Trump’s presidency is, in many ways, the Obama Undoing Project. Look at the Iran deal, environmental legislation, labour laws, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and much else. Anything Barack did, I can undo better. That could be the Donald’s leitmotif. (Put aside Obamacare, for now.)
One Obama-era accomplishment cannot be undone, however: the killing of Osama bin Laden. (If Trump could raise the most famous terrorist of all time from the dead, just to call his predecessor a loser, he might.) But today, if all the reports are true, Trump will take particular delight in announcing that America has taken out Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Isis, and arguably a more evil anti-American than bin Laden. For Trump, it will be an Obama moment, his Osama moment. It will taste like winning.
To understand the significance of this moment in Trump’s head, let’s rewind to April 30, 2011. It’s the night of the now infamous White House Correspondents’ dinner, when Obama mocked Trump in front of the Washington elite. That ribbing, and the Donald’s sense of humiliation, is widely thought to be the moment when Trump decided he must replace Obama. His pride was horribly stung. That’s the story, anyway, and it makes sense.
The next night, at 11.35 pm, Obama announced that American Navy SEALs had ended bin Laden’s life. To add insult to Trump’s injury, the big statement interrupted the broadcast schedules of the major networks, spoiling an episode of Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice on NBC. This caused further merriment on Twitter at Trump’s expense.
Obama enjoyed great (and rather unseemly) adulation. Trump stewed for a long time. As he said later on CNN, ‘The military did an incredible job, and they called him and they said “we’ve have him”, and he said “go get him.” What’s he going to say: “don’t get him?” And he gets all this credit. It’s a lotta crap!.’ As late as October the next year, watching the Presidential debates, Trump tweeted:
Stop congratulating Obama for killing Bin Laden. The Navy Seals killed Bin Laden. #debate
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 23, 2012
Today, then, Trump, who as all we know thinks of presidential politics in televisual moments, will feel a certain vindication. Of course, Baghdadi is not bin Laden, and his death is not such a major news event. But that in itself will feed the resentment of the Trump circle: their sense that the media is always against him. Look at how the channels lauded Obama, they will say, and how little credit they give Trump. Like two star-crossed haters, the 44th and 45th presidents will continue their feud.