Obama: Trump capitalizing on resentments

During a speech at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, former President Barack Obama says that each time progress is made, there is a backlash from people fearful of change.

Posted: Sep 9, 2018 7:56 AM
Updated: Sep 9, 2018 7:56 AM

Just as Barack Obama was warning that America is in the grip of a politics of fear that undermines norms and political accountability, President Donald Trump was unleashing his latest assault on traditions of governance that underpin the nation's democracy.

"These are extraordinary times. Dangerous times," Obama warned in an extraordinary indictment of the behavior of a successor to whom he handed power in January 2017 and who has torn at the conventions that restrain presidents ever since.

It was a revealing moment in an enthralling clash of philosophy, temperament and style that unfolded Friday between a current and former president who epitomize opposing currents in an epochal political moment and are now in direct conflict ahead of the midterm elections.

The campaign trail face-off between Obama and Trump also capped a consequential week that saw the awakening of the Washington establishment after John McCain's funeral turned into an indictment of Trumpism and in which Trump battled an enemy within his own administration.

Obama, ditching his self-imposed political exile, warned of a moment of unique national peril, in which demagogic forces -- aka Trump -- are undermining the structures of democratic government to build their own omnipotence.

"They start undermining norms that ensure accountability and try to change the rules to entrench their own power," Obama said in a major speech in Illinois.

"It shouldn't be Democratic or Republican to say that we don't pressure the attorney general or FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents -- or to protect members of our own party from prosecution just because an election's coming up," he said.

At almost the same moment, aboard Air Force One, the current President told reporters he wanted Attorney General Jeff Sessions to hunt a senior official within his administration who sent the White House reeling with a devastating anonymous New York Times op-ed that branded him unfit for power.

"Here's criticism where you can't fight back. 'Cause you have somebody doing it anonymously," Trump said, after he effectively ordered the criminal investigative functions of the state to purge an opponent who has not committed a crime but has merely exercised a First Amendment right.

It was far from the first time Trump has appeared to shun conventions designed to shield the instruments of justice from political interference. He has spent months lambasting the FBI and the Justice Department over the Russia investigation. Earlier this week he complained that Sessions should not have allowed two Republicans to be indicted over corruption allegations.

Friday's competing appearances were the latest intense intersection of two giant, idiosyncratic political opposites who are again waging a struggle for the political soul of their nation.

Ever since Trump made the birtherism conspiracy his bridge to politics from the tabloid life of a tycoon and real estate star, he and Obama have been locked in a mutually antagonistic embrace, as opposites in decorum and ideology.

That mirror image was on show Friday.

Opposing styles

Obama, serene and intellectual, chose the conventional medium for a politician, a long, reasoned, multi-layered speech, to frame a political problem -- the conditions that led to the rise of Trump -- and to give Democrats a battle plan to restore America's ailing democracy.

He bemoaned missing checks and balances in Washington, the indifference of Republicans to Trump's power grabs, the predominance of bullies, and walls being put up around America, and he diagnosed a "backlash from people who are genuinely, if wrongly, fearful of change."

In signature style, he called on young people to vote, campaign and fight for their democracy, and argued that despite everything there is a unifying American "common ground."

At times, he appeared to be renewing his own faith in a brand of politics that shot him to power from nowhere in 2008 but whose effectiveness has been called into question -- even by some more radical Democrats -- as Trump crushes his legacy and the GOP monopolizes power.

Trump, the king of the barbed tweet, who reinvented the way to win the White House, brawled on social media, sparred with reporters and in a stream-of-consciousness campaign speech of his own displayed his more gritty, authoritarian and aggressive political methodology

He mocked Obama's approach. "I watched it, but I fell asleep. I've found he's very good for sleeping," Trump said in Fargo, North Dakota, before reeling off a list of his administration's achievements and slamming America's foreign trade partners.

"I don't want to be taken advantage of by other countries in the world," he said.

The thrust of Obama's argument was that America is a great nation that has slumped into crisis because its core values are being trampled. Trump's -- in line with his strongman's instincts -- was that he inherited a humbled and disrespected country and he had already redeemed it.

He told his crowd that a strapping man had come up to him at his event with tears rolling from his eyes and said: "I want to thank you, Mr. President, for saving our country."

Same aim

In essence, Trump and Obama were trying to do the same thing -- electrify grass-roots voters and drive turnout in midterm elections that both view as the most crucial for decades and that will be crucial to the fate of the Trump presidency.

Obama is a singular political figure. While he won two impressive general election victories, he found it more difficult to bestow his appeal to Democrats in midterm elections, when he was not on the ballot. It may be even more difficult to do so when he is out of power.

Trump is also unique, and it is not clear whether he will be any more successful in transferring his magnetic appeal with the grass roots to Republican candidates in midterm polls.

Obama found out how a presidency can be crippled by the loss of the House of Representatives. Unless Trump can buck history, he may experience an even more painful defeat, given the multiple political and legal storms already battering his White House.

Their combat on Friday opened up intriguing new possibilities for the fall campaign, and risks for both.

Obama had stayed out of the spotlight for the last 19 months for a reason, apart from honoring the tradition that presidents don't usually criticize their predecessors. He knows that he has now given Trump the political target he has often lacked during his presidency.

Obama, who is reviled by many Trump voters, could become an organizing catalyst for grass-roots Republicans as well as Democrats.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham spotted the opening for Republicans and for Trump in 2020, by tweeting: "The more President @BarackObama speaks about the 'good ole years' of his presidency, the more likely President @realDonaldTrump is to get re-elected."

On the other hand, many Democrats and others who remember Obama's presidency and conduct in the White House fondly have often wondered why he has not been more vocal in taking on Trump. There is still no Democrat with the capacity to frame a political problem, distill a message and deliver it as well as Obama.

Still, his re-emergence was not universally welcomed by serving Democratic lawmakers.

Delaware Sen. Chris Coons told CNN's Wolf Blitzer he was worried that the midterms could become fixated on personalities rather than the needs and concerns of voters.

"We have got a President who is really adept about making the day about him, day in and day out. My concern here is President Obama may be simply feeding that dynamic where it is all about President Trump," he said.

But one thing is clear: With Obama and Trump going at it, the fall campaign just got a lot more interesting.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 314710

Reported Deaths: 7254
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21646260
Hinds20369416
Harrison17949309
Rankin13643278
Jackson13450246
Madison10113217
Lee9986174
Jones8384163
Forrest7689152
Lauderdale7198240
Lowndes6403148
Lamar623686
Lafayette6203119
Washington5341134
Bolivar4802132
Oktibbeha462998
Panola4596107
Pearl River4519146
Marshall4450103
Warren4393121
Pontotoc420872
Monroe4115133
Union411176
Neshoba4031176
Lincoln3969110
Hancock379586
Leflore3498125
Sunflower336290
Tate334784
Pike3327105
Scott316274
Alcorn313368
Yazoo311770
Itawamba300577
Copiah297465
Coahoma295579
Simpson295388
Tippah288768
Adams286982
Prentiss280060
Marion269380
Leake268473
Wayne262841
Grenada261587
Covington259881
George248148
Newton246862
Winston227581
Tishomingo227067
Jasper221148
Attala214473
Chickasaw208057
Holmes189174
Clay185554
Stone182833
Tallahatchie178941
Clarke178080
Calhoun170932
Yalobusha164638
Smith162534
Walthall134245
Greene130633
Lawrence128724
Montgomery127142
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123142
Carroll121829
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107133
Tunica105726
Claiborne102430
Benton100025
Humphreys96733
Kemper95828
Franklin83923
Quitman81116
Choctaw76418
Wilkinson67531
Jefferson65728
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 539829

Reported Deaths: 11038
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson798271529
Mobile41261809
Madison35132506
Tuscaloosa25915455
Shelby25294249
Montgomery24705593
Baldwin21392310
Lee15987172
Calhoun14569319
Morgan14422280
Etowah13918353
Marshall12275225
Houston10641282
Elmore10147206
Limestone10065151
St. Clair9946245
Cullman9761194
Lauderdale9457243
DeKalb8865188
Talladega8339176
Walker7260278
Autauga7001108
Jackson6836112
Blount6771139
Colbert6320135
Coffee5578118
Dale4876113
Russell445138
Chilton4369113
Franklin426282
Covington4138118
Tallapoosa4044153
Escambia394777
Chambers3590123
Dallas3568153
Clarke351461
Marion3137101
Pike311977
Lawrence302698
Winston275773
Bibb264564
Geneva254078
Marengo249665
Pickens234862
Barbour232056
Hale223978
Butler219069
Fayette212662
Henry189643
Cherokee184645
Randolph182442
Monroe178141
Washington167739
Macon161150
Clay157157
Crenshaw153557
Cleburne149641
Lamar143236
Lowndes140553
Wilcox127430
Bullock123242
Conecuh110829
Coosa109228
Perry107826
Sumter104932
Greene92634
Choctaw61024
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High pressure will continue to dominate our weather forecast for the end of the weekend. We will see our area filled with plenty of sunshine but clouds will be on the increase into the evening hours. There will be some changes for the start work week in our weather forecast as low pressure brings back some chances for showers and thunderstorms.
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