Were they treated alike or different: This past Sunday, Isaac Chotiner moderated a discussion featuring Slate's Jamelle Bouie and the New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb. In a new post at Slate, Chotiner describes the session thusly:
CHOTINER (5/25/16): The panel, “Race, Politics, and the Obama Presidency,” was initially intended as a look back at how the current president has discussed race during his two terms in office. But given the political earthquake that is Donald Trump...we ended up talking primarily about the ways in which race has shaped this year’s contest for the White House.In what ways has race "shaped this year’s contest for the White House?" Below, you see an excerpt from the first Q-and-A with Bouie.
We think Bouie's comments tee up an intriguing question. Has President Obama been treated differently than President Clinton? Or were these two Democratic presidents treated in much the same manner?
CHOTINER: How has the presence of a black president for the past eight years played a role in Trump’s rise?We'll try to paraphrase in a reasonable way. To our ear, Bouie seems to think that Obama received a unique type of treatment, at least from some "nontrivial number of white Americans," based upon his race.
BOUIE: My theory of the case here is I think that Obama, as a person, represents for a nontrivial number of white Americans a sense of diversion from the political order, as they commonly understood it. And I almost have a bit of empathy for that perspective. One day the president of the United States is George W. Bush, most of the country’s political leadership looks like you, has similar cultural experiences as you, and then, all of a sudden, it’s completely different, and it’s completely different in what feels like a radical way. And it feels like a radical way, in part, because of all the rhetoric around Obama, both from the right—that he is a socialist, that he is someone who is undermining our [right to our] guns—but also from the left—from this idea that this now demonstrates that we don’t need a traditional voting base to win national elections; that we can win on the strength of minorities, and young women, and just a smattering of white voters. And if you look at the social science, what you find—in concrete terms—is an increase in the amount of what political scientists call “racial resentment” towards Obama.
So: Donald Trump, in some way, is almost spontaneously generated out of all this anxiety and fear and sense of dislocation among some number of white voters. He kind of captures their feelings; he captures their sense of loss that they’re no longer at the top of a status hierarchy that they just assumed had always existed. And I’m not sure if people are understanding this in conscious ways—I think it’s a very visceral and very emotional thing...
He seems to be saying that the presence of a black president destroyed these people's sense of the political order. Here's his sense of this nontrivial number of people's experience:
"One day...most of the country’s political leadership looks like you, has similar cultural experiences as you, and then, all of a sudden, it’s completely different, and it’s completely different in what feels like a radical way."
It may be that some number of people did have that reaction to Obama. When Cobb follows Bouie's answer with his own, he quickly cites the birther movement which was dumped on Obama's head.
All through the Obama years, we've seen people express this sense—the sense that Obama was treated in something like a unique way because of his race. We tend to find this view frustrating, because we're so old that we can remember the way the last white Democratic president was treated when he ascended to office.
Thanks to Candidate Donald J. Trump, we're starting to get a reminder of the lunatic conduct directed at President Clinton during those years. Over at The Daily Beast, John Avlon recalls those lunatic days in a new post, which features an excerpt from his book, Wingnuts.
Has the treatment of Obama been crazier than the treatment of Clinton? Headlines included, Avlon starts like this:
AVLON (5/25/16): Donald Trump Revives the Crazy Clinton Conspiracies/That edited excerpt is worth reading, although it just scratches the surface of the craziness of the Clinton/Gore years.
Hillary is about to face the same scorched-earth attacks that Clinton haters first fired a generation ago.
Hating Bill and Hillary Clinton has been a conservative cottage industry for a quarter-century. But ever since Bill’s self-inflicted sex scandals overtook dark talk about shadowy schemes in his second term, the most unhinged ideas about the Clintons faded into the fringe. Until now.
Donald Trump has grabbed hold of Clinton conspiracy theories with both of his tiny hands, shaking loose names like Vince Foster and introducing them to a new generation. There’s more where this garbage came from—festering heaps of paperbacks and VHS tapes that had been rotting in partisan landfills.
So let’s air the old accusations out and expose them to sunlight to show how ugly and absurd the work of the Clinton conspiracy entrepreneurs has been. In the second edition of my book Wingnuts, I added a new section on the unhinged Clinton haters and how they foreshadowed the era we’re living in now. Many of the names echo on in our politics today, from Roger Ailes to Citizens United to WorldNetDaily to an unexpected cameo by then-conservative Ariana Huffington. An edited excerpt is below.
There's no truck scale which can be used to answer our question, but we'll ask it again:
Has the treatment of President Obama been crazier than—different from—the treatment of President Clinton? Or was the crazy treatment of Clinton similar to that which occurred with Obama?
We've always seen more similarity than difference. Having said that, please note:
When Bill Clinton came to office, the new president of the United States wasn't "all of a sudden...completely different" from the white folk in question. Still, that new president was met with massive craziness. It's hard to argue that the reaction to Obama was really crazier than the reaction to Clinton.
For ourselves, we've always seen more similarity than difference. That said, many liberals don't seem to have been awake or alive during the Clinton/Gore years.
After driving the birther movement, Donald J. Trump is now reviving the craziness of those earlier years. We're also seeing how poorly equipped the liberal world is to respond to such matters.
As Candidate Trump rampages on, our basic question remains unanswered:
How about it—more alike, or more different? Unless we love narrative all the way down, the answer may actually matter.