For former president Barack Obama, it was a spontaneous response to a parade of hecklers — not a teleprompter remark that had been vetted for maximum effect — but it still seemed to sum up the final weeks of a searing midterm election campaign characterized by incendiary rhetoric, politically motivated package bombs and hate.
“Why is it that the folks that won the last election are so mad all the time?” Obama asked a crowd of 4,000 as the fifth interrupting protester was escorted out of a Miami rally on Friday. Any further shouts were drowned out by the crowd’s roar.
Obama was using his star power to drum up votes for Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and other Democrats in the Sunshine State.
“It’s an interesting question,” he continued, turning around to address the people behind him. “I mean . . . when I won the presidency, at least my side felt pretty good. I don’t know why . . . it tells you something interesting, that even the folks who are in charge are still mad, because they’re getting ginned up to be mad.”
His argument that stoking anger is a politically motivated decision was underscored by the messages that went out in the days before he spoke.
On Friday, federal economists reported that the nation had produced 250,000 new jobs in October, the 97th straight month of gains, as The Washington Post’s Heather Long and Danielle Paquette reported. The average worker’s earnings rose by 3.1 percent since last year and unemployment remained at 3.7 percent, the lowest percentage in half a century.
While some Republicans have seized on that economic talking point, including President Trump, touting the economy was one positive message among a crowd of fear- and anger-laden ones.
Trump, for example, tweeted videos on Halloween. More than 1.72 million people saw a Trump tweet that featured burning cars, antifa violence and the words “the left’s America,” among statements by Hillary Clinton, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and former Obama-era attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr.
And another video featured Luis Bracamontes, who was deported twice and sentenced to death for killing two police officers in 2014. The video also features scenes from a migrant caravan that’s moving toward the United States, and pivots to a political point: “Who else would Democrats let in?”
A manifested version of that negative sentiment was on display for a week at the end of October as prominent Democrats, CNN and liberal figures received packages filled with suspected pipe bombs.
Cesar Sayoc, a former strip club worker with a lengthy criminal record and a Trump supporter, allegedly sent more than a dozen packages containing possible bombs, prosecutors said. One of those packages was sent to the Obamas, and two were destined for Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden, who is mulling over a presidential run.
Sayoc lived out of his van, which was adorned with pro-Trump stickers and angry images of prominent Democrats, including some shown in crosshairs.
Speaking in Miami, the same city where Sayoc is being held while he awaits transfer to New York for trial, Obama offered an answer to his rhetorical question about the politics of fear.
“It’s like the con where a door-to-door salesman says you need a security system while his buddy sneaks in the back and steals your stuff,” Obama said, according to the Associated Press. “But it’s not just the practical effect in terms of policy. When words stop meaning anything, when truth doesn’t matter, when people can just lie with abandon, democracy can’t work.”