Obama, Trump, and the Cult of the Presidency

President Barack Obama addresses the 2016 Democratic National Convention (Photo credit: Disney | ABC Television Group via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)
President Barack Obama addresses the 2016 Democratic National Convention (Photo credit: Disney | ABC Television Group via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)

During his speech last night at the Democratic National Convention, President Obama took a shot at Donald Trump for trying to claim to be the voice of the people.

“Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order as long as we do things his way. We don’t look to be ruled,” the president said.

“America is already great. America is already strong. And I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump. In fact, it doesn’t depend on any one person,” he said, to thunderous applause from the leftist delegates in the audience.

This, of course, is wildly divergent from the tone of President Obama’s 2008 campaign. Then, he was the only candidate who could unite the American people. Then, he was the savior promising to restore order as long as we do things his way.

In his 2008 DNC speech, President Obama said, of securing the Democratic nomination, “generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment — this was the time — when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals.”

President Obama said in Philadelphia that the American people could not expect a messiah in Donald Trump. In this, he is right.

But, with all due respect to his office, the president is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He posed as the anticipated liberator, a new-but-doubtless-very-different Abraham Lincoln, in his ’08 DNC speech, during the ’08 and ’12 campaigns, and throughout his presidency. He monopolized the very concept of “hope,” claiming that he was the one who could set this country on the path to progress.

Yet, when another politician with a different ideology tries co-opting this political strategy, President Obama decides that now is a good time to begin calling out the problems with this way of thinking.

Obama and Trump are alike in their styles. While Obama called for “Hope and Change,” Trumps calls for “Making America Great Again.” Both sought through this similar rhetoric to rally their respective bases around vague solutions to the nation’s myriad problems. Both men claim theirs is the only path to progress.

After eight years of disappointment and discord under President Obama, the American people are looking for another savior to rescue them. The president has no right to criticize this, the very impulse which propelled him to the White House in the first place, unless he is also willing to apologize for exploiting this very same impulse eight years ago. It’s an apology most Americans will not be holding their breath for.

Michael Lucchese works for the American Principles Project.