President Obama delivered a virtual commencement speech for students graduating from historically black colleges and universities this Saturday, an address that included a small, subtle critique of the Trump administration, a move that Fox News contributor and Iraq War orchestrator Karl Rove likened to a drive-by shooting.
Obama’s speech emphasized that the world the 2020 graduates are entering is far from normal, and it’ll be up to them to change it for the better. “You’re being asked to find your way in a world in the middle of a devastating pandemic and a terrible recession,” Obama said. “The timing is not ideal.”
The onset of coronavirus has only emphasized the abundant racial inequalities in the United States, Obama explained, making reference to the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was shot and killed in a videotaped incident that is widely regarded as a modern-day lynching.
Then, Obama made a subtle but pointed swipe at the Trump administration’s continued incompetence in handling the covid-19 pandemic, which has left over 90,000 dead in the United States.“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing,” Obama said. “A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”
It was a minor slight, considering the carnage that has resulted from the Trump administration’s blasé attitude toward covid-19 preparedness. But for the talking heads at Fox News, Obama’s critique was unacceptable.
Rove called Obama’s speech “unseemly” and said that the former president turned the virtual commencement into a “political drive-by shooting.”
Using gang violence to reference black college students and the United States’ first and only black president was probably intentional. Yet Rove barreled on, lamenting that there were plenty of “positive messages that the former president could have delivered”–that Obama could have inspired them to lead a life of service or offer reassurance for overcoming the challenges that lie ahead.
“I mean, think about that,” Rove marveled. “He has slandered not just the president, who is his political target... but he’s taken a slap to the vice president, who has done an extraordinarily effective job as the head of the coronavirus task force.”
Rove—who is rumored to have orchestrated a 2000 poll asking voters if they would vote for John McCain if they knew he had an illegitimate black child when McCain brought his adopted, dark-skinned Bangladeshi daughter with him on the campaign trail—is arguably the last person who should be chiding President Obama about so-called slander, especially before a black audience.
But the accusations of slander didn’t stop there. Rove went on to say that Obama’s remark also slandered, “Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx, Secretary Azar, Director Collins — all of the army that put up that hospital in the Javits Center, the Navy that sent its ships to Los Angeles and New York, all of these people in charge of responding to this...”
Rove’s disproportionate outrage feels like yet another Obamagate-adjacent pile on, the Trump administration’s latest attempt to divert their own failings by drudging up a fake scandal. (This time they claim that Obama holdovers—also known as the “deep state”—had a hand in the prosecution of Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn.) It’s an old scapegoat in a new package, and there’s a real push to legitimize it: Fox News has reportedly reduced its covid-19 coverage by 20 percent in the last month to give Obamagate and disgruntled lockdown protestors more wiggle room on the network. President Trump even tried to reach out to Sen. Lindsay Graham and Sen. Mitch McConnell, urging them to look into the matter; the senators are likely more concerned about holding the Senate than revving up Russia Investigation the Redux.
Trump is adept at using phony Obama-centric scandals to bully his way to prominence; birtherism aided his political ascent, which led to his eventual presidency. But this time, things are a little different. While Rove’s rant and Obamagate might resonate in Trump-world, Americans as a whole tend
to, shocker, agree with Obama. Trump’s handling of covid-19 hasn’t impressed voters, including those in battleground states. Dog whistle aside, Rove’s list of grievances is desperate, and it’s clear that Obama, Flynn, and whatever else his goons cook up, can’t distract from the rising covid-19 death toll that has the Trump administration’s name all over it.