CULTURE

Michelle Obama Adds to Her Roster of Subtle Digs at Trump in Her First Major Post-White House Speech

“You all have the power to teach kids what it means to go high when others go low,” she reminded the crowd.


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On Friday, Michelle Obama returned to the spotlight to give her first major speech since she left office—appropriately enough opening it with “I’m back! This is what back looks like.” The occasion was a ceremony for the Kennedy Center for the School Counselor of the Year, which Obama’s education initiative, Reach Higher, is involved with, meaning that the tone was of course celebratory—at least at first.

After praising the educators present for “transforming the lives of young people across the country,” Obama moved on some other recent big transformations in society, namely the negative ones, since they’ve all of course occurred since Donald Trump replaced her husband in office. (Though she’s often shied away from calling out the President directly since his inauguration, Obama is starting to speak the word “Trump” publicly, starting this week by wholeheartedly agreeing with the awkwardness of Melania Trump’s unexpected inauguration gift).

On Friday, she once again got explicit about the president without literally naming him by making direct reference to his campaign slogan, making the point that “folks who model decency and dignity and integrity for our kids every single day” rather than “people who happen to be in power” shape children’s lives more than anything, which is “what makes America great.”

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“Our counselors and educators have a far bigger impact on our kids’ lives than any president or first lady,” Obama continued—not that she was pardoning the president and first lady from the difficulties of setting examples for children and simply ensuring they get a proper upbringing. “Trust me, I know this work isn’t easy, especially right now. I know there’s a lot of anxiety out there,” she continued. Not that she seems to see that as an excuse: “There’s no denying our kids, what they see on TV, the kind of behavior being modeled in public life, that, yes impacts their behavior and their character.”

“At times like this, the work you are all doing is even more urgent. It’s even more critically important,” she continued, once again appearing to directly address Trump by repeating her famous words from her speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, in which she called Trump out for “actually bragging about sexually assaulting women” and described how much his behavior had “shaken” her to the core. On Friday, she returned to her most famous of lines once again: “See, you all have the power to teach our kids what it means to go high when others go low. You have that power,” she told the audience of educators.

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Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Matt Bernstein

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

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Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

Photo by Matt Bernstein for W Magazine.

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Obama wasn’t about to finish there. “Folks like these up here, you all, you don’t get dragged down by the headlines, by the false claims about our children and our neighborhoods, you don’t have time for that nonsense because you’re out there doing the work,” she added, perhaps not so coincidentally following a month in which Trump organized the so-called “Fake News Awards” to address the “losers” who’ve dared to criticize his administration; was so unabashedly personally insulted by Jay-Z that he asked his nearly 50 million Twitter followers to pass on a message to him; and felt compelled by a series of stories questioning his sanity to assert that one of his greatest assets has always been “being, like, really smart.”

Those criticisms have clearly overwhelmed Trump, but that didn’t stop Obama from reducing them to simply “noise.” Continuing to address and praise the educators—having remarkably only addressing the “president or first lady” once, in passing—Obama concluded: “No matter what’s going on right now, out there, all that noise, you know that our young people are the future, and the most important thing we can do as individuals and as a nation is to believe in all of them, to invest in all of them and to build schools and communities worthy of their boundless promise.” (Those words, along with the rest, of course, promptly filled the room with a much more welcome type of noise.)

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Michelle Obama Might Be the Best Dressed First Lady Since Jackie O

Michelle Obama in Alexander McQueen at a state dinner in Washington, D.C., January 2011.

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Michelle Obama in Azzedine Alaïa in Baden-Baden, Germany, April 2009.

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Michelle Obama in Ralph Lauren in London, England, May 2011.

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Michelle Obama in Michael Kors on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, January 2012.

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Michelle Obama in Thom Browne at President Obama’s second inauguration in Washington, D.C., January 2013.

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Michelle Obama in Carolina Herrera at a state dinner in Berlin, Germany, June 2013.

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Michelle Obama in Marchesa at the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C., May 2014.

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Michelle Obama in Bibhu Mohabaptra at the Congressional Black Caucus dinner in Washington, D.C., September 2014.

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Michelle Obama in Zac Posen at the BET Black Girls Rock! special in Newark, New Jersey, March 2015.

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Michelle Obama in Mary Katrantzou in London, England, June 2015.

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Michelle Obama in Christopher Kane in London, England, June 2015.

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Michelle Obama in Carolina Herrera at the arrival of Pope Francis in Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, September 2015.

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Michelle Obama in Vera Wang at a state dinner in Washington, D.C., September 2015.

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Michelle Obama in Tanya Taylor in Washington, D.C., March 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Jason Wu at a state dinner in Washington, D.C., March 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Carolina Herrera arriving in Havana, Cuba, March 2016.

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Michelle Obama in BCBG at the opening ceremony for the Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida, May 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Naeem Khan at the Nordic state dinner in Washington, D.C., May 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Hugo Boss speaking with Oprah in Washington, D.C., June 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Marni in Monrovia, Liberia, June 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Proenza Schouler in Marrakech, Morroco, June 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Peter Pilotto in Marrakech, Morocco, June 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Proenza Schouler arriving in Madrid, Spain, June 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Preen in Madrid, Spain, July 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Christian Siriano arriving at a memorial for police officers killed in Dallas, Texas, July 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Christian Siriano at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Brandon Maxwell at a state dinner honoring the first family of Singapore in Washington, D.C., August 2016.

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WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 08: First lady Michelle Obama speaks during the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities poetry reading to honor student poets at the White House, September 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. The first lady honored five students with the nation’s highest honor for teen poets presenting original work. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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Michelle Obama in Naeem Khan at the Phoenix Awards dinner in Washington, D.C., September 2016.

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Michelle Obama in Self-Portrait at the Broadway Shine a Light event in New York, New York, September 2016.

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