the national interest

President Obama Not-So-Subtly Attacks Donald Trump

President Barack Obama speaks during a ceremony commemorating the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, at the US Capitol on December 9, 2015.
President Obama today, commemorating the 13th Amendment and throwing shade. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama spoke today to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, a topic that clearly put him in mind of the Republican Party’s current polling leader. Donald Trump has not, as of press time, proposed the reinstitution of chattel slavery. He has, however, made himself the spokesman for a variety of retrograde social beliefs, his proposal to exclude Muslim immigrants being only the most current.

Obama customarily framed his remarks as a rebuke both to those on the right who deny the continuing power of racism, and those on the left who deny evidence of social progress. (“We condemn ourselves to shackles once more if we fail to answer those who wonder if they’re truly equals in their communities, or in their justice systems, or in a job interview … But we betray our most noble past as well if we were to deny the possibility of movement, the possibility of progress; if we were to let cynicism consume us and fear overwhelm us.”)

He proceeded to frame his vision of the arc of social justice as inevitably running up against opposition. His depiction of that opposition today may sound like a certain presidential candidate we could name: “However harshly, loudly, rudely challenged at each point along our journey, in America, we can create the change that we seek.” And his embrace of freedom took pains to encompass immigrants and religious minorities: “Our freedom is bound up with the freedom of others — regardless of what they look like or where they come from or what their last name is or what faith they practice.

Loud, rude people who deny freedom to people who come from other places and practice other faiths — you know who you are.

Obama Not-So-Subtly Attacks Donald Trump