The public rift between President Trump and former President Obama is escalating. It’s to be expected since this is a presidential election year. President Trump is running for re-election, Obama’s vice-president is running against Trump, and there has never been any love lost between Trump and Obama. Who knew something as simple as the unveiling of a portrait would get caught in the crossfire?
NBC News reports that President Trump has no plans to continue a White House tradition – the unveiling of the official portrait of his predecessor, President Obama. Traditionally, a president hosts his predecessor during his first term for an unveiling ceremony in the East Room at the White House. It’s a chance to honor the former president and guests applaud the latest addition to the collection of presidential portraits. Currently, if you go to this website, you can see all of the portraits except Obama’s. In his place, there is a photo of Obama posing for White House photographer Pete Souza. NBC was the first to report Obama’s portrait unveiling may not happen until Trump leaves office if he is re-elected. The network’s report references the extent of attacks Trump has taken against Obama. Remember, Obama is always the victim in the eyes of the press.
Yet this modern ritual won’t be taking place between Obama and President Donald Trump, according to people familiar with the matter. And if Trump wins a second term in November, it could be 2025 before Obama returns to the White House to see his portrait displayed among every U.S. president from George Washington to Bush.
Trump is unconcerned about shunning yet another presidential custom, and he has attacked Obama to an extent no other president has done to a predecessor. Most recently he’s made unfounded accusations that Obama committed an unspecified crime.
The tradition has continued through some less than cordial presidential transitions until now. The press is treating this snub from Trump as though it is a one-sided action and Obama is an innocent victim of a racist, divisive president. One op-ed on CNN’s site blames Trump’s anger over a sinking re-election campaign.
But the North Star for Trump is the racial appeal of constantly aiming snubs and attacks at the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama. Seemingly out of nowhere, Trump and his faithful echo chamber at Fox News have concocted a conspiracy theory he has dubbed “Obamagate.”
There’s no particular logic to Obamagate, which roughly boils down to a claim floated without evidence that former President Barack Obama led a supposed “coup” to sabotage Trump’s presidency. There doesn’t have to be logic. Indeed, when pressed by a reporter to explain it, Trump was unwilling to even try.
We’re likely to see more attacks on Obama as Trump searches for a strategy to reverse the serious challenges he faces as he tries to get re-elected. Even before reports surfaced of the President — enraged over falling poll numbers a few weeks ago — shouting into the phone at his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, it was clear that the odds are not in Trump’s favor.
New York magazine’s Intelligencer calls this the “latest casualty of Trump’s norm-breaking habit.” This is the “most petty” example.
One of the most concerning structural elements of the Trump administration has been the realization that a good chunk of the limitations on executive power are just unofficial norms that can be cast aside by a president in pursuit of unchecked power.
One of the most serious examples playing out in the shadow of the pandemic is Trump’s dismissal of inspectors general across the Executive branch, including the State Department IG, axed on Friday, who was reportedly investigating if Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was making a staffer run personal errands and walk his dog. The most petty example is that Trump is reportedly planning to skip the White House portrait ceremony, in which the current president formally hangs up a painting of his predecessor in the East Room.
“Unchecked power” is where this magazine wants to go against Trump? This is especially rich as it is a contrasting view of Trump and Obama. I’m old enough to remember that Barack Obama rammed through a health insurance takeover, Obamacare, on a strictly partisan vote that rocked 1/6 of the American economy, and implemented DACA, as well as weaponized every department in the federal government against conservatives. So, spare me the St. Barack overtones here.
Also reported by NBC is the word from those close to Obama that he isn’t interested in attending such a ceremony with Trump anyway. When he said this during the George W. Bush unveiling ceremony, he wasn’t really serious, apparently -“We may have our differences politically,” President Barack Obama said when he hosted former President George W. Bush for his portrait unveiling in 2012, “but the presidency transcends those differences.” Those complaining about the narcissism of Trump conveniently ignore who ushered in a new level of presidential narcissism – Barack Obama. Obama normalized it.
Obama, for his part, has no interest in participating in the post-presidency rite of passage so long as Trump is in office, the people familiar with the matter said.
It’s not surprising that any of this is happening, especially as we move closer to the November election. There is little normalcy left in Washington. From the beginning of the Trump administration, Democrats have taken potshots and tried to impeach him. Former elected officials have traveled overseas and trashed Trump and his administration, which is certainly a norm-busting thing to do but it is not criticized in the press. Trump latched on to Hillary Clinton’s whisper campaign that Obama may not have been born in America and the birther narrative blossomed. As recently as last weekend, Obama told high school graduates that the Trump administration isn’t even pretending to do their jobs. Before that he told former staffers that Trump is incompetent and handling the coronavirus pandemic badly. That phone call with former staffers was deliberately leaked to the press so Obama’s criticisms could be on the record. Joe Biden began his presidential campaign by calling Trump a racist. If anyone is at all surprised that Trump punches back, they haven’t been paying attention for the last three years or more.
Does anyone think that when the time comes, a Democrat will afford the courtesy of an unveiling ceremony at the White for Trump’s official portrait? Especially if that Democrat is Joe Biden? Biden is running for a third term of the Obama administration. He’d be happy to give his best friend Barack the ceremony.