You have probably seen the video by now, or at least heard or read excerpts from it. No, I’m not talking about that video, the scandalous hot-mic conversation between Donald Trump and Billy Bush from 2005, where Trump made some reprehensible comments about the way he relates to women. I’m talking about the First Lady’s inspired and inspiring takedown of “The Donald” in a speech yesterday in Manchester, New Hampshire. Without once speaking the man’s name, Michelle Obama put into powerful and eloquent words the message many of us have been longing to hear from someone with the kind of moral and cultural clout she possesses.
That message was, “Enough is enough!”
It was, I hope, what we will look back on as the defining moment of this shameful chapter in our country’s history, much as Joseph Welch’s rhetorical question to Senator Joe McCarthy during the Army–McCarthy hearings in 1954 signaled the beginning of the end of the anti-Communist witch hunts in the early years of the Cold War. Mrs. Obama said, in effect, “Have you no sense of decency, Mr. Trump? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
Sometimes seeming to tremble with emotion, the First Lady addressed the alarming nature of Trump’s comments on the video. She warned, “This is not something that we can ignore. It’s not something we can just sweep under the rug as just another disturbing footnote in a sad election season.” This is something different. Utterly dismissing Trump’s excuse that it was just “locker room talk,” Obama said, “This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior, and actually bragging about kissing and groping women, using language so obscene that many of us were worried about our children hearing it when we turn on the TV.”
Then she got personal about this “belief that you can do anything you want to a woman.” She recounted in general terms some situations that almost undoubtedly came from her own experience, and that most if not all of the women in the audience probably recognized with the same “sick, sinking feeling.” She said, “It is cruel. It’s frightening. And the truth is, it hurts.”
True to the character she has demonstrated over eight years in the White House fishbowl, Obama did not stoop to Trump’s level. She reiterated her signature phrase, with help from the audience. “When they go low,” she said, and the crowd shouted back, “We go high!” Taking the high road, however, does not mean letting someone off the hook when he makes statements as vile as what we have heard from Trump, not only in that Access Hollywood video, not only in this presidential campaign, but also throughout his entire public life. And let him off the hook she most decidedly did not:
This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable. And it doesn’t matter what party you belong to—Democrat, Republican, independent—no woman deserves to be treated this way. None of us deserves this kind of abuse. And I know it’s a campaign, but this isn’t about politics. It’s about basic human decency. [There’s that word again!] It’s about right and wrong. And we simply cannot endure this, or expose our children to this any longer—not for another minute, and let alone for four years. Now is the time for all of us to stand up and say enough is enough. This has got to stop right now.
As a pastor I am not supposed to get involved in partisan politics. But, as Mrs. Obama pointed out, this is not about partisan politics. And so I say, with as much boldness as I can muster and as much authority as I may have earned in my years of Christian ministry, we cannot elect this man to the presidency. We must not. He has proven time and again that he is a hate-filled, narcissistic self-promoter who is unwilling or unable to offer any specific policy proposals and seems to know very little about the Constitutional principles upon which our country is founded. He has attracted to his cause some of the most racist, sexist, violent elements of our society, and he continues to egg them on by simultaneously preying upon and stoking their fear and resentment. And now we are getting a clearer picture of his misogynistic world view, both from his own words and from the growing number of allegations that he has acted on those words repeatedly over the past thirty or more years.
What bothers me most about all this, however, is not Trump’s behavior and character, which comes as no surprise—I have found him despicable from the first time I saw him in the mid-1980s on Late Night with David Letterman. What bothers me most is the way so many Christians continue to support him. We’re seeing more and more conservative evangelicals disavowing him, including a significant portion of the student body at Liberty University, who have condemned the school’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., for his staunch support of Trump. But still way too many Christians remain on his flaming bandwagon. How anyone can even hint that Trump’s words and actions square with the character of God as revealed in Christ is light years beyond me. It’s the height of hypocrisy. As Bono once sang, “I must be an acrobat / to talk like this and act like that.”
We don’t need those kinds of acrobats in the church. We need people who say one thing and then do what they have said. We need people who strive to live with honesty, kindness, compassion, joy, and a commitment to peacemaking. We need people—disciples—who will fail, but who will have enough humility to admit it and enough perseverance to “try again … fail again … fail better,” as Samuel Beckett once put it. We need disciples who ask for forgiveness and give it when asked. We need disciples who will stand with the poor, the needy, the marginalized; and who will be tenacious in the pursuit of justice and peace. We need disciples who know something about grace.
What the First Lady said in her speech yesterday was grace to me and, I hope, to our country. She said what needed to be said, and she said it with dignity and purpose. For that I say, “Thank God for Michelle Obama!” May we take her words to heart. They are the words of a prophet, and we ignore them at our peril.
Enough is enough.