We’ve all seen the photos on social media of former President Obama — relaxed and chillin’ with family and friends and generally being the coolest version of himself even as the fundamental institutions of this nation are under systemic attack.
The only person who misses Obama more than most black folks is President Trump himself. Just as Obama is settling into his bird’s-eye view of the end of his time in office, Trump has done his best to pull him back into the public sphere. Over the weekend, he accused him of being a “sick” wire-tapper – a saboteur with designs on undermining Trump even before he won the election.
Does Trump’s most recent direct attack on Obama warrant a more personal response from this nation’s most-well liked past president? Maybe. But maybe Obama is enjoying watching Trump’s presidency crumble before our very eyes.
As Trump sinks deeper into the quagmire of allegations that his campaign and now his administration has had ongoing communication with Russian agents, he seems completely unable to disentangle himself from the specter of Obama’s presidency.
He rode to political prominence on the birtherism train. He wasn’t just a passenger. He was the conductor, encouraging others to come onboard. And unfortunately, many did. He secured the presidential nomination and won the presidency by tapping into the racist core of right-wing “talk radio” America – a core that was in peak reactive status in response to the first black president.
Weeks ago, he silenced the National Parks Service for verifying the facts that his inauguration was smaller than Obama’s. Trump can’t seem to stop thinking of himself in comparison to Obama. His obsession with Obama serves no one — not our country, not his presidency nor our democracy at large.
Most sensible Americans have grown leery of President Trump’s Twitter fingers. And some folks have concluded that some of Trump’s more outlandish tweets are the politics of distraction at its best.
This could be the case here.
At the end of last week, Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, was in a political tailspin, caught in a very clear lie about communicating with a Russian ambassador and forced to recuse himself from any future DOJ investigation involving Trump’s campaign and Russian agents.
It was the latest terrible news for an administration that would like nothing more than for the ‘Russia’ story to just go away.
But Josh Earnest explained perfectly what is going on here: “The bigger the scandal, the more outrageous the tweet,” the former White House press secretary told Martha Radditz on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday.
Trump’s accusation that Obama had him and his campaign wire-tapped at Trump Tower reeks of desperation — even for this president who has redefined the term. Mr. Trump’s only recourse to reclaim the news cycle was to once again use Twitter to incite themes reserved for sites like Breitbart: The bad black man has been up to his old “sick” tricks again.
The master plan, according to Obama’s former director of speechwriting, Jon Favreau:
Barack Obama's master plan:
1) Wiretap the opposition
2) Gather damaging info
3) Say nothing
4) Let him win
5) Ride off into the sunset
— Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) March 5, 2017
These types of completely unsubstantiated claims ring absolutely true to the Breitbart set of America – facts be damned.
Mr. Trump has offered absolutely no evidence for his tweeted claim. A president cannot legally order a wiretap; you actually need a federal judge for that. If a federal judge signed off on a surveillance request, there is a record of this process.
Our government has (or at least had) checks and balances. FBI Director Comey has reportedly asked that the DOJ disavow Trump’s tweeted comments about this matter. Former Director of National Intelligence Director James Clapper appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday to strongly deny Mr. Trump’s accusations.
So why should Obama respond? How could he adequately respond to Trump’s latest attempt to overcome his own inferiority complex?
Trump and so many Americans just can’t understand how a black man could become president and then handle his time in office with grace, dignity and class.
Trump’s embrace of Birtherism was never rooted in facts – just hatred and envy. He can’t imagine that more Americans love Obama than will ever love him. He’d rather imagine millions of people attending his inauguration or millions of people illegally voting than ever consider that his crowds and his eventual presidential legacy are all smaller than Obama’s.
As usual, Obama will likely be measured and calm in his response, if he engages directly at all. Sure, there is a strong desire for him to stand up in explicit terms and fight Trump’s latest attempt to humiliate him.
But for Obama, Trump’s behaviors are humiliating in their own right. It appears our former president would like Trump to destroy himself — which would make it all the more sweeter.
Dr. James Peterson is the Director of Africana Studies and an associate professor of English at Lehigh University, and is a contributor of MSNBC. Follow him on Twitter @DrJamesPeterson.