Michelle Obama doesn’t allow Donald Trump too much page time in her new memoir, Becoming — but when she does mention him, she makes every word count.
Trump, Obama writes, is “a bully, a man who among other things demeaned minorities and expressed contempt for prisoners of war, challenging the dignity of our country with practically his every utterance.” His birtherism, she says, “was crazy and mean-spirited, of course, its underlying bigotry and xenophobia hardly concealed.” And his critiques of Barack Obama’s policies were “yammering, inexpert.”
Obama writes at particular length about Trump’s blatant misogyny, particularly the Access Hollywood tape, which she describes as “painfully familiar” in its ”menace and male jocularity.”
“Every woman I know recognized it,” she writes. “Dominance, even the threat of it, is a form of dehumanization. It’s the ugliest kind of power.” Obama sees the same menacing striving for dominance in the famous debate in which Trump stalked Hillary Clinton around the debate stage, with what she reads as a clear subtext: “I can hurt you and get away with it.”
On election night 2016, when it became clear that the tide was turning for Trump, Obama reveals that, rather than stay up to see that outcome confirmed, she simply went to bed. Trump was probably going to be the next president, she explains, and “I wanted to not know that fact for as long as I possibly could.”
Today, Obama says, she fears for the country — and for her husband’s legacy. “It’s been hard to watch as carefully built, compassionate policies have been rolled back, as we’ve alienated some of our closest allies and left vulnerable members of our society exposed and dehumanized,” she writes. “I sometimes wonder where the bottom might be.”
But she reserves her harshest criticism of Trump for the time before the 2016 election season had ever started, when he was that weirdo who kept calling in to cable news shows to claim that Barack Obama had been born in Kenya — an action that had concrete consequences for the Obama family. “I was briefed from time to time by the Secret Service on the more serious threats that came in and understood that there were people capable of being stirred,” she explains.
Trump’s birtherism was an early example of the way he now uses fearmongering and divisive rhetoric to amp up his popularity among his supporters, and how that rhetoric can contribute to violence down the line. For Obama, it was personal in the same way that it’s personal for the Jewish leaders in Pittsburgh who denounced Trump following the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. “Yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence,” the group wrote.
That’s why Obama’s language about Trump is strongest on this topic. “Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendos, was putting my family’s safety at risk,” Obama writes. “And for this, I’d never forgive him.”