In response to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s characterization of President Obama as “the most ignorant of all American presidents,” my Facebook friend Randilyn Woodruff Gilliam posted this heartfelt response: “I am outraged! Trump just called President Obama as the most ignorant president in history. I know politics can be slippery & provocative, but that statement is out of bounds.”
The comment thread that followed the post voiced unanimous disapproval among African Americans reacting to Trump’s negative characterization of the nation’s first African American president. This blog is my own extended commentary to Trump’s assertion.
The Harvard Law Review is a fairly solid index for intellectual and scholarly achievement. Barack Obama is only the second U.S. president who is a Harvard law graduate, and the first president who has served as the Harvard Law Review’s editor.
Donald Trump is a rich ignoramus, but he’s slick and treacherous enough to play to his base with the tasty “red meat” of racial antagonisms by feeding the populous racist bait, suggesting in subtle coded ways that no matter how high the social or financial status achieved by a Black man in America, he remains innately lower than “my people,” as Trump calls his supporters.
To assert that Obama is the most ignorant POTUS in history is “Code Trump,” a rhetorical device he uses to message to his base the notion that the first Black president is inferior to all the 43 white presidents before him. Of course, Trump’s claim is an unfounded, bogus statement with absolutely zero credibility or basis in reality. Yet this is why Trump is winning the plurality among under-educated, semi-literate white males as a voting demographic – those who sadly feel their power and clout as aspirants into middle-class status and the “American Dream” is hopelessly slipping away.
By February 2016 Trump’s political campaign understood that, as a key element of his strategy, he needed to engage poor white, uneducated males. After handily winning the Arizona primary, Trump blurted one of his odder pronouncements, in a campaign known increasingly for its odd rants and weird turns of phrase: “We won with the young. We won with the old. We won with the highly educated. We won with the poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”
Trump’s reference to Obama’s so-called ignorance and inferiority to all presidents preceding him offers a psychological balm for those who’d like to rant about “taking our country back.” By painting Obama as “less than qualified” as well as unknowledgeable, Trump unabashedly reasserts a coded narrative that festered like a sore during the era of Jim Crow and the Black codes when white supremacy continually invoked misguided, worn stereotypes of innate Black incompetence.
Trump’s rhetorical devices and themes are designed to assuage and justify fears and economic insecurities among poorly educated whites who fear displacement by an ever-expanding Black middle-class, by immigrates, and by competition spurred by globalization’s realignment of new jobs and the skills demanded for the new service economy within the U.S. and abroad.
In 1960, President Lyndon Baines Johnson famously told Bill Moyers: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
For Trump, it’s all about pandering to the electorate’s worst fears and insecurities. And it works – for the fearful, for xenophobes, and for racists! Understanding full well that Obama is brilliant and competent (he defeated their candidates in two successive campaigns), the GOP conservative leadership, led by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), vowed to sink his presidency from Day One. Now that same fear and obstructionism is being channeled onto Hillary Clinton, portraying the first woman to be nominated for president as unpatriotic and untrustworthy. The former Secretary of State has even been labeled by Trump as too inexperienced, despite her possession of one of the deepest resumes of any candidate in history.
Now that the campaign has begun in earnest the candidates’ records will be scrutinized and vetted under the intense lens of professional and social media. And as additional new revelations are uncovered, each will have to reconcile the ugly political rhetoric of debasing stereotypes and distortion with the reality of who proves best suited by performance, temperament, experience and qualifications to lead the greatest nation on earth for the next four to eight years. Such is American politics. But do not fret nor worry, we must each do our part and that is to get out the VOTE this November! D.Day 2016