"Let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can. Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country," Obama said, wearing a gold necklace with word "vote" spelled out. "He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is."
Obama's speech, capping off the first night of the virtual Democratic National Convention, was a remarkable rebuke from a former first lady of a sitting U.S. president.
"Sadly, this is the America that is on display for the next generation," Obama said. "A nation that’s underperforming not simply on matters of policy but on matters of character. And that’s not just disappointing; it’s downright infuriating because I know the goodness and the grace that is out there in households and neighborhoods all across this nation."
"And I know that regardless of our race, age, religion, or politics, when we close out the noise and the fear and truly open our hearts, we know that what’s going on in this country is just not right. This is not who we want to be," she continued.
The former first lady also referenced her 2016 Democratic National Convention speech four years ago, in which she coined her famous catchphrase in response to Trump: "When they go low, we go high."
"Over the past four years, a lot of people have asked me, 'When others are going so low, does going high still really work?' My answer: going high is the only thing that works, because when we go low, when we use those same tactics of degrading and dehumanizing others, we just become part of the ugly noise that’s drowning out everything else. We degrade ourselves. We degrade the very causes for which we fight," she said.
Obama acknowledged that her address would not be welcome by all sections of U.S. society, alluding to the role racism still plays in the country.
"I understand that my message won’t be heard by some people. We live in a nation that is deeply divided, and I am a Black woman speaking at the Democratic Convention," Obama said." But enough of you know me by now. You know that I tell you exactly what I’m feeling. You know I hate politics. But you also know that I care about this nation. You know how much I care about all of our children."
Obama was the most high-profile speaker who addressed the first night of the convention, which also saw a number of other prominent politicians. The convention sought to promote its theme of unity by hosting speakers ranging from progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Republican Gov. John Kasich (Ohio.).
The former first lady wrapped the speech with a plea for those watching to vote, invoking the words of the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
"It is up to us to add our voices and our votes to the course of history, echoing heroes like John Lewis who said, 'When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something,'" Obama said quoting Lewis. "That is the truest form of empathy: not just feeling, but doing; not just for ourselves or our kids, but for everyone, for all our kids."