Donald Trump’s decision to invite President Obama’s half-brother Malik to the final debate has puzzled observers as one of the strangest and most erratic acts of an already unorthodox and flailing campaign. There would seem to be no correlation between Hillary Clinton’s ability to serve as president, and the seemingly innocuous fact that Malik Obama and his presidential half-brother don’t get along. As an attempt to rattle Clinton at the debate, it seems wildly far-fetched.
But the invite to Malik Obama makes logical sense within the context of the far-right echo chamber. There is an entire narrative within the far right surrounding Obama’s siblings that closely relates to the conservative critique of the relationship between the Democratic Party and minority groups–but that narrative is largely invisible to the broader public if one doesn’t dive into the fever swamps of places like Free Republic and WorldNetDaily.
The two most prominent of Barack Obama’s ten half-siblings are Malik and George. George is the youngest and continues to live in poverty in Kenya despite his brother Barack’s success. Malik has some extreme anti-Israel views and is critical of American interventionist foreign policy in the Obama years, which is one of the reasons he is backing Trump. He is particularly upset over the decision to depose Libyan dictator Muammar Ghaddafi, and thinks his brother is “cold and ruthless.”
Controversial conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza highlighted George Obama in his propaganda film “2016: Obama’s America” and wrote a Fox News op-ed about him in which he alleges that the President and his father share anti-colonial sentiments, but that George himself feels that Kenyans should stop blaming the West and take more responsibility for their own situation.
So right off the bat there are two easy angles: conservatives can claim that his own family doesn’t like the President or share his views, and that Barack Obama himself may have hidden anti-American sentiments like his father and like Malik.
But the relationship between Barack Obama and his brother George has also become a symbol for some of the relationship between Democratic politicians and minorities. Conservatives donated to a “compassion fund” to “help Obama’s brother move out of his hut,” and many have suggested that Barack Obama’s decision to maintain distance from his brothers reflects the right-wing critique of Democrats that they seek minority votes during elections but do little to assist minority communities while in office. This has been a persistent theme of Dinesh D’Souza’s, and one that Trump has highlighted on the campaign trail.
Conservatives thus use Obama’s lack of support for his half-brother to extrapolate that Democrats don’t care about poor people in general–with an added twist that Democratic politicians are supposedly so monstrous that they don’t even care about their own families. Texas Republican legislator Bill Zedler used Biblical langauge to ding President Obama for not “being his brother’s keeper.”
And then there’s Donald Trump, who tweeted back in July:
Wow, President Obama’s brother, Malik, just announced that he is voting for me. Was probably treated badly by president-like everybody else!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 24, 2016
So Trump’s decision to bring Malik Obama to the debate, while seemingly bizarre to most people, makes sense as part of a far-right message: liberal foreign policy is bad, liberals don’t really care about family or poverty, and Donald Trump will actually be the candidate to help minorities and fix American interventionist policies.
Of course, this sort of thinking only makes sense to those steeped in the far-right circles of D’Souza and his ilk. What should be most alarming is that the Republican candidate for president is so enmeshed in this world that Breitbart and WorldNetDaily types are essentially running his communications and debate strategy.