Barack Obama Says 'Our Democracy' Is at Stake in Speech Aimed in Part at Donald Trump

"Democracy itself is on the line," the former president said Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention

Former President Barack Obama delivered a poignant call to action and a sometimes pointed rebuke of successor Donald Trump's presidency during a speech at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night.

"Our democracy" is at stake, Obama, 59, said at the end of his live speech from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, which DNC officials said was chosen as a backdrop in order to "underscore that democracy itself is on the line."

Calling back to the moment when he made a point to welcome Trump to office in January 2017, Obama said that Trump "hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t" — while making a point to highlight how he believes Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, whom Obama had chosen as his vice president, would lead the United States with "character and experience to make us a better country."

"Joe and Kamala [Harris, Biden's running mate] will restore our standing in the world," Obama said. "As we've learned from this pandemic, that matters. Joe knows the world and the world knows him."

Obama added: "They actually care about every American."

Democtratic National Convention 2020
Former President Barack Obama appearing Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention. Democtratic National Convention

In his speech, the former president noted the 172,958 people — and counting — who have died in the U.S. because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, as well as the "millions" more who lost their jobs as the nation went into unprecedented shutdowns in order to slow the spread of the respiratory illness.

As many as 40 million people filed for unemployment in April. (That month's 14.7 percent unemployment rate was the highest since of any month since the Great Depression, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's statistics.)

Trump's critics have said the mogul-turned-reality TV host-turned-politician fumbled the federal government's response to the pandemic as he has laid blame on China, on health officials and on various governors and Obama himself.

"The consequences of that failure are severe," Obama said Wednesday night. "Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished and our democratic institutions threatened like never before."

Then President-elect Donald Trump sits with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office in November 2016, shortly after Trump won the 2016 election. JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty

In the early years of Trump's presidency, Obama largely avoided criticizing his successor in public or by name, out of what he said was the tradition of ex-presidents avoiding politics.

But he has become more outspoken in the shadow of the pandemic and in the months leading up to the next election.

Trump, meanwhile, has routinely criticized Obama throughout his time in office. (And was no less biting on Twitter on Wednesday night.)

In response to criticism over the coronavirus, Trump has at times pointed his finger at the Obama administration, claiming his predecessor left him with "empty cupboards" to combat the health crisis, which was discovered last December before it quickly spread across the world, killing at least 784,948 people and infecting 22.2 million more.

"I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies," Obama said Wednesday, adding, "I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously — that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care."

"But," Obama said, "he never did."

Elsewhere, he acknowledged the trials of 2020 had taken their toll on voters.

"Look, I understand why many Americans are down on government," he said. "The way the rules have been set up and abused in Congress make it easy for special interests to stop progress. Believe me, I know. I understand why ... a young person might look at politics right now, the circus of it all, the meanness and the lies and crazy conspiracy theories and think, what’s the point?"

"Well, here’s the point," Obama answered. "This president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism. They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter. That’s how they win."

He went on to say: "We can’t let that happen."

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