At a candidate’s forum in early 2015, then presidential candidate Trump without a blink said, “I don’t know if he loves America.” The “he” Trump referred to was, of course, former President Obama. The slap at Obama was simply the latest in Trump’s by then three-year campaign to vilify, impugn, slander, and harass Obama as not only not an American citizen, but as an illegitimate President. Trump’s ruthless, near obsessive, vendetta of lies against Obama paid big dividends early on. It got him briefly in the hunt for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. That made him a political household name. Three years later, in 2015, it got him to the top of the GOP presidential pack and kept him there during the primaries. It then got him the biggest prize of all, the White House.
Obama from the start was Trump’s political meal ticket. When things got dull or there was a momentary rough patch on the campaign trial, Trump had Obama as his ready-made whipping boy. Nothing has changed. With Democrats screaming for answers about Trump’s relations with Russia and Putin, and even some GOP leaders feeling the heat and making weak soundings about a probe or two here and there, Trump quickly trotted out his Obama meal ticket. This time it’s the ludicrous claim that Obama wiretapped him during the campaign, complete with the demand that Congress investigate Obama. It’s tempting to simply chalk this up as yet another Trump ploy to deflect attention from his Russia connection, and in part it is. But there’s more, much more to this.
Trump’s persistent use of Obama as his foil isn’t just to slander his presidency. It’s to slander him. It isn’t just political, it is personal. The two can’t be separated. Trump repeatedly made clear during the early stages of his campaign that if he got in the White House he’d sign any and every executive order he could to try and halt, gut, or obliterate every initiative that Obama had ever put in place. He’s been as good as his word.
Trump’s assault on Obama’s initiatives normally would have been the end of it. Presidents from an opposing party to varying degrees quickly sign executive orders to roll back some of their predecessor’s initiatives and actions when they take office. However, Trump’s obsessive attacks on Obama have another aim beyond mere personal vindictiveness and deflecting attention from his disastrous administration. It sends the strong signal to his base that he will try and demolish everything that they loathed about Obama; not just his policies, but what he personally stood for.
Obama was an eight-year embarrassment to the chronic Obama haters. He was liberal. He was a Democratic. And most odious to them, he was Black. Tea Party demonstrators greeted Obama at many stops during his first two years in office with placards, signs and pictures that depicted him in the most lewd, grotesque and often animal-like characterizations. This went way beyond the bounds of normal political attacks and criticism of a president. It was blatantly personal, and showed the depth of the personal distaste many had for Obama and they were not shy about showing it.
Trump at points during his campaign made no effort to correct or reprimand anyone at his townhalls and rallies who got up and vilified Obama in personal terms. This reinforced the point that Trump would make again and again that Obama was not fit from a political or personal standpoint to occupy the White House.
Even Trump’s very belated acknowledgement that Obama was an American citizen was said matter of factly. There was absolutely no elaboration, let alone showing any sign of contrition for waging his ruthless and prolonged campaign to slur him as an alien.
Trump set the template early in his political game about how to go after Obama. That was to pithily toss out a sensational, outrageous accusation against or about Obama without a shred of evidence to back it up and then sit back and watch the media plaster it out as a headline or top headline news feature. The damage was done and the mission of getting tongues wagging about Obama and legions believing there must be some truth to it was accomplished.
The wiretapping charge fits the pattern to the letter. Trump doubled down on that by demanding a Congressional probe into it. The hope is that the more who believe there’s any truth to this will serve to whittle away yet another tiny chunk from Obama’s well-established legacy of personal honor and integrity.
The charge will, of course, go nowhere because it’s another Trump lie. But that’s less important than making the accusation, and getting the media and public headline hit on Obama. This won’t be the end. We can be sure that Trump won’t rest until he’s destroyed Obama’s political legacy, and Obama as well.
(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.)
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