"The 2020 presidential election is around the corner," Spike Lee said in his Academy Awards acceptance speech last night. "Let's all mobilize. Let's all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let's do the right thing."
The acclaimed filmmaker, who received a standing ovation, did not mention Donald Trump by name. And yet, there was the president this morning, prying himself away from his intensive preparations for nuclear talks with North Korea, tweeting his dissatisfaction with Lee:
"Be nice if Spike Lee could read his notes, or better yet not have to use notes at all, when doing his racist hit on your President, who has done more for African Americans (Criminal Justice Reform, Lowest Unemployment numbers in History, Tax Cuts,etc.) than almost any other Pres!"
There's no shortage of nonsensical and offensive angles to Trump's missive, not the least of which was his suggestion that Spike Lee lacks the intelligence to speak without notes. For that matter, the idea that the filmmaker's speech was "racist" is ridiculous.
But of particular interest in this case was the president's reflex to lash out a man who encouraged the public to choose love over hate.
Trump took this personally, even though he wasn't mentioned by name. Sure, common sense suggests Spike Lee was probably referring to the current president with his remarks, but Trump, who didn't have to say anything in response to the Oscars, wanted to make clear to the public that when he hears an entertainer denounce "hate," he assumes the rhetoric is directed at him.
It's amazing how often this comes up.
Trump's name was not uttered during John McCain's memorial services, for example, but many who eulogized the late senator went out of their way to contrast his lifetime of service with those who, in Barack Obama's words, are "small and mean and petty."
People close to the president reportedly "fumed" during the event, and "grew angry" with the veiled criticisms. But again, as was the case with Spike Lee's speech, Trump's name didn't come up. Confronted with oblique references to dishonorable people of weak character, assumptions quickly turned to the current Oval Office occupant.
As regular readers know, this keeps happening. In 2017, on the 4th of July, NPR published a series of tweets with the text of the Declaration of Independence – infuriating Trump fans who assumed the phrasing from the document attacking King George III was actually an attack on the president.
Several months earlier, Barack Obama spoke at an event at Pearl Harbor and told attendees, “Even when hatred burns hottest, even when the tug of tribalism is at its most primal, we must resist the urge to turn inward. We must resist the urge to demonize those who are different.” Trump, naturally, assumed the Democratic president was directing the comments at him.
Longtime readers may recall an incident from early 2009 when the Department of Homeland Security released reports about ideological extremists, alerting law enforcement officials to potentially violent groups and organizations. Republicans and conservative activists were apoplectic – even though the report was commissioned by the Bush administration – because much of the right feared that concerns about dangerous radicals might apply to them directly.
In effect, the right heard officials' concerns about potentially violent, hate-filled militants, and responded, "Hey, that sounds a bit like a description of me." The controversy, such as it was, ended up saying more about the conservatives who whined than the law-enforcement officials who prepared the report.
A decade later, what does it say about Donald Trump that he hears references to "hate" and takes great offense?