Say what you will about Obama, but at least he was presidential. Love him or hate him, at least he never bragged about grabbing women by the genitalia, degraded minorities, or lambasted long time allies within hours of sustaining a terrorist attack. No, President Obama would have offered words of hope and encouragement. He would have conducted himself with the kind of dignity the presidency deserves and, now lacks.
Of course, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would one day be defending Obama. I criticized him relentlessly while he was president. However, merely six months into Trump’s disastrous, scandal-ridden presidency, I routinely find myself in a state of disbelief and self-loathing, wishing someone, anyone was in office other than Trump.
Sure, Obama was professorial and long winded. That’s to be expected from a law school graduate. But while Obama was far from perfect or conventional, he was at least insightful and deliberative. At least he recognized the seriousness of the position he held. At least he never felt the insecure need to embellish or describe his accomplishments with an endless supply of superlatives, adjectives and untruths.
Trump’s erratic behavior, on the other hand, has resembled an unscripted MTV reality show more than a serious U.S. presidency. In fact, his message has been so contradictory and jumbled at times that some of America’s most prominent institutions have been forced to publicly distance themselves from the White House in an unprecedented display of unified dissent.
In 2017 alone, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had to distance themselves from Trump’s impromptu transgender ban. The FDA had to order its employees to disregard Trump’s directive to “rough” up arrestees. And the Boy Scouts, who Trump claimed had called him to lavish praise, had to clarify no such phone call ever happened.
To be fair, political exaggerations are nothing new. However, even in the cutthroat world of politics, there are conventional norms and elements of truth to most exaggerations. In the imaginary world of Trump, however, there seems to be no such line or limit to what Trump will say in order to advance an agenda or change the narrative. Worse, Trump doesn’t merely exaggerate, he tells outright lies.
Trump’s lies have been so fantastical and commonplace that even long time foreign allies have found themselves scratching their heads, further adding to global unrest. This isn’t the “element of surprise” as Trump phrases it. Nor is this the element of “keeping people on their toes.” This is inexperience and immaturity.
Race relations have never been worse, as we witnessed in Charlottesville. During his tenure, Trump has not only relied on racist and nativist dog whistles to rally his base, but downplayed the seriousness of police related shootings and rise of hate crimes. Obama, on the other hand, empathized with such victims, even invoking his own personal experiences, often to the ridicule of conservative media outlets.
All too often, Trump’s behavior is chalked up to be mere inexperience or political incorrectness. But there’s a distinct difference between being overly politically correct and just downright crass, disrespectful and dishonest. Moreover, merely six months into Trump’s roller coaster presidency, the U.S. feels more out-of-tune and divided than ever.
If Trump truly cared about the country in the long term, he’d put aside his pride and perhaps take a few pointers from his predecessor on presidential conduct and diplomacy (yes, the same predecessor he once accused of not being a citizen). After all, Trump has nobody to blame but himself for the disastrous start to his presidency. As short lived communications director Anthony Scaramucci once put it, the “fish stinks from the head down.”