About once a month my brain will ask me “Hey, remember that time Obama dropped the mic?”. And it’s not like he did it just once, I saw him do it twice: on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and at his last White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
The first time I saw Obama drop the mic on Jimmy Fallon I remember thinking that it was a pretty cool thing for the leader of the most powerful nation in the world to do. It worked on me, at least. If you watch the clip Obama looks and sounds like a politician trying to do a bit on a late-night talk show, but that seems to make it more credible. And in the skit, there is a small jab at Donald Trump.
Looking back on this video now, it takes me back to a time when Donald Trump wasn’t a presidential contender but a punchline and we were fondly watching Obama take his bows as his presidency wound down.
The second time I saw Obama drop the mic was at the end of his speech at the 2016 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. In his speech, Obama chastises the national media for the out-sized amount of attention they have given to Trump (here’s the link to the specific part of the speech) and then he goes on to poke fun at Trump himself (here’s the link to the specific part of the speech). I find this choice puzzling because, in the light of Trump’s election, this decision to mock Trump seems glib, almost irresponsible. But maybe that was the perceived wisdom at the time for the best way to puncture Trump’s credibility. I don’t know, but I do know that Obama has been mocking Trump publicly going right back to the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner (here’s the link to the specific part of the speech).
(above) Donald Trump looking on as Obama mocks him at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner
So my first thought is to assume the mocking and positioning of Trump as a cartoonish character at the 2016 Dinner was highly strategic. And Obama was obviously committed to it, two days before the election he was still jeering at The Donald’s credentials rather than just flat-out seriously calling him unqualified for the job. And well, we all know how things turned out. And honestly? Retrospectively it just looks as though everyone, including Obama himself, underestimated Donald Trump’s appeal to the American voter. He treated Trump as a joke so we did too.
So there is something about the way he drops the mic that second time that frustrates me. It feels like here was this clever President, able to reference cultural memes while he, and presumably many others, misread the electorate and allowed Donald J. Trump to sneak in. And while the fault doesn’t lie solely with Obama, I think that some of it does.