Trump took the position that the former president and vice president were responsible for the violence and unrest on their watch in a Monday night interview with Laura Ingraham. This should badly complicate Trump’s argument that disruptions occurring under his presidency — which he’s actively trying to exacerbate — should frighten you into reelecting him.
But it turns out that Trump has repeatedly blamed Obama for various outbreaks of violence on his watch going back many years. A Democrat flagged a series of examples for me, and you’d think this would now become a part of the discussion.
First, let’s return to Trump’s exchange with Ingraham, because it exposes the darker underbelly of the grand narrative Trump has served up.
“Let’s say for the sake of argument you have a deficit among female voters,” Ingraham said to Trump, framing this as theoretical to avoid admitting that Trump might actually be trailing among them.
Women might see Trump’s tone as “too aggressive,” Ingraham continued. She then asked: “What do you say to them directly, about what you’ll do in a second term?”
“I have to be aggressive,” Trump replied, adding: "We need law and order in this country, and women see that with me.” Trump continued: “You’re never gonna have law and order with Biden.”
Then Trump referenced the 2014 unrest in Ferguson, Mo.
“Look at all of those horrible race riots you had during Obama,” Trump said, declaring that the “problems” under Obama were “worse” than in the present.
Women “see” that they need Trump to protect them from the sort of “race riots” that occurred under the first Black president. The race-baiting component of this agitprop is pretty explicit.
But Trump’s blaming of Obama for the violence on his watch actually goes back years — which is fair game for review, given that Trump is now refusing to take responsibility for the unrest on his own.
The story Trump told about Obama
One central trope in the story Trump told about the Obama years was that the violence that occurred at the time was directly attributable to the notion — implied but not stated directly — that Obama was treating his people too well.
For instance, amid the outbreak of protests and violence in Ferguson — where a White police officer’s killing of a Black teenager helped launch the Black Lives Matter movement — Trump tweeted this:
You may recall that the ridicule of Obama as a “community organizer” was omnipresent on the right during those years. Tending to the needs of communities sends a permissive message, when what those communities really need is Trump-style “toughness.”
Around a week earlier, Trump had tweeted this:
The unrest, according to Trump, wasn’t just Obama’s fault; it was also converting Obama and the nation into a cause for global humiliation. Systemic racism and police brutality weren’t why we should feel shame in the eyes of the world; Obama’s weakness was.
Subsequently, Trump campaigned on the idea that Obama had let the country down by failing to unite us. In March 2016, speaking about unrest in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, Trump lamented how “divided” we are.
“I thought that President Obama would be a great cheerleader for the country,” Trump said. “And it just hasn’t happened.” Trump added that he would be a “great cheerleader":
Because a lot of people feel it’s a hopeless situation. A lot of people in the inner cities, they feel that way. And you have to start by giving them hope and giving them spirit and that has not taken place. Just has not taken place.
Trump reiterated this in June 2016, blaming unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore on Obama, calling him an “unbelievable divider of this country,” and adding:
One thing I had hoped Obama would be is a good cheerleader for the country. He’s really brought the opposite in spirit to the country. He’s been a very negative force.
So in both those cases, Trump cast Obama as a divider and promised to inject “spirit” into inner cities that Obama had not.
We’ve seen how that turned out: Trump has leveled endless dehumanization at inner-city districts represented by Black lawmakers. He has described Black Lives Matter as a “symbol of hate” and has blasted protesters as “thugs,” conflating isolated violence with mass peaceful protest while pretending to respect the latter.
It’s true that drawing a direct causal link between presidents and such complicated events is a difficult business, whether under Obama or Trump. But there’s a distinction between asking whether a particular president caused violence and how he reacted to it.
Trump has perpetually tried to make ongoing civil conflict worse, by conflating peaceful protesters with violent ones; by openly encouraging counter-protesters from MAGA-land to confront them; and by holding a photo op celebrating a violent crackdown on protesters and threatening to send in troops against more of them, which his own military officials repudiated.
In Trump’s disordered mind, of course, none of this is inconsistent. He wants to blame violence under Obama and Biden on their alleged permissiveness, while also blaming local Democratic officials for it right now, by claiming they’re softies standing in the way of Trump “fixing” the problem, which he’s openly offering to do with unbridled lawless thuggery.
Trump hopes swing voters will be so frightened that they’ll opt for that thuggery. Instead, let’s hope they conclude correctly that it is only making things worse, and that this president actually is responsible for what his purposeful exacerbation has wrought.
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