The U.S. presidential election in November will most likely pit current president Donald Trump against former vice president Joe Biden. These two elderly men have already begun to attack each other in speeches, in TV ads, and through their political surrogates. They are challenging each other’s fitness for office, their respective policy positions, and the advisors that surround them.
But the 2020 election will in fact revolve around a different figure entirely: former president Barack Obama.
Biden, who was Obama’s second-in-command, is unabashedly proud of the accomplishments of those eight years in office. He promises to return the country to the kind of stability and prosperity that the United States enjoyed at that time.
From day one in office, meanwhile, Donald Trump has sought to destroy as much of Obama’s legacy as he can. In the foreign policy realm, he unraveled the Iran nuclear deal, withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord, and undermined the détente with Cuba, all signature Obama accomplishments. At home, he has tried to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, the universal health care initiative known as Obamacare.
Trump has been determined to tear down Obama in an attempt to elevate himself. The reasons are obvious. The United States is in an economic depression with tens of millions of people suddenly out of work. More than 90,000 people have died of the coronavirus, and the pandemic shows no sign of disappearing from the country.
Trump doesn’t have a lot to show for his three years in office. He steadfastly refuses to take any responsibility for his catastrophic failures.
Instead, Trump is experimenting with putting the blame on China for everything. He has spread various conspiracy theories – that the virus was manufactured in a Chinese lab, that Beijing deliberate misled the world about the nature of the disease – to help shift the blame.
For domestic purposes, however, Trump needs an enemy closer to home. In November, after all, he is running against the Democratic Party, not the Chinese Communist Party.
For Trump’s base, Barack Obama is the perfect scapegoat. Many Trump supporters never believed that Obama was a legitimate president. They didn’t think he was born in the United States. They suspected that he was Muslim. And the racists in Trump’s base never accepted an African American president.
Trump has attempted to blame Obama for the U.S. lack of preparedness for COVID-19. “We inherited a lot of garbage,” Trump said. “They had tests that were no good.” The Obama administration actually had no tests, because COVID-19 didn’t exist until three years into Trump’s administration.
Trump accused the Obama administration of depleting stockpiles of essential equipment like ventilators, but in fact the Strategic National Stockpile was full of critical supplies, including ventilators. The Trump administration was simply slow in distributing those supplies to states in need.
Trump has argued that the Obama administration didn’t leave any kind of plan for dealing with a pandemic. In fact, Obama’s team prepared a detailed 69-page Pandemic Playbook. The Trump administration deliberately ignored it.
But the most outrageous charge that the Trump team has come up with in preparation for the November elections is “Obamagate.”
Over the last several weeks, Trump has elaborated yet another conspiracy theory to explain why his administration has been so incompetent and plagued by scandals. The Obama administration, he claims, was engaged in sabotaging the new administration from the very start. Obama did so, apparently, by directing the FBI to entrap incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. It also, Trump has alleged, illegally wiretapped his phone and planted a spy on his campaign staff. This was, according to Trump, “The biggest political crime in American history, by far!”
Needless to say, Trump is once again making things up. His own Justice Department has investigated the charges and concluded that there was no wiretap or spy embedded in the Trump campaign.
As for Flynn, he clearly engaged in violations in his dealings with both Russia and Turkey. He lied about the details of these conversations. And he pleaded guilty to the charges. Only recently, as a result of enormous pressure coming from Trump, Attorney General William Barr announced that the Justice Department would drop its case against Flynn, prompting Trump to claim his Obamagate claims vindicated.
Flynn is not yet off the hook. The judge presiding over the case has appointed a former prosecutor to effectively take up the Justice Department’s previous charges. As a result, Trump might ultimately regret his decision because this former prosecutor is beyond his control and may dig up even more damaging information about Flynn and the administration he briefly served in.
Trump wants his allies to pick up his Obamagate conspiracy theory and run with it. He is demanding that his congressional supporters launch an investigation and subpoena Obama to testify. He is demanding that his attorney general take another look at the FBI’s handling of the investigation into interference in the 2016 elections.
So far, at least, there is considerable reluctance, even among Trump allies, to support the president’s latest imaginary conspiracy. Neither South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham nor Attorney General Barr has given any credence to Obamagate.
Trump’s strategy all along has been to throw as many accusations as he can come up with at his opponents, with the hope that something will stick. After all, he made his name politically by pushing the “birther” conspiracy theory that Obama wasn’t born in the United States. It didn’t matter that Obama proved repeatedly that he’d been born in America.
Once again, Obama is at the center of American politics. During this year’s presidential campaign, Trump will attempt to prove that his upending of Obama’s accomplishments has benefited the country. Biden will argue that the United States has gone off the rails since Trump’s inauguration and the first step should be to put the train back on the tracks.
I hope that Obamagate never gains any traction outside of Trump’s narrow base. But Obama will cast a long shadow on the November election nonetheless. He remains more politically popular than either Trump or Biden. For Trump to have any chance to reelection, he has to drag down Obama’s reputation. So, expect the current president to continue to slam the previous president repeatedly between now and the presidential election. This campaign of mudslinging and baseless accusations is the scandal the media should focus on.
Hankyoreh, May 24, 2020