When did Barack Obama — the president of the United States — become the United States’ foremost thrower of shade?
For the overwhelming majority of his presidency, Obama was cool to a fault, the constitutional law professor to the core: The kind of person who’d much rather present your argument as one of two competing sides (and then trace a compromise between them) than mock you for the dumbest thing you said.
But Obama’s fans have always suspected that, at core, he hasn’t greeted the eight years of obstructive mishegas that have defined his presidency with equanimity: that he has, if not an outright Anger Translator, at least an inner “can you believe this garbage?” monologue. Obama, for his part, has given the public just enough glimpses of his inner burn artist to keep hope alive.
Campaigns have always brought out a bit of Obama’s innate snark. But stumping for Hillary Clinton has brought out something new in him: Now that he isn’t under pressure to represent himself anymore, he’s free to unload.
And in the waning days of the 2016 campaign, he’s unloading with abandon on one Donald Trump.
“Now, you may have heard that — this was just announced, I just read it, so I can’t confirm it’s true, but — this campaign has taken away his Twitter. In the last two days, they had so little confidence in his self-control, they said ‘We’re just gonna take away your Twitter.’ Now, if somebody can’t handle a Twitter account, they can’t handle the nuclear codes. If somebody starts tweeting at 3 in the morning because SNL made fun of you, you can’t handle the nuclear codes.”
Obama’s joking, but he’s barely departing from the truth. Donald Trump’s aides have, in fact, taken away the candidate’s Twitter access in the final days of the campaign as a last-ditch attempt to keep him from sticking his foot in his mouth; Donald Trump is, in fact, susceptible to 3 am tweetstorms (one of which famously tried to discredit former Miss Universe Alicia Machado by instructing America to “check out sex tape”). And Donald Trump does, in fact, have a tendency to lash out at Saturday Night Live’s portrayal of him by Alec Baldwin. (He liked the earlier, much less savage portrayal by Darrell Hammond better.)
But most people couldn’t deliver these lines to high-school-grade “Ohhhhhhh”s from the crowd: The universal signal for “I recognize your sick burn.”
Obama’s learned how to play with both the cool factor that he gets for being a relatively young, relatively glamorous, indisputably charismatic president (not to mention being the first black president), and the persona that he holds among his fans as America’s Dorky-Chic Dad. Of course Dad Obama would be adjudicating what responsibilities Donald Trump can and can’t handle. Of course Cool Obama would be speaking aloud what a lot of Clinton supporters think is obvious: that Donald Trump simply can’t be trusted with the ship of state.
Barack Obama is one of exactly five Americans on the planet who can speak with credibility about who should and should not have access to the nuclear codes. He is probably the only one of those five people who can turn it into a joke riff.