It was part mockery, part shock-to-the-system wake-up call.
Donald Trump is a nasty, hateful charlatan selling a false message to African-Americans and the rest of the country that puts everything he’s done in office and stood for at risk, President Barack Obama said Saturday night, in a rip-roaring speech to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation dinner in Washington.
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Declaring he would consider it “a personal insult, an insult to my legacy” if black turnout falters for Hillary Clinton, Obama did what he got reamed for doing almost exactly two years ago, in the heat of midterm elections where disdain for him was the defining force: Yes, he said, he is pretty much on the ballot in November.
“My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot,” Obama said, his voice rising to a shout as he went well beyond what sources familiar with the speech say was a tamer version of the riff in the prepared remarks. “Tolerance is on the ballot. Democracy is on the ballot. Justice is on the ballot. Good schools are on the ballot. Ending mass incarceration, that’s on the ballot right now.”
Hope and change was his campaign slogan eight years ago. This year, Obama said, Trump presents a nightmarish vision of change that he urged the country to reject.
“Hope is on the ballot,” he said, laying out the choice. “And fear is on the ballot too.”
Following Clinton on stage, Obama kicked off his remarks by taking on Trump’s attempt to move away from his long history of raising doubts about the president’s origins.
“If there’s an extra spring in my step tonight,” Obama said, smiling. “I am so relieved that the whole birther thing is over.”
Obama’s stressed that the issue wasn’t just the racism, but a reminder of the kind of low-substance personality Trump has cultivated and brought into his campaign.
“ISIL, North Korea, poverty, climate change – none of those things weighed on my mind like the validity of my birth certificate,” Obama said, in a tone dripping with sarcasm.
“To think, that with just 124 days to go, just under the wire, we got that resolved. That’s a boost for me in the home stretch,” he laughed. “In other breaking news, the world is round, not flat.”
But mostly, Obama raged. Boiling hotter than at his fall campaign launch event for Clinton in Philadelphia last week, he let loose at a candidate he presented as an existential threat to black America.
The president sneered at Trump’s supposed appeal to African-Americans, being delivered almost simultaneously at a campaign event in Colorado, as the Republican ticked through a list of endemic problems and finished, “Vote for Donald Trump, what do you have to lose? I will fix it.”
“We do have challenges,” Obama said, rebutting him, “but we’re not stupid.”
Trump, Obama said, tells people that African Americans have never had it worse, holding a beat to let the sense sink of the Republican nominee making that claim as the first black president finishes his second term.
Trump “missed that whole civics lesson about slavery and Jim Crow,” Obama said, giving a plug to the new Smithsonian African-American Museum opening on the Mall next week. “We’ve got a museum for him to visit. So he can tune in.”
Using the museum’s opening to launch into a consideration of the arc of African-American progress, he said people who say their vote doesn’t count are an insult to the people who were beaten and killed registering voters during the Civil Rights Era. People who don’t stand up for their community, he said, shame the memories of the slaves who suffered extra lashes for learning how to read.
The job of everyone in the audience, Obama said, and everyone who cared, was to vote, and to get more voters registered — not just to stop Trump, but to stop anyone who stands with him, and anyone who has backed voter ID laws targeted at suppressing black voters while pretending to chase a problem of mass voter fraud for which there is no evidence.
The worst part of those laws, Obama said, is that they are often backed by the same people who stop any kind of gun control measures, which does hurt the black community.
That, he said, shows that Republicans are “apparently more afraid of a ballot than a bullet.”