President Donald Trump has unleashed a serious charge of corruption against his predecessor Barack Obama, trying to stir up an Obamagate controversy when chips are down with less than six months to go for the presidential election. The strategy in this attack is clear.
Trump wants to revive his political fortune at the expense of Obama, something he has done successfully in the past.
President Donald Trump has come up with a grave accusation of corruption against his predecessor Barack Obama and his administration. Moreover, he has done it at a time when the US continues to witness relentless deaths from the coronavirus. More than 90,000 people have died so far in the country while most experts see Trump Administration’s response as ineffective talks and blame games. From President Trump’s point of view, the culprits of the current crisis span from Biden and the Democrats, predecessor Obama, Jim Costa, CNN & peers who he calls ‘Fake’, China and WHO for negligence and conspiracy, etc. Time and again Trump hints that he is not impressed with his own aides either, experts like the focal point of Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force Dr. Anthony Fauci, when it comes to choosing a sensible reaction to the pandemic. The POTUS has shown signs of paranoia and hysteria as the scenario plummets and he remains at a loss of answers for the people, if not for words. The US economy is in a freefall. Despite the administration scrambling to give some relief to the people, Trump’s re-election bid later this year is looking more and more in jeopardy.
In these circumstances, an attack against Obama is not surprising. Likewise, Trump choosing to make it look really big makes sense since he has an election to win. The maverick Republican popularized the term ‘Obamagate’. However, no one knows what it exactly means. Trump has been unable to explain what the term ‘Obamagate’ explicitly implies and it points to his desperation at the moment. The paranoia originates from the fact that Joe Biden is leading Trump in the pre-election polls. There hasn’t been much going right for Trump thanks to the coronavirus’s brutal trail. Obama left Trump ‘red-faced’ recently when he called the current administration’s response to the crisis ‘absolute chaotic disorder’ in a private call with his former officials.
For the unapologetically racist Trump, who once decided to run for the White House after the African American President Obama publicly mocked him at a dinner party in 2011, such a brutal assessment of his presidency by the same man is simply too much to digest. Back then, Trump didn’t take Obama’s jeering in a sporting way, sat unamused and fuming. The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik observed in a 2015 article, “If he had not just embarked on so ugly an exercise in pure racism, one might almost have felt sorry for him.”
Trump needs Obama again to revive his political luck
Trump, nevertheless, found an opportunity in this assault from his predecessor, deciding to use Obama to rebuild his dented political image. Years ago, it was Trump’s charge that Obama is not an American-born which eventually gave him the political prominence he is enjoying since 2016. Known for his racial attacks over the decades, Trump has been ruthless in his takes on Obama, the reasons being that he is black and has ‘Hussein’ in his name. While Trump used the birtherism strategy (questioning Obama’s birth background) to build his own political fortune by catering to the white supremacists and nationalists, he has now resorted to the Obamagate strategy to rebuild the same. The two strategies are essentially the same in spirit. Both are based on hatred and social disharmony.
In the Obamagate charge, Trump has used his tainted former national security adviser Michael Flynn to attack the Obama administration. However, he could not respond convincingly when a Washington Post reporter asked him the specifics of the Obamagate saying the former administration tried to sabotage his incoming presidency through Russian talks. He said both Obama and Biden were corrupt during a Fox interview and asked Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, to call Obama to testify. On Sunday, May 17, Trump called Obama ‘grossly incompetent’ in another attack.
Divert from the pandemic, take Biden on
Trump found the episode opportunistic on two counts. First, it provided him an opportunity to divert the focus from his struggle against Covid-19 and his administration’s controversial steps like dropping charges against Flynn. On the other hand, by linking Biden to ‘Obamagate’, he is trying to score political brownie points over his likely opponent in the November election. There is a clear effort to label Biden as Obama’s ‘Spiro Agnew’ — the controversial former vice president of Richard Nixon who resigned in 1973 over tax-related corruption.
There is also an effort underway to paint Obama as the new Nixon.
But Trump is mistaken. While it was still understandable in 2016 that he criticized his predecessor (though his style was always ugly) in order to make himself look like a new national alternative, it is simply a paranoia-driven move in 2020. Obama is irrelevant today when Trump’s basic responsibility is to pull the US out of the Covid-19 situation. If Trump feels Obama and his men did something wrong before he took over in January 2017, he could still take the issue up after returning to power (if he does). But for returning to power, he needs to fully focus on how to put an end to the alarming death rate in the US and stop fuelling the in-fight that he does on a daily basis. Trump has been made to believe somehow that only by attacking Obama over a secondary issue in times of a far bigger emergency can he succeed to impress his core constituencies. He has therefore engaged again in a mean game to show Obama as a dark symbol who the US never deserved as its leader.
But Trump is forgetting the fact that by taking on a former president who still is an adored figure among many Americans, he is only exposing his own weakness as an outsider to the power corridors of Washington. There are reports that said the way FBI handled Flynn was nothing exceptional or those that said ‘unmasking’ as a security procedure is no big deal. Obama is still revered as a president who took up the role in the worst of times (the Recession) and saw America’s economic life returning to normalcy. It is true that Obama did not assert America’s power abroad like his predecessors but he also did not take the US into a wasteful war or pull it away irresponsibly from an international instrument. The Democrat thus established his credentials during his eight years in office. Trump is yet to match many of those. On the contrary, he saw a flourishing economy turning into ash overnight and failed to produce the leadership required to minimize the damage.
As someone who has done the tough job before him, Obama knows where it hurts the most. Once Trump escalated things against him through Obamagate, the former president has also started retaliating — substantially and smartly. Instead of coining any dumb term like ‘Obamagate’, he has mocked the Trump administration indirectly.
Obama’s hard-hitting words uttered in graduation ceremonies
“More than anything this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing. A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge,” Obama told graduates of several historically black colleges and universities in a virtual graduation ceremony last weekend. In this address, he also referred to the facts that African-Americans are having it worse in times of the pandemic. He recalled the murder of a 25-year-old black youth named Ahmaud Arbery by two white men in Georgia while he was out for jogging.
“A disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communities have historically had to deal with in this country,” Obama said, adding: “We see it in the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our communities. Just as we see it when a black man goes for a jog and some folks feel like they can stop and question, and shoot him if he doesn’t submit to their question.” It may be mentioned here that while Trump called Arbery’s death shown in a video as disturbing, he also said that there could be more to the story which the video did not show.
In a separate address to 2020 graduates the same day, Obama said: “Doing what feels good, what’s convenient, what’s easy — that’s how little kids think. Unfortunately, a lot of so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs, still think that way — which is why things are so screwed up.” These smartly chosen words by Obama show that he is a master of the game that Trump is playing to malign him.
Trump often finds his opponents in the middle of the US’ ‘biggest scandals’
Trump has no way to hide the fact that he has failed in preventing, managing, and messaging a mammoth crisis. The call of an ‘Obamagate’ at such a critical juncture serves no purpose. He had also called his rival presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email controversy during the 2016 election as the US’ ‘biggest political scandal since Watergate’. Now he says the Obama issue is the ‘biggest political crime in US history’. How much weightage do Trump’s words carry?
On the contrary, Obama’s hard-hitting words as a popular former president expose the current administration even more. Even though the former president has spoken less against Trump in public till the start of the ‘Obamagate’, his successive takes on the current administration thereafter, albeit indirectly, prove that he will now go to the hilt to corner Trump. He did not endorse Biden for a long time but now that he has, Obama is increasing his commitment to the cause of his former No.2’s win.
“I, by the way, am going to be spending as much time as necessary and campaigning as hard as I can for Joe Biden,”Obama said in his private call with his former aides.
Trump tried unsuccessfully to derail Biden’s election campaign last year when he raised his (and his son Hunter Biden’s) foreign connections but saw it backfire into his impeachment in the House. This time, too, Trump seems to have tried something similar but his call hasn’t found much traction yet (even Graham shot down his idea of asking Obama to testify). Whether Trump will be abandoned by his supporters or not in the next election is a different story but there is no denying the fact that he has only belittled his post by going after his predecessor. Finally, Obamagate looks nothing more than a political misadventure by Trump that is likely to backfire.