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Trump vs. Obama: A Study in Contrasts

A full recitation of the differences between Barack Obama and Donald Trump would fill a book.

Since this is a blog, not a book, I won't assay that gargantuan task. But I wanted to say a word about two of the things that have repeatedly struck me about the differences between the two men.

I am going to leave to one side what might be the largest difference: that Obama was above all a man of lofty-sounding rhetoric, at once pragmatic in tone and utopian in aspiration, while Trump is a man of demotic and sometimes involuted rhetoric but decisive, almost impatient action.

An example on everyone's mind is Syria. Obama had his red line, rendered inert (Whew!) by the as-it-turns-out-false assurance that "100 percent" of Syrias's chemical weapons had been removed. Trump saw footage of the results of Assad's early April sarin gas attack and responded a couple of days later with with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles against the air base from which the attack originated.

Red line and inaction vs. infraction and response.

Many more examples of that sort could be adduced, but I wanted to call attention to two things that are more modest.

One concerns the character of their more personal interventions. Again, I am going to leave one large category out of consideration: everything that has to do with race.  Instead, I would simply ask you to think about some of Obama's signal actions with respect to race: his support of Eric Holder, the most patently racialist attorney general in history, his intervention while president into local controversies like the Skip-Gates-Cambridge-Policeman episode or the "If-I-Had-A-Son-He--Would-Look-Like-Trayvon-Martin" wheeze. Such things, I believe, tell us a lot about Obama's unspoken Weltanschauung: the value-laden background of assumptions out of which his immaculately accoutered  pronouncements were uttered.

There is not, so far as I have been able to determine, anything similar in Donald Trump's makeup. His approach to problems, to events generally, is less ideological than pragmatic. "What's the right thing to do in this particular case?" That seems to be his cynosure.  You might not like the answers he gives, but it is easy to see that they come not from a previously adopted program or ideology but from an ad hoc response to the case at hand.  Critics call that "confusion" or "inconsistency" or "contradiction."  I'm not sure those categories have much purchase in this context.

In any event, this difference between Obama and Trump results in some striking contrasts between the two men.  In 2014, Obama made headlines when he traded five senior Taliban leaders held captive in Guantanamo Bay for the release of Bowe Robert Bergdahl, the Army solider who deserted his post while on guard duty in June 2009 after announcing his loathing for America and hatred of the Army. “I am ashamed to be an American,” he wrote in an email to his parents.  “And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools. . . . The horror that is America is disgusting.” Who can forget the spectacle of Bergdahl's parents, who came to the White House and praised Allah for the release of their son?