Michelle Obama said Donald Trump’s casual boasts about kissing and groping unwilling women have “shaken” her and that “it hurts” deeply to listen to a presidential candidate who has “bragged about sexually assaulting women.”
At a Hillary Clinton campaign event in Manchester, New Hampshire on Thursday afternoon, Obama addressed the recently published 2005 recording of Trump saying he liked to grab women’s genitals and kiss them without waiting for their consent. “I have to tell you that I can’t stop thinking about this,” Obama said, her voice trembling. “It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted.”
“This was not just a lewd conversation. This wasn’t locker room banter,” she added. “This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior.”
She also alluded to the mounting allegations of sexual assault that women have brought against Trump in recent days. “It now seems very clear [the 2005 recording] isn’t an isolated incident. It’s one of countless examples of how he has treated women his whole life,” she said. “And I have to tell you that I listen to all this, and I feel it so personally. And I’m sure that many of you do too—particularly the women. The shameful comments about our bodies. The disrespect of our ambitions and intellect. The belief that you can do anything you want to a woman? It is cruel. It is frightening.”
In an emotional, relatable address to women in the audience, Obama made good on her reputation as the Clinton campaign’s most inspiring surrogate. She connected Trump’s words and alleged sexual misconduct with a culture of misogyny and rape apologism that manifests in violations micro and macro, from street corners to presidential debates. “It hurts” to confront Trump in the media every day, she said:
It’s like that sick, sinking feeling you get when you’re walking down the street minding your own business and some guy yells out vulgar words about your body. Or when you see that guy at work that stands just a little too close, stares a little too long, makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin. It’s that feeling of terror and violation that too many women have felt when someone has grabbed them or forced himself on them and they’ve said no but he didn’t listen—something that we know happens on college campuses and countless other places every single day. It reminds us of stories we heard from our mothers and grandmothers about how in their day, the boss could say and do whatever he pleased to the women in the office, and even though they worked so hard, jumped over every hurdle to prove themselves, it was never enough.
This speech felt personal and vulnerable in a manner that we’ve come to expect from Obama, but that we’ve rarely seen from any of her first-lady predecessors. Barack Obama can speak all he wants about how “you don’t have to be a husband or father” to be appalled by Trump’s misogyny, but as a man, he probably hasn’t experienced the violations his wife described in her address. Clinton can explain the horror of Trump’s remarks in every debate and public appearance from here until the election, but for several reasons unrelated to her job performance, she hasn’t inspired the near-universal trust and empathy Obama engenders in her audiences. She and her speechwriters have deftly distilled the disturbing, retraumatizing effects of Trump’s rise and related them in a way that felts like a mutually comforting conversation with a sister or close friend.
“So many have worked for so many years to end this kind of violence and abuse and disrespect,” Obama said in her speech. “But here we are, in 2016, and we’re hearing these exact same things every day on the campaign trail. We are drowning in it.” Her use of we is potent: If I’ve experienced the things Trump has described, viewers are led to think, other women—even, perhaps the first lady—have been there, too. Alone, we’re sick to our stomachs listening to the latest allegations against Trump. Together, our votes can stop him.