U.S. President Barack Obama (R) meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, U.S.,...
(C) Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Trump’s complaint to White House guests: Obama watched too much TV

The Washington Post published an interesting report today on one of the things Donald Trump does that his presidential predecessors did not: he apparently likes to give White House tours to his guests. “Other presidents have been varied in their reception to guests,” the article explained, “but most did not give many elaborate tours, presidential historians and aides say.”

The tours apparently include crude jokes – Trump reportedly likes to point to the locations of sexual encounters between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky – and boasts about the ways in which he believes he’s improved the White House since taking office. The portrait that emerges is that of a president who has very little actual work to do, and who enjoys showing off his temporary home as a trophy.

This, however, stood out for me.

The president has also claimed to guests, without evidence, that his private dining room off the Oval Office was in “rough shape” with a hole in the wall when he came into the West Wing and that Obama used it to watch sports, according to two White House officials and two other people who have heard him discuss the dining room.

“He just sat in here and watched basketball all day,” Trump told a recent group, before saying he upgraded Obama’s smaller TV to a sprawling, flat-screen one, the four people said.

There are a few angles to this that seem notable. The first is that Trump’s claims, like so much of what he has to say, appear to be made up. The Post’s article added, “An Obama White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Obama does not generally respond to Trump’s remarks, said that there was no hole in the wall and that Obama rarely worked in the room and did not watch basketball there.”

Taking this a step further, I won’t claim to be a sports expert, but I’m reasonably sure most basketball games are aired at night. The idea that Barack Obama “watched basketball all day” seems ridiculous on its face, but unless we’re to believe the Democrat recorded a bunch of games for afternoon viewing, this is awfully difficult to take seriously.

What’s more, given everything we know about Donald Trump and his attitudes on race, it’s hardly unreasonable to wonder about the not-so-subtle motivations behind him reportedly telling White House visitors that the nation’s first black president was lazy and sat around watching basketball all day.

And the idea that Trump has focused on comparable screen sizes, as if that were an important metric, is very much in keeping with everything we’ve come to expect from him.

But what I find especially interesting about the anecdote is the underlying point: Trump wants his visitors to think Barack Obama spent too much time in the White House watching television.

A staple of the Trump presidency is a tactic known as “projection”: he identifies his faults, and then projects them onto his perceived foes. As regular readers know, his I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I instincts, like an intemperate child, are finely tuned after extensive practice.

But for the love of all that is good in the world, does he really want to talk about which president spent more time in front of the tube?