform of the DNC.

His endorsement of Hillary Clinton was ringing. “Full-throated” is what many pundits called it.

The headlines today are selling a lot of “disunity” and “chaos” at the Democratic National Convention, and while there was definitely some unease and unrest among a small contingent of vocal Bernie supporters, the overwhelming noise of the night came for Hillary Clinton’s message of hope and unity that she has inherited from Barack Obama’s two previous campaigns. Perhaps the most surprising thing to come out of it was the nearly universal agreement that Michelle Obama is an even better orator than her husband. I’ll just leave you with her words.

In this election, we cannot sit back and hope that everything works out for the best, we cannot afford to be tired or frustrated or cynical — no, hear me: Between now and November, we need to do what we did eight years ago and four years ago. We need to knock on every door, we need to get out every vote, we need to pour every last ounce of passion into electing Hillary Clinton as president of the United States of America. Let’s get to work. Thank you all and God bless.

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle managing editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 891 articles for us.

9 Comments

  1. I loved Michelle’s part about thanks to Hillary the next generation of kids will take a woman president for granted. In that instance I didn’t just see feminism winning I saw that Everyone had won. I think back to the words of Martin Luther King in his speech in Washington, I have a dream that one day my four children will be judged not on the color of their skin but the content of their character.

    In twenty years time I hope to see a Black Lesbian running who isn’t a democrat but a republican. When I see that I won’t think she is being judged on being a woman or gay or being black. She will be judged because she is a republican. She will be judged on the content of her character. True freedom comes from acceptance.

  2. Michelle Obama killed it. I sat in my car after I parked and just listened to her with tears in my eyes.

    Some other time I want to talk about my feelings about the mom-ification of Michelle Obama, but the way she talked about her love for her daughters and how she wove that into a truly amazing political speech was just masterful and moving.

  3. I just finished watching the talk. It was powerful, profound and it moved me. I kept thinking how Michelle Obama was the fiercest, finest supporter anyone could hope for.

    There’s one thing that bothers me, though; why is the USA “the greatest country in the world”? And where does that situate the rest of us, all of us non-Americans? Is there a list, and where would my country stand on this list of lesser countries? How does the ranking work? My country gave me free college education, just like it did my mother who rose from extreme poverty through this government-funded service. When my mother was suddenly widowed, the company she worked for gave her an apartment to live in and pay off, because as a single mom she was vulnerable and needed assistance – that, at least, is how this country saw it. We have universal healthcare. We have paid maternity leaves – whole six months of them. We have paid vacations built into the law. Do you?

    Listen, my country is flawed. Sometimes I feel like it’s deeply flawed. I speak up and try do my share to fix it, but there is no doubt in my mind that we will make a whole bunch of mistakes in the future. That doesn’t make us less on a global scale. And it doesn’t make our lives dispensable in your quest for “greatness”.

    • I don’t know why so many people want to claim the USA is “the greatest”– I disagree that it’s true and also that it’s a good way to look at things in general. I think it’s a terrible form of “trash talk” that we’d be better off without. Thinking you are better than other people is bad character, period.

      I think Michelle was specifically saying it to counter Trump’s going on about “making American great again” but I wish she had chosen a different way to do that.

      Not to take away from how generally awesome she is and how many things she got right in the speech, just saying on this particular point I agree with you, iva.

    • So, instead of opining on American exceptionalism in my own words, I’ll borrow some from the President:

      Q:Thank you, Mr. President. In the context of all the multilateral activity that’s been going on this week — the G20, here at NATO — and your evident enthusiasm for multilateral frameworks, to work through multilateral frameworks, could I ask you whether you subscribe, as many of your predecessors have, to the school of American exceptionalism that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world, or do you have a slightly different philosophy? And if so, would you be able to elaborate on it?

      PRESIDENT OBAMA: I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don’t think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.

      And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.

      Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we’re not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.

      And so I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can’t solve these problems alone.

    • I can totally understand why the rest of the world finds Americans’ continual boasting about our greatness to be irritating. Sorry! Aside from what the other responders have said, it’s embedded in our history from the beginning. The Massachusetts Puritans defined themselves as a community of true Christians against the corrupt Anglican Church. American identity developed in opposition to Europe and the European colonial cultures of Mexico, Canada, and Latin America, in both good and bad ways. Americans were freer, more innocent, spiritually more pure, as well as culturally primitive, artistically appalling, and intellectually unsophisticated. A logical corollary of defining ourselves as different from everyone else around us is that Americans must be better. I’m afraid the boasting is too deeply a part of American cultural expression to be gotten rid of at this point. Comfort yourself by thinking about how much better your healthcare system is!

  4. Every country is allowed to think it’s the greatest IMO. Plus it’s part of American personality to believe it and say it..americans r optimistic N love themselves (high self esteem) as a nation which is kool.. ppl far worse off in u.s. are more optimistic and positive than ppl far better off in uk who have free Medicare and other benefits.. uk ppl r more cynical N complain more..I’m frm uk but it don’t bother me wen americans say they’re the greatest. Altho,, in practice,, obviously,, america we all know ain’t perfect.

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