Kessel: Fear and Lying in the White House


Zach Kessel, Columnist

While the rest of us tried to find movies on Netflix we hadn’t seen yet or started re-watching “BoJack Horseman” or “Mad Men,” President Donald Trump entertained himself by tweeting “Obamagate” in some form or another nine times from Sunday evening to Monday afternoon.

If Trump’s Mother’s Day sojourn into the fever dream that is right-wing conspiracy theorist Twitter tells us anything, it’s that the president is just like us.

Just as we sit bored and sad at home away from our friends, so too does Trump. Just as we sit anxiously through what may turn out to be the most important global event in our lives, Trump cowers in the Oval Office.

After a disastrous stretch that saw his approval rating fall from a not entirely damning, though definitely bad, 46 percent in March to a dismal 43 percent in May, things are not looking up for the Trump team. Recent reports from the White House detail a West Wing in disarray — a foundering campaign, marred by internecine squabbling that neither Trump nor his handlers are prepared to corral, meets the Keystone Kops of presidential administrations. The whole that the sum of those parts creates isn’t getting reelected in November.

But what is Obamagate?

Take it from the president himself, who explained his predecessor Barack Obama’s supposedly dastardly deeds at a press briefing on Monday:

“It’s been going on for a long time,” Trump said. “It’s been going on from before I even got elected. And it’s a disgrace that it happened.”

Still confused as to exactly what it is that Obama did? Wait no longer:

“You know what the crime is,” he continued. “The crime is very obvious to everybody.”

Trump, distracting himself from the horror that is the expectation of responsible governance, pitched a title, and his base came back to him with a pilot chock-full of all the deep-state delusions we’ve come to know and love.

The idea is essentially what Trumpian conspiracy theorists have said all along. The Obama administration and U.S. intelligence community, along with foreign intelligence agencies and shadowy Ukranian businessmen, concocted a spurious story about the Trump campaign colluding with Russia to win the 2016 election, and when Obama and his cabal failed, he set out to impede Trump’s transition and discredit the president-elect before he could take office.

Trump’s tweets and statements about “Obamagate” came just after the Department of Justice announced it would drop its charges against former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who was dismissed from his post after it became known that he misled the FBI about his connections with Russian government officials, a crime to which he later pleaded guilty.

“Obamagate” has become the theory that the previous administration and the intelligence community somehow “set up” Flynn in an attempt to dismantle the Trump White House. The unabridged conspiracy is far too dense to print here, but The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips details it in a digestible manner in a piece published Thursday afternoon. The main point propagators of “Obamagate” sell is that Obama and his vice president Joe Biden played a role in the FBI’s investigation of their successor, but Phillips, after running through the details, comes to the conclusion that “there’s very little evidence that Biden did anything untoward, much less illegal.”

All this commotion because the president isn’t too happy right now. CNN reported back in March that Trump “has shown evidence of cabin fever: crashing meetings of his coronavirus task force, inserting himself into planned press conferences and tearing apart daily schedules so his appearances better align with television viewership patterns.”

In the absence of keeping Americans’ morale afloat during a time of national catastrophe, he has conspiracy theories to keep his mind occupied. In addition to “Obamagate,” Trump on Tuesday all but accused MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough of having committed murder in Florida.

In times of crisis, we look to the Oval Office in search of a guide. While “Obamagate” may not tell us anything new, it sure should remind us of Trump’s abject weakness as president and as a human being.

He pretends to be some strong, rugged, almost superhuman leader, but he’s no less mortal than the rest of us. He’s scared. The only difference is that we cope with our melancholy and restlessness by getting excited about new episodes of “The Last Dance” and “Rick and Morty.” He does it by creating chaos in a time when all the American people want is certainty.

Like any third-rate huckster, Trump never has and never will deliver, and when the American people vote in November, it’s unlikely they pick the man so scared to lead during a crisis that he hides behind conspiracy theories and smears.

Zach Kessel is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.