It's been six days since a hot-mic tape in which Donald Trump makes a series of lewd and sexually suggestive comments about women went public. But until first lady Michelle Obama stepped on the podium at a campaign rally for Hillary Clinton on Thursday in New Hampshire, no public figure has so effectively encapsulated how this moment has made many American women feel.
An at-times emotional Obama admitted that she “couldn't stop thinking about” the comments made by Trump and had to address them in her speech." It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted,” she added. Her speech reflected just how much Trump's remarks affected her.
“This is not normal,” Obama said at one point. “This is not politics as usual.” At another she insisted that “strong men don't need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful.”
What Obama did in the speech is put a face and a name — and a very high-profile one at that — to Trump's words on that bus in 2005. She didn't say “words hurt” or “words have impact,” but that was quite clearly the message she was sending. Even Michelle Obama, first lady of the United States, knows what it is like to be ogled, to be treated as an object by men.
That's powerful stuff. (If you have not seen or heard her speech, you should check it out here.)
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. She was outraged, yes, but also hurt — for herself and for women more broadly. And she expressed all of those emotions in ways you rarely see any politician (or private citizen do) — particularly one as well known as Obama.
Hillary Clinton tweeted her praise for Obama's speech Thursday afternoon.
.@FLOTUS, I'm in awe. Thanks for putting into words what's in so many of our hearts. -H
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) October 13, 2016
It seemed to me — as I watched it live — that she was putting a sort of exclamation point on the past five days, days that have been filled with lewd talk from Trump and a series of allegations by women who say the Republican presidential nominee groped them in the past 30 years. “Enough,” she was saying. This is bad for women, yes. But it's also bad for all of us.
This speech, along with her address at the Democratic National Convention, are two of the best speeches — maybe the two best — given by any public figure this year. Both, yes, were made by a partisan in support of a partisan candidate for president. But neither felt like the typical party pap. In that speech in July and again Thursday, Obama was able to tap into something far deeper than “Democrat” or “Republican.” She was, in both instances, speaking to a shared humanity that we could all use more of no matter our political inclinations.