This week, the Obamas hosted a two-day summit on leadership in Chicago, complete with a celebrity lineup of speakers and entertainers from Prince Harry to Lin Manuel Miranda. Former First Lady Michelle Obama sat down with poet and family friend Elizabeth Alexander to talk about leadership Wednesday morning, in a live-streamed discussion.
Obama spent the majority of the conversation talking to the young audience about child-rearing and how to recognize their own “voice.” She explained how her parents taught her to realize the power behind her own voice, but also to realize the limits that come with it. That’s when she made a thinly-veiled slam against President Trump and his tweeting, which the audience absolutely loved:
OBAMA: ...So moving from that place of understanding the power, the rightness and the truth of my voice, then how you use it, is more linked to your values than anything else. And then it goes back to how you were raised. Because when you have a voice, you know you can’t just use it any kind of way. You know? You can’t just say--this whole, ‘Tell it like it is’ business, that’s nonsense. You don’t just say what’s on your mind. You don’t tweet every thought.
[Audience laughs and claps]
OBAMA: Most of your first initial thoughts are not worthy of the light of day. [chuckles] I’m not talking about anybody in particular [laughs and applause] I’m talking about us all.
MODERATOR: We are so not talking about anyone in particular.
Obama added that her advice was meant for everyone, particularly young people who use social media constantly.
“I’m talking about us all, because everybody does that. I mean that’s the thing about young people. It’s like tweeting and social media, that’s a powerful weapon,” she said.
“You need to think, spell it right and have good grammar too,” Obama added. Though her words could’ve applied to anyone, the audience clearly took it as a slam against Trump, cracking up with laughter and cheering in their seats.
Continuing to make her point, Obama explained that it was even more important for people in political leadership to know that their “words matter,” touting her husband’s experience in the White House as models of decorum that the audience should look up to:
“[W]hen you’re the First Lady or the President or Commander-in-Chief, when you have that voice and the power and that platform, what comes with that is a responsibility to know that every word you utter has consequences. I said this in the course of many of my speeches that words matter, at this level,” Obama stated.
“So you can’t just slash and burn up folks because you think you’re right,” she added.
Moving on from President Trump, Obama scolded society for being too soft on men.
“The problem in the world today is we love our boys and we raise our girls. We raise them to be strong and sometimes we take care not to hurt men, and I think we pay for that a little bit,” she stated.
“It’s powerful to have strong men but what does that strength mean?” she asked. “Does it mean respect, does it mean responsibility, does it mean compassion, or are we protecting our men too much, so they feel a little entitled and a little self righteous at times?” Obama posed.
She went on to say it was women and mothers’ responsibility to stop the cycle of “nurturing” men while “pushing girls to be perfect.”
The media clearly took Obama’s comments as directed at President Trump, with The Washington Post headlining, “Michelle Obama is still talking about Donald Trump, and still not saying his name,” to the Huffington Post, who praised, “Michelle Obama appears to throw shade at Donald Trump with Twitter advice.”
While Obama was obviously making some veiled references to Trump at points, at least this conversation wasn’t as blatantly sexist and partisan as her speech last September. At that marketing conference in Boston, Obama bashed women who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton as “voiceless” and weak-minded.