Politics & Policy

Obama and Trump: Two of a Kind

(Photo Illustration: NRO)
Outwardly they couldn’t be more different. But take a closer look.

President Obama is said to feel liberated, in the sense that he can finally say what, and do as, he pleases — without much worry any more over political ramifications, including presidential and congressional elections. Obama’s lame-duck presidency has now devolved into the progressive bully pulpit that his base always longed for. Of course, his editorializing and executive orders may worry Hillary Clinton — much as Donald Trump’s pronouncements do his more circumspect Republican rivals.

Trump is a celebrity who tweets and phones his praise of and insults to comedians, athletes, and media kingpins. But so does Obama love the celebrity world. He is comfortable with Jay Z and Beyoncé, picks the Sweet Sixteen on live television, and has reminded us that he’s the LeBron of the Teleprompter, who won’t choke under the spotlights. Both see pop culture and the presidency as a fitting together perfectly.

Would the Chicago community-organizing cadre be that much different from the Trump Manhattan clique? Isn’t big-city know-how key to “fundamentally transforming” the country? Is there that much difference between Trump’s golden name tags and Obama’ faux Greek columns, vero possumus, “We are the ones we have been waiting for,” and cooling the planet and lowering the seas?

RELATED: What Obama Has Taught Us

Would not Trump perhaps agree with this Obama assertion from 2008: “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.” Both men seem to believe that the presidency is dependent on ratings, something like The Apprentice: “If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.”

In his current unbridled commentary and without worry over party politics, Obama has perhaps gone the full Trump.

In his current unbridled commentary and without worry over party politics, Obama has perhaps gone the full Trump — though in the opposite fashion of tossing out politically correct themes of the progressive Left, which lead to little concrete action. So Obama is Trump’s doppelgänger. The two see the world in similarly materialist — though, again, opposite — terms: Trump wants net worth to be the litmus test of political preparation (“The point is that you can’t be too greedy”), even as Obama professes that big money is a Romney-like 1 percent disqualification. Obama’s infamous communalistic quotes to the effect that you didn’t build that, at some point you’ve made enough money, and this is no time to profit are just bookends to Trump’s money-is-everything ideas that he built everything, he’s never going to make enough money, and it is always time to profit.

On matters of race, liberals seem to like the fact that Obama no longer lectures so much about pathologies endemic in black communities, but now focuses on institutionalized bias, as if he is tired of scripted talk about the preservation of the family, the need for education, and the avoidance of illegitimacy and drug use. It is far easier to reduce all that down to institutional racism and legacy unfairness, much as Trump waves his hands about the next complex issue — trade, China, immigration, veterans’ affairs — and tells his audiences that a distant “they” and “them” are the problem. The respective bases both love the message that someone else did it to us.

RELATED: Obama’s Third-Class Temperament

The media rightly notice Trump’s first-person — I, me, my, mine — overload, but that too is Obama’s favorite kind of pronoun. The president often refers to his “team” in narcissistic terms, as if the West Wing were a sort of Trump Tower. It is said that Trump is tasteless and gets into tit-for-tat squabbles or tosses out gross quips that are unpresidential. One wonders when Trump will make jokes about the Special Olympics, or about siccing lethal drones on the would-be suitors of his daughters. In any case, Trump handled NBC’s Katy Tur in the same manner in which Obama dispensed with CBS’s Major Garrett.

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Trump was blasted for editorializing on the tragedy of Kate Steinle’s murder at the hands of a seven-time felon and five-time-deported illegal alien. But that habit of seeking political resonance in individual tragedies bears the Obama imprimatur. Although the Steinle tragedy did not offer Obama the correct political calculus, he has sought to channel Ferguson, Baltimore, and mass school shootings as fuel for his own political agenda. So far Trump has not quite descended to the level of the president’s use of a racial affinity with Trayvon Martin, although his quip about prisoners of war like John McCain being less than heroic comes close.

More importantly, like Trump, Obama does not worry over inconsistency or bombast, and has no hesitation about insisting on things that not only are not, but perhaps could not be, true. Obamacare would, Obama assured the nation, lower premiums and deductibles, reduce the deficit, and allow Americans to keep their current doctors and plans, but in fact it did no such things. Obama repeatedly warned his supporters that our immigration law was unquestioned settled law, duly enacted by Congress, and that no president could unilaterally override it — a strange Freudian foretelling of exactly what the president would soon do. Reset with Russia was the proper corrective to George W. Bush’s alienation of Vladimir Putin — only it was not, and instead ensured new levels of Russian–American alienation. The post-Saddam Iraq was a great achievement; the country was now secure and self-reliant enough for American troops to leave — and then it just wasn’t, after we skedaddled. How exactly did the “jayvee” ISIS team punch above its weight as the varsity? “Guantanamo will be closed no later than one year from now.” That was six years ago, and Guantanamo is still in business.

RELATED: Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s ‘Mad as Hell’ Moment

Talks with Iran were originally supposed to have been predicated on anywhere, anytime inspections, no enrichment within Iran, real-time snap-back sanctions, and tough protocols about weapon purchases and subsidies for terrorists — until they really were not. Red lines were game changers, only they weren’t — and they weren’t even Obama’s own red lines, but the U.N.’s. Chlorine gas did not count as a WMD: it wasn’t really a weaponized chemical agent at all. Trump’s inconsistencies and contradictions so far are no more dramatic.

Trump understandably envisions world leaders and foreign policy itself as World Presidents’ Organization meetings of business pros like himself, who horse-trade to win their own constituents the better deal. Wheeler-dealers like Trump, we are to believe, are thus the most successful occupants of the Oval Office, especially when energized by savvy and innate charisma. The problem supposedly with our foreign policy is that bureaucrats and diplomats were never negotiators and dealers, and so got taken to the cleaners by far more clever and conniving foreign operators.

The self-absorbed idea of Trump outfoxing a Chinese kleptocrat is similar to that of Obama hypnotizing an Iranian theocrat.

But again, is Obama so different a spirit? He feels that his own winning charm and community-organizing skills can succeed with revolutionary leaders, in a way the political skills of a George W. Bush never could. Relations with Turkey hinged on a “special friendship” with Erdogan. Apparently, Obama felt that neo-Ottomanism, anti-Israel rhetoric, and increasing Islamization were mere proof of inevitable revolutionary turmoil, a good thing, but one that could be capitalized on only by someone like himself, who long ago was properly ideologically prepped. Ditto Obama’s mythography of the Cairo speech before an audience that, on the White House’s insistence, included members of the Muslim Brotherhood, or his outreach to Cuba and Iran (note his past silence about the 2009 green demonstrations in Iran). So if Obama has won over the world’s one-time pariahs, maybe Trump can try the same first-person methodologies to coax the more business-minded prime ministers to our side. The self-absorbed idea of Trump outfoxing a Chinese kleptocrat is similar to that of Obama hypnotizing an Iranian theocrat.

#related#Donald Trump believes he can oversell America abroad in the manner of Chamber of Commerce boosterism; isn’t that the twin to Obama underselling the country in the fashion of a wrinkled-browed academic? Both are stern moralists: America is too often shorted, and so Trump is angry over the sins of omission. For Obama, past genocide, racism, and imperialism vie as sins of U.S. commission.

Would a Trump bragging tour be all that much different from an Obama apology tour? If, in politically incorrect style, it is implied that all immigrants are likely to be criminals, is that any sloppier or more politically motivated than the politically correct assumption that all are dreamers? Threatening to charge Mexico per illegal immigrant seems about as sensible as leaving the border wide open and nullifying existing immigration law.

There is no need to elect Donald Trump; we’ve already had six years of him.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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