There’s a demagogue loose in the land. He uses immigration and the war on terror to drive a wedge into the American populace. He traffics in absurd conspiracy theories about foreign influence, he mocks his political opponents, and he inspires friends and allies to lash out, lawlessly, against them. He compares patriotic Americans to jihadists, and he endangers our national security with his reckless rhetoric.
I’m speaking, of course, about the President of the United States. It’s been amusing to watch the media hyperventilate over Donald Trump’s comments when it has largely cheered or ignored our own president’s rhetoric — rhetoric that’s inspired serial violations of First Amendment freedoms, and been used as justification for executive overreach and deadly mistakes at home and abroad.
We knew of Barack Obama’s contempt for his political opponents in 2008, when he famously mocked Hillary Clinton’s blue-collar supporters, calling them “bitter” and saying they “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.” But this was small potatoes compared to the rhetoric he’d employ once he was elected.
Consider his hatred of free speech and his absurd conspiracy theories about his political opponents. In 2010 he repeatedly took aim at the “shadowy” groups opposing him, claiming that a “foreign-controlled entity” could be spending “millions of dollars” on attack ads. He condemned groups “pos[ing] as non-for-profit social and welfare trade groups” and said they were “guided by seasoned Republican political operatives.” He called free speech by independent organizations a “threat to our democracy.”
A president’s words have consequences. In 2010, the IRS launched its assault on tea partiers, not just denying or delaying their nonprofit applications, but using the application process itself to conduct an intrusive investigation into conservative activities — demanding to know the identities of tea party donors, the political activities of applicants’ family members and associates, and the passwords of their websites. But as Obama has reasoned it, “the only people who don’t want to disclose the truth are people with something to hide.”
The president is fond of accusing of opponents of being “unpatriotic” or “un-American” or simply “crazies.” And with this president, extreme actions are always justified by extreme rhetoric. If congressional opponents of his immigration policies are un-American, why not circumvent their oversight with expansive and unconstitutional executive orders? If opponents of his nuclear deal with Iran are crazy, why utilize the constitutional treaty-submission process?
#share#Indeed, it’s in the realm of foreign policy that Obama’s demagoguery has peaked. In August, he compared opponents of the Iran deal — an agreement that doesn’t halt Iran’s nuclear program, allows it access to international arms markets, and permits it to develop ballistic missile technology — to “death to America”-chanting jihadists. Then, when the ridiculousness of the comparison was pointed out, he doubled down, calling it “absolutely true factually.”
When it comes to the Syrian refugee crisis, Obama’s rhetoric has been nothing short of reckless. In the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks — even as reports emerged that one of the attackers may have posed as a refugee — the president sneered at Republicans:
Apparently, they are scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America. . . . At first they were too scared of the press being too tough on them in the debates. Now they are scared of three-year-old orphans. That doesn’t seem so tough to me.
This is playground taunting, crafted for a juvenile base that crows whenever a comedian “DESTROYS” their least-favorite Fox News personality. Moreover it’s taunting that has no basis in fact. Days later, Americans watched in horror as a “vetted” Muslim immigrant went on a terrorist rampage in San Bernardino.
#related#And if you’ve already challenged your opponents’ patriotism, sanity, and toughness, why not mock their personal appearance? Earlier this week, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest took a cue from his boss and mocked Donald Trump’s “fake hair.” NPR correspondent Mara Liasson’s response was comical. She pressed Earnest, saying it was “very Trumpian and not very Obama-like” to attack Trump for his hair. (Personal insults are, in fact, quite “Obama-like.”) Earnest was unmoved, saying Trump has a “rather outrageous appearance.”
Writing in the Washington Post, Phillip Bump described Trump as “prone to hyperbole, misrepresentation, and arguments that seem contrary to the core philosophies of the United States.” The president’s unpatriotic, crazy, un-American opponents — who are under the control of shadowy foreign entities and afraid of three-year-olds — can only say that perhaps, just perhaps, Trump has learned from the master in the Oval Office.
— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.