In the days since the election, President Obama has been incredibly polite and gracious while dealing with Donald J. Trump — the very man who started the conspiracy theory that Obama was secretly born in Kenya and who stands for everything Obama is against.
Obama has to be polite to Trump in order to secure the peaceful transfer of power — but he’s subtly undermining Trump all the while.
How? By acting like he expects the best of Trump — and talking about it.
As reported by the New York Times, yesterday, Obama said that he has urged Trump to reach out to people of color, women, and others who feel as if their rights will be threatened under his presidency. He said:
“There are certain things that make for good sound bites but don’t always translate into good policy, and that’s something that I think that he and his team will wrestle with. I did say to him, as I’ve said publicly, that because of the nature of the campaigns and the bitterness and the ferocity of the campaigns, that it’s really important to send some signals of unity, and to reach out to minority groups, or women, or others that were concerned about the tenor of the campaign, and I think that’s something that he will want to do.”
“I’ve been encouraged by his statements on election night about the need for unity, his interest in being president for all people. In an election like this that was so hotly contested and so divided, gestures matter.”
By speaking as if he expects Trump to reach out to people of color and women, Obama is placing pressure on Trump to do exactly that — and calling attention to his lack of action if he doesn’t.
Obama also said that he expects Trump to tamper his “temperament":
“There are going to be certain elements of his temperament that will not serve him well, unless he recognizes them and corrects them. Because when you’re a candidate and you say something that is inaccurate or controversial it has less impact than it does when you’re president of the United States. Everybody around the world is paying attention. Markets move.”
Obama has also had to explain the importance of having a staff to Trump — while this sounds polite, he’s also highlighting what A COMPLETE IDIOT Trump is that he didn’t already know this. Leading to headlines like Vox's "Donald Trump seems to be seemingly ignorant about what a president actually does" and memes like this:
I also caught this analysis going around Tumblr, and I LOVE IT. It’s by Tumblr user valadilenne:
I’ve been thinking a lot about the meeting between Trump and Obama at the White House, and here’s the thing.
Obama used to be a law professor. This is key.
Law school is so, so different from college.
In college, everyone expects there to be a “syllabus day,” kind of a grace period where they can show up and get the lay of the land, figure out the bare minimum that they can get away with, the TA gives everyone their office hours, there’s an introductory lecture, and everybody leaves a few minutes early to go take a nap or something. You do the bullshit assignments, you say something in class now and then to get your participation check mark, and figure out how badly you can do on the final and still pass.
But see, in law school, all the methodologies you’ve spent the last 17 years operating under go out the window. Day one of law school is you being thrown into the deep end of the pool—you’ve had a homework assignment for two weeks now, and it’s to read the first 200 pages of your casebook. And now it’s you and the teacher (who is usually as smug as Alex Trebek) gauging and assessing what you managed to absorb while you skimmed through all those pages of reading so you could hurry up and get to the other 150 pages of reading for your next period class, in front of 50 people who are all smarter than you. And if you fuck up, or you didn’t do the reading, you are at the mercies of not just the professor, but the silent satisfied judgment of your peers.
Law school is hard, and it will make you feel stupid and tongue-tied and like you don’t know anything and can’t form an argument—because you don’t, and you can’t. Everybody there has had a 4.0 since birth. Everybody there was the smartest kid in their class, and you’re all rabidly competing for a sliver of a chance at something down the road. It’s petty, and savage, fiercely entrenched in a culture of formalities and ceremony, and exactly like Washington DC.
Yesterday when I was driving home, the NPR reporter talking about the Oval Office meeting mentioned that Trump had thought it was going to be a “getting to know you” type meeting, but that he was surprised when Obama stretched their talk out to 90 minutes before sending him along to the Capitol building where he met with congressional leaders for more lengthy meetings and stuff he didn’t want to do.
And he hasn’t even gotten to the actual job yet.
So think about that as we go into this.
Trump walked into the Oval Office like a two-pump-chump freshman thinking it was syllabus day, and what he got was the first day of law school, and he hadn’t done the reading like everyone else had, and Professor Obama decided to put him in the hot seat.
This was Obama’s chance for the most perfect revenge that would never be picked up on as revenge at all. He was gracious, polite—everything he needed to be for a peaceful transition and a good review from the press. And that would continue when the doors were closed, because that’s the key. Not a Come to Jesus meeting, oh no. If Obama were smart—and he is very smart—he would have treated Trump like an equal, and brought the discussion to a level that assumes far more of Trump than anyone has so far. Assumes that he’s an adult who’s been paying attention. Statistics, esoteric minutiae about the executive branch procedure, economic growth numbers, labor figures, domestic policies, countries Trump has never even heard of, shit that would never in a million years have been in Trump’s campaign soundbites or digestible summaries.
No way to escape. No aides to remember any of it for him. Just the two of them.
Because that’s what would strike a precise chill into Trump. The thundering realization that he’s woefully unprepared for the hard, boring, thankless reality of this, and Obama’s version of a smooth transition won’t and shouldn’t include remedial civics.
That’s what I saw when they shook hands and Trump stared at the floor instead of looking back into Obama’s face. He’s just figured out how little he knows about any of this.
And that should give you a small glow of satisfaction, because after those meetings, Trump definitely has the 1L Terror Shits. In January, the night sweats and insomnia will show up, but for these first few weeks—nothing but diarrhea and self-doubt.
I’m also hoping that after the peaceful transfer of power is complete and Obama is once again a private citizen, he can be a more outspoken critic of Trump. Until then, his subtle criticisms are doing a lot to call attention to Trump’s complete and total inadequacy.
Top photo: Facebook/Barack Obama
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