I don’t know how many of you watched President Obama’s Mandela speech in South Africa today — his first major public speech since he left office — but I watched the whole thing, and you just forget, y’all. You forget what it’s like to have a guy stand up and deliver a speech like that. It was that kind of speech that only Obama can deliver, where — after it ends — you’re left for a few minutes with the intoxicating feeling that you can run out and change the world, and then you check Twitter and Paul Ryan is still being Paul Ryan and you’re brought back down to reality.
But there’s so much in that speech that should be remembered, foremost that we should not let ourselves become cynical, that we should not be consumed by the darkness, that Nelson Mandela spent 30 years in prison, and yet his spirit was never broken. We haven’t even had Trump for two years, and we see so much defeatism, forgetting — as Obama says — that every generation has a chance to remake the world, and that young people can save the fucking planet.
Obama: "Keep believing. Keep marching. Keep building. Keep raising your voice. Every generation has the opportunity to remake the world. Mandela said, 'Young people are capable when aroused of bringing down the towers of oppression and raising the banners of freedom.'" (via CBS) pic.twitter.com/b1fvNPFCgA— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) July 17, 2018
A great deal of the speech was devoted to massacring Trump, without ever actually mentioning Trump (it’s the Obama way). Just the juxtaposition of watching a man deliver an impassioned, compassionate, hopeful speech and what we see from Trump on the regular is, in its own way, a rebuke of Trump. But there were also a number of pointed critiques, this one chief among them.
Former President Obama: “We see the utter loss of shame among political leaders where they’re caught in a lie and they just double-down and they lie some more.” pic.twitter.com/EOazEOIq9C— NBC News (@NBCNews) July 17, 2018
One of the implicit themes in the speech was also this: You gotta march, you gotta protest, you gotta make your voices heard, but you can’t really expect people like Paul Ryan to change. The GOP is not going to help us. No matter what Trump does, they’re not going to change, not when the system benefits those in power. The only way to effect change is through the grassroots, and that’s a long and hard and difficult process, but it is one that worked for Obama. It’s one that recently worked for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. We can’t change things over the course of a news cycle, but we can change things over the course of an election, and that is why we should not let Trump break our spirits. Because it is within our power — and not that of Paul Ryan — to put us back on the path toward progress. Instead of grousing about how the Republicans never do anything, elect some new people who will.
You can watch the full speech here, beginning at the 2:29 mark. It’s fantastic.