Barack Obama
Credit: The White House/Flickr

Just as Trump and his enablers are consumed with the lies they’re calling “Obamagate,” the former president gave two commencement addresses on Saturday. During the one he gave to high school graduates, Obama told the class of 2020 that “this is your generation’s world to shape.” He went on to give them three simple pieces of advice.

  1. Don’t be afraid.
  2. Do what you think is right by grounding yourself in values that last.
  3. Build a community.

While Obama once again refused to utter Trump’s name, everyone knows exactly who he was referring to with this:

It will come as no surprise that television ratings for Obama’s speech were extremely high. Especially during this pandemic, people are hungry for one good word.

In the midst of that, Trump is demonstrating that he continues to be obsessed with Obama. David Smith chronicled how that has come to define this president.

Obama remains something of an obsession for Trump; the subject of a political and personal inferiority complex.

Observers point to a mix of anti-intellectualism, racism, vengeance and primitive envy over everything from Obama’s Nobel peace prize to the scale of his inauguration crowd and social media following…

Beyond political expediency, there is a more profound antipathy at work. From the Iran nuclear deal to the Trans Pacific Partnership, from environmental regulations to the Affordable Care Act, Trump has always seemed to be on a mission to erase his predecessor’s legacy. With few deep convictions of his own, Trump found a negative reference point in Obama. Between 22 November 2010 and 14 May 2020, he tweeted about Obama 2,933 times, according to the Trump Twitter Archive.

Here is what former DOJ spokesperson Matthew Miller identified as the source of that obsession.

Miller added: “There’s some racism there but, most of all, it’s driven by the fact that Obama has the thing that Trump has always craved but never achieved, and that’s respect. I’ve always thought that the respect that Barack Obama gets from people in this country and around the world is something that just eats Trump alive inside.”

I was reminded of something Garrison Keillor wrote in an open letter to Donald Trump prior to his election.

The New York Times treats you like the village idiot. This is painful for a Queens boy trying to win respect in Manhattan…In Queens, blacks were a threat to property values — they belonged in the Bronx, not down the street. To the Times, Queens is Cleveland. Bush league. You are Queens. The casinos were totally Queens, the gold faucets in your triplex, the bragging, the insults, but you wanted to be liked by Those People.

Obama gets the kind of respect Trump has always pined for, but never received. As Miller said, “that just eats Trump alive inside.”

On Sunday, Trump was asked to comment on Obama’s commencement speech and simply replied that his predecessor was “grossly incompetent.” Of course, Trump also had to say that in a tweet.

Most of us would see that and simply call it a matter of “projection.” But Garry Kasparov, the Russian exile that Martin wrote about recently, sees something deeper at work.

That is precisely why Obama poses such a threat to Trump. As Ta-Nehisi Coates once wrote, “For eight years Barack Obama walked on ice and never fell.” The black man who demonstrates “calm, dignified competence” enrages Trump, not simply because of his racism, but by making it clear that goodness and truth do, in fact, exist. That raises the moral bar and exposes just how low into the gutter this president has gone.

What I found most interesting is that, on the day Obama gave those commencement speeches, Trump tweeted this.

Because the president is incapable of giving an inspirational speech, he and his supporters had to settle for a photoshopped video of a fictional president warning about annihilation. As Tony Schwartz suggested, that imaginary threat is a perfect distillation of Trump’s world view.

To survive, I concluded from our conversations, Trump felt compelled to go to war with the world. It was a binary, zero-sum choice for him: You either dominated or you submitted. You either created and exploited fear, or you succumbed to it… Trump grew up fighting for his life and taking no prisoners. In countless conversations, he made clear to me that he treated every encounter as a contest he had to win, because the only other option from his perspective was to lose, and that was the equivalent of obliteration.

Obama represents the enemy Trump feels compelled to go to war against because he embodies everything that Trump is not.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.