Donald Trump’s preoccupation with Barack Obama was a little creepier than usual yesterday, with the Republican referencing his Democratic predecessor, by name, 10 times during an hour-long cabinet meeting. As is too often the case, the current president’s incessant criticisms of Obama were largely detached from reality.
There was, however, one rant that stood out for me.
“…North Korea is – I like Kim; he likes me. We get along. I respect him; he respects him. You could end up in a war. President Obama told me that. He said, ‘The biggest problem – I don’t know how to solve it.’ He told me doesn’t know how to solve it.
“I said, ‘Did you ever call him?’ ‘No.’ Actually, he tried 11 times. But the man on the other side – the gentleman on the side did not take his call. Okay? Lack of respect. But he takes my call.”
For now, let’s put aside how strange it is to see and hear Trump obsess over Obama on a nearly daily basis. Let’s also look past the fact that Trump, when describing Obama and Kim Jong-un, describes one of the two men as a “gentleman,” and he uses the label to reference the murderous dictator, not the former American president.
Let’s instead consider the claim itself. In Trump’s mind, Barack Obama reached out to Kim 11 times, but the North Korean leader refused to talk to the American. That’s ridiculously wrong, of course – Trump obviously made up this nonsense out of whole cloth – but it also reflects Trump’s underlying confusion about the basic foreign-policy details: North Korean leaders have sought the attention of American presidents for decades. Kim was eager, if not desperate, to accept Obama’s call – except Obama had the good sense not to reach out directly, because giving the nuclear-armed dictator a sought-after reward in exchange for nothing is unwise.
Only Trump was willing to give up major diplomatic concessions in exchange for nothing from the rogue dictatorship.
But stepping back, Trump’s confusion isn’t limited to North Korea: he’s convinced himself that practically no one abroad would take Obama’s call, reality be damned.
Earlier this year, for example, the current U.S. president insisted that leaders from the European Union “wouldn’t meet with the Obama administration” to discuss trade policy. That wasn’t even close to being true.
Last summer, Trump added, again in reference to trade, “Don’t forget – Japan would not deal with Obama. He wouldn’t deal with President Obama. They wouldn’t deal. They said, ‘No, we’re not going to talk trade.’ Me? They’re calling up.”
This wasn’t even close to being true, either. As we discussed at the time, the Trans-Pacific Partnership included a variety of countries, but Japanese officials and the Obama administration were at the heart of the talks that led to the agreement (which Trump rejected despite not understanding it).
Trump seems absolutely convinced that Obama either wouldn’t talk to foreign officials, or they wouldn’t talk to him. It’s fallen to Trump, in his mind, to break through the silence and have the negotiations that his predecessor wouldn’t or couldn’t engage in. To arrive at this point, Trump has created an entire fictional narrative, parts of which he’s peddled throughout his presidency.
Trump’s preoccupation with Obama can get a little creepy, but this is just bizarre.