Is it my imagination, or is President Trump's chronic and debilitating case of Obama Envy getting worse?
One of the things that genuinely seems to matter to Trump is comparing himself -- favorably, of course -- to his predecessor, no matter how delusional the rationale. Trump gave an illustration at the end of the G-7 summit, when he insisted to reporters that former president Obama had been "outsmarted" by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump's full-blown Putin Envy was also on display. But the president's false and absurd rewriting of history seemed intended less to elevate the Russian leader than to diminish Obama. It fit a pattern that goes back years -- and may have more to do with Trump's behavior in office than we realize.
At Trump's news conference Monday in Biarritz, France, the subject was whether Russia should be invited to rejoin the group of industrialized powers that used to be called the G-8. Russia was kicked out in 2014 after Putin sent military forces into neighboring Ukraine to seize and annex the Crimean Peninsula. The decision by member countries -- the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Canada and Italy -- to eject Russia, because of its unprovoked aggression, was unanimous.
In Trump's fanciful version, however, Crimea was "taken away from President Obama … It was very embarrassing to him." That embarrassment, Trump falsely claims, is the only reason Russia was kicked out of the group. Trump wants Russia readmitted. Almost all the other leaders who met in Biarritz disagree, so it's not happening.
You will recall that Trump's foreign policy, such as it is, puts "America First" and shies from interference in other nations' affairs. You will also recall that at last year's G-7 gathering, Trump reportedly said that Crimea was really Russian all along, since most people there speak the language, and blasted Ukraine as "one of the most corrupt countries in the world." These are boilerplate Russian talking points; if Trump is taking his cues from Putin, he has learned his lines well.
By Trump's "logic," then, there's no blame to apportion. And, of course, he offers no suggestion as to what Obama might have done to prevent the Russian invasion. But truth never matters much with Trump, and it matters not at all when he's attacking Obama.
Trump blasts the Obama administration's record of creating jobs and claims to be doing much better. Yet under Obama the unemployment rate fell from a high of nearly 10% to just 4.7%. Under Trump, it dropped further to 3.7%. Which president had the bigger impact?
Trump blames Obama for being soft on illegal immigration, yet he deports fewer undocumented migrants than Obama did. And when Obama left office, undocumented border crossings were at a multi-year low. The huge increase, driven in part by asylum-seekers from Central America, has taken place under Trump.
The president tries to blame his own administration's cruel immigration policies on Obama -- separating thousands of families at the border and keeping children in cages. This is just a flat-out lie. Obama's policy was to keep asylum-seeking families together. Trump decided to separate them as a deterrent, telling Central Americans that if they did not want to suffer such a fate, they should stay home.
Trump is so fixated on trying to erase Obama's accomplishments that he repeatedly acts against his own interests. He withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiated by the Obama administration, even though the pact would have been a valuable tool in Trump's ongoing trade war against China. Trump has tried repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act -- apparently because it's called Obamacare -- even though he offers nothing to replace it and must be aware that the health care issue helped Democrats gain control of the House. Trump rages on Twitter against automakers who have agreed to essentially abide by Obama administration rules mandating increased fuel economy, even though the Trump administration is prepared to let them pollute more.
Trump even complains about the lucrative book deal Obama made after leaving the White House. Jealous much?
Obviously, I can't know for sure what the root cause of Trump's Obama obsession might be. Everyone should remember, though, that he was an active and vocal proponent of the racist "birther" conspiracy theory, at one point claiming, without evidence, that he had sent investigators to Hawaii to discover the "truth" about Obama's birth certificate.
Trump seems terrified that history will look kindlier on Obama's presidency than on his own. If that's the case -- on this one point -- he couldn't be more right.
Eugene Robinson's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.