It is now old wisdom that Barack Obama created Trump—as in the idea of a national pushback to Obama’s out-of-the-mainstream agendas and the unconstitutional way in which he pursued them. Forgotten is the insulation that Obama has also provided for the excesses of Trump as a candidate and, especially, if he were to be president.
Last week, in sober and judicious tones Obama all but warned Americans that they cannot seriously support Trump, who, he implied, is little more than a reality-TV conman. But such admonitions come from a president whose chief foreign policy advisor, a failed fiction writer and D.C. insider, just bragged how he deceived the media and Washington’s insider world by feeding amateurish journalists misleading talking points. Is it serious or in the spirit of reality TV for a president to invite to the White House a rapper whose court-ordered ankle monitor goes off in a presidential ceremony, or to give an exclusive interview with YouTube personality GloZell, noted for her selfies of eating breakfast cereal floating about her in a bathtub? Obama has lectured the media that they have to vent Trump, this from a candidate who never released his medical or college records, whose speech in praise of Rashid Khalidi was suppressed by the media, and whose entire memoir was only belatedly found out to be impressionistic fiction. Obama lowered the bar and Trump skipped over it.
Can Trump mislead much more than did Obama, who assured Americans that they would never lose their doctor or health plan but rather save money and have better care, and that pulling peacekeepers from Iraq would ensure a stable and self-reliant country? Obama, remember, also bragged abroad that he had all but closed Guantanamo within a year and would stop the Bush habit of piling up more debt? After Ben Rhodes and Jonathan Gruber, what exactly are the presidential standards on veracity that we must hold Trump to?
Can Trump act any less constitutionally than has Obama? Will he scan existing law, and order his attorney general to enforce some statutes but ignore others? Will he boast that “I won” and thus has a pen and a phone to sign treaties with foreign countries without Senate ratification? Will Trump, in Obama fashion, threaten to cut off federal funds to cities that believe in biologically identified male/female restrooms, while encouraging other cities to defy federal immigration law? Sanctuary cities in California, but not in North Carolina? Are we back to 1860 and state nullification of federal law if and when the president wishes it?
How can the media fault Trump as uniquely dense for lacking even basic familiarity with geography or foreign affairs, when they shrugged after the current president of the United States variously believed there are 57 states, there is an Austrian-speaking Austria, and the Maldives islands are the Falklands? When a president declares that Hawaii is in Asia, certainly the media cannot be surprised that Trump is not embarrassed about being clueless about the nuclear triad.
Trump is certainly vicious, but after 2009 viciousness is no longer a mortal sin in presidential politics. If it were, Obama would have been through for his thuggish language, after advising supporters to “get in their faces,” take “a gun to a knife fight” and “punish our enemies.” Trump often ridicules the helpless. But he if stoops to make fun of the Special Olympics or jokes about vaporizing people with Predator drones, what will the New York Times or NPR do? Obama ridiculed the wealthy, who did not build their own businesses, or did not know when to stop profiting, or were clueless about the point at which they had made enough money or needed their money spread around. But then again, Obama made fun of the lower middle classes as well, who clung to their religion and guns and were stereotyped as xenophobes and nativists.
Trump can be polarizing on matters of race, but here again by what standard—when the president and his team have established new lows of racial discourse? Does Trump comment on ongoing criminal cases by suggesting one of the involved might look like one of his possible white offspring? Did Trump smear illegal aliens further by suggesting that they were “typical Mexican persons”? Would he appoint an attorney general who might refer to whites as “my people” and accuse the country of being a “nation of cowards”? Would Trump stoop to wink and nod about shared white racial solidarity with a redneck comedian who shouted out to a President Trump, “Yo, Donny, you did it, my cracker, you did it”? After Obama, there are no rules about racial discourse—and no media sensitivity to racially coarse and offensive language.
Trump, as the media has shown, is certainly a crude narcissist. But will he learn to boast as a smooth egoist that he can lower the seas and cool the planet? Does he insist that he is a better political handler and speechwriter than his handlers and speechwriters? Does he claim that he will be the fourth best president in U.S. history—albeit in an outer-borough accent rather than in an Ivy League mellifluous patois? “I,”“me” “mine” and “my” are now the normal baggage of a presidential speech.
As for the supposed fanatical Trumpsters, have they gone berserk with wild praise of Trump in near divine terms? Has a Laura Ingraham or Charles Hurt, or any other columnist, historian, talk show host, or journalist said that Trump’s neat pant crease presages that he will be a great president or that Trump makes his leg tingle, or confessed that Trump is a god, or assured that Trump would be the smartest president in the history of the office? So far, I have not read any such embarrassment in the Washington Times or American Conservative. After Obama, biased deification of a presidential candidate is old hat.
Trump certainly has wacky ideas. But will he promise to ensure that the coal industry goes out of business, or electric rates will skyrocket, or will his energy czar hope that our gas prices reach European levels? Does he plan to double the national debt in eight years or dismantle the existing health care system? Will Trump praise and subsidize a failing coal company as iconic of the country’s future in the manner that Obama coronated the soon-to-be-bankrupt Solyndra? Will he brag that setting and then ignoring red lines for Syria were among his greatest foreign policy moments?
The point is not to whitewash Trump’s crudity and outlandishness, but to explain why it so far has not eliminated him as a candidate. Obama’s outright destruction of presidential protocols created candidate Trump. The media, which in Faustian fashion mortgaged its soul to empower Obama, has now lost all credibility as a legitimate critic and arbiter of the dangers of narcissism, half-educated pop knowledge, polarizing politics, and demonization of one’s critics.
Sadly, nearly every gross thing Trump says or does has had an antecedent in the Obama administration. “Hope and Change” begat “Make America Great,” in a tit-for-tat way that Trump’s likely garish convention props will mimic Obama’s Styrofoam Greek columns. After Obama dismissed ISIS as jayvees by invoking Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, we should not be too outraged that Trump cited an endorsement from Mike Tyson.
There may be reasons to vote against Trump, but at least spare us the outrage that he is somehow uniquely demagogic, crude, or ill-informed in a manner that we have not seen over the last eight years from Trump’s greatest enabler.