Former President Obama doesn’t mention President Trump in his new memoir, “A Promised Land,” until page 672. That’s out of 706 pages in the book, minus the footnotes.
But when he does talk Trump, it’s memorable, revolving around the current president’s “birther” rumblings back in 2011, when the real-estate developer questioned whether Obama had been born in the United States — or Kenya.
“For most of my first two years in office, Trump was apparently complimentary of my presidency, telling Bloomberg that ‘overall I believe he’s done a very good job’; but maybe because I didn’t watch much television, I found it hard to take him too seriously,” the former president wrote in his new book.
What Obama said he didn’t anticipate was “the media’s reaction to Trump’s sudden embrace of birtherism — the degree to which the line between news and entertainment had become so blurred, and the competition for ratings so fierce, that outlets eagerly lined up to offer a platform for a baseless claim.”
Younger staffers were heartened by the way late-night TV hosts kept skewering Trump, and in the West Wing the birther business was treated like a bad joke, Obama said. Then he saw polls showing about 40% of Republicans were convinced he was born outside the U.S., and was told by advisor David Axelrod that Trump was the leading GOP presidential candidate without even declaring an intention to run.
“I chose not to share that particular piece of news with Michelle,” Obama wrote, referring to his wife. “Just thinking about Trump and the symbiotic relationship he’d developed with the media made her mad.”
But the former president ultimately got his revenge, just a week after the release of his long-form birth certificate. Obama’s Trump tale climaxes with a recounting of what happened at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner.
“When it was my turn to speak, I stood up and started my routine. About halfway through, I turned my attention directly to Trump,” wrote Obama, who name-dropped several celebrities in “A Promised Land.”
“‘Now, I know that he’s taken some flak lately,’ I said, ‘but no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter — like, Did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?’ As the audience broke into laughter, I continued in this vein, noting his ‘credentials and breadth of experience’ as host of ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ and congratulating him for how he’d handled the fact that ‘at the steakhouse, the men’s cooking team did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks.’ … These are the kinds of decisions that would keep me up at night. Well handled, sir. Well handled.’
Trump sat in silence, according to Obama, cracking a “tepid smile” while the rest of the audience howled.
“I couldn’t begin to guess what went through his mind during the few minutes I spent ribbing him,” Obama wrote in his book. “What I knew was that he was a spectacle, and in the United States of America in 2011, that was a form of power. Trump trafficked in a currency that, however shallow, seemed to gain purchase with each passing day. The same reporters who laughed at my jokes would continue to give him airtime. Their publishers would vie to have him sit at their tables.
“Far from being ostracized for the conspiracies he’d peddled,” Obama concluded, “he in fact had never been bigger.”
After his successful bid for president in 2016, Trump would wind up much bigger than that.
“A Promised Land,” Obama’s memoir covering the first 2½ years of his presidency, was released Tuesday and is already racking up major sales.
Originally published here: latimes.com