Presidents Reagan And Obama Teach Trump How To Respond To Racism And Hate

Some Presidents knew how to respond to racism and hatred. The current President doesn't.


The statements of two former Presidents provide a remarkable contrast to the ham-handed manner in which President Trump responded to the events in Charlottesville, first via comments that were weak and inadequate and second via a statement 48 hours later that was clearly too little too late.

First, there are these remarks from President Reagan, made during his speech to the NAACP on June 29, 1981:

Second, there’s what President Obama posted to his Twitter feed in the wake of the Charleston tragedy:

This is how a President responds to hate, Mr. Trump.

These statements exhibit precisely the kind of moral authority and empathy that I was speaking about in my post earlier today regarding the decision by White House staffers that Trump would not visit Charlottesville in the wake of this past weekend’s tragedy. For better or worse, Presidents have come to be seen as filling something more than just the role defined by Article II of the Constitution. As I’ve argued in the past, and as Gene Healy has chronicled in his excellent book The Cult Of The Presidencythis isn’t exactly an ideal development for a whole host of reasons, but it is nonetheless part of the responsibility that someone who becomes President of the United States takes upon their shoulders. If someone considering running for the office doesn’t wish to carry out this part of their job, or simply doesn’t care about it, then they should have reevaluated their decision to run for President in the first place. Presidents Reagan and Obama understood this, as did Presidents George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush. They may not have always borne that burden well or used the right words at the right time, but they did at least accept the burden. The fact that President Trump doesn’t recognize this is yet another demonstration of how much of an operational and moral failure the man has revealed himself to be.


FILED UNDER: Race and Politics, Religion, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. grumpy realist says:

    Damn, Doug, you’re on a roll. Two thumbs up. And I love that picture of President Obama with the kids.

  2. pylon says:

    Here’s what I learned from Trump today:

    1. Protesting Nazis = Being a Nazi (blame on both sides).
    2. The Nazis in VA had a permit, so it’s all good.
    3. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson = Robert E. Lee.
    4. There’s an “alt-left”.
    5. “Many people” marching with the KKK, Nazis and white nationalists aren’t actually KKK, Nazis or white nationalists.
    6. He’s very concerned about avoiding knee-jerk, quick reactions to events.

  3. @pylon:

    Yes today’s press conference was a train wreck

  4. Facebones says:

    I was never a fan of George W. Bush. He was, in my opinion, the worst president we ever had. He lied us into a costly war of choice. The worst terrorist attack in history happened on his watch. I thought he was easily manipulated, incurious, feckless, and glib and didn’t take the job that seriously.

    But holy hell, he’s Abraham Lincoln crossed with Winston Churchill compared to Trump. Someone needs to get the butterfly net out and put him in a safe house before he destroys a country just to feel like a tough guy.

  5. Modulo Myself says:

    Reagan used his own dog whistles. For example, welfare queens, young bucks with T-bone steaks, and making a claim for states’ rights in Philadelphia, MS. He reached out to American racists, believe you me. But mainstream white Americans have spent decades just explaining all of this (and many many other things) away. You can say that it was a hopeful but hapless dream that the good outweighed the bad. Or that the dream was actually that blacks would always be second-class but that whites could feel good about theirselves.

    But it really doesn’t matter. There are no answers in the past, and that’s life if you were taken in.

  6. Modulo Myself says:

    People should remember how acceptable it was to say really monstrous things about poor African-Americans. I remember reading something by Daniel Patrick Moynihan (a supposed moderate) in the 90s where he mused if welfare recipients were going to breed themselves into a new species. Granted Lamarckism is bogus, but he was just out there, saying how people on welfare, aka African-Americans, were subhuman. But he was a moderate and certainly not a racist.

  7. Daryl's other brother, Daryll says:

    Donnie: Both sides do it.
    Enough said.

  8. Modulo Myself says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Not a train wreck. Pure evil cut with a brain virus.

  9. SenyorDave says:

    So this is the effect that Kelly has on Trump. The scary part is that the messaging would probably be worse if Kelly weren’t there. Trump in the last few days has exposed to the whole country what anyone who did even a small amount of research knew: Trump is a racist. His campaign started with racism (Mexicans bringing drugs and raping women), he refused to rent apartments to blacks, he couldn’t even disavow David Duke! He can’t come down on nazis because in his heart he identifies with them. BTW, there is a great picture of Kelly with his head down during Trump’s Q&A, it seems like he can’t even bear to look. As someone said, the bubble over his head should say, “WTF am I doing with my life?

  10. Kylopod says:

    I have no particular desire to praise the president who launched his campaign talking about “states rights” in the city of the infamous Klan lynching. Pro forma denunciations of racism are an absolute bare minimum of what we expect of any modern president; it’s like praising them for not crapping on the floor, which is essentially what the current president just did.

  11. inhumans99 says:

    Honest to God…I think that even a hardcore anti liberal / anti-abortion / anti black, muslim etc. / anti everything good a Democrat has done for the U.S. over the past 30 years Conservative never thought they would see the day when a sitting U.S. President loudly and proudly provides cover for Nazis in the United States…wow, words fail me and I am a talker.

    This is nuts, I suspect a ton of Trump supporters are going to go silent/underground with their support for Trump…it is becoming incredibly difficult for the GOP to carry water for Trump. Just…wow.

  12. Pete S says:

    Doug, you are wrong in one way. I am a cannot teach Trump how to react because Trump is incapable of learning and disinterested in developing that talent. He lives the life of a rich man so in his mind he has nothing left to learn from anyone.

  13. Pete S says:

    @Pete S: Obama cannot teach. How autocorrect gave me I am a I will never know

  14. gVOR08 says:

    If you can’t stand to have your finances scrutinized you shouldn’t have run for president. Compared to that I wouldn’t sweat the occasional need to play a pastoral role.

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Dear President trump,

    Not while I live. *You’ll* have to kill me.

    **not that the coward in chief will ever do his own killing, he will find some hapless nobody to do the deed for him. Really, literally, I would rather die than live in trumpistan.

  16. MarkedMan says:

    My god, Facebones, you are dead on. As people on this blog may know, I considered GWB to be the worst president of my lifetime and didn’t have much good to say about him. But compared to Trump he was a saint.

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Orrin Hatch said it very well, and I can only echo what he said: If my father, my Uncle Alex, my Uncle Frank, my Uncle Walt, my Uncle Gus, my uncle Joe, my Uncle Tony, my Aunt Betty, my Aunt Dorothy, my Aunt Bernie can stand against Nazis, how can I dare do lees?

  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MarkedMan: W was a complete incompetent, ignorant, easily manipulated, but given all that, he was not a racist.

  19. Mister Bluster says: is becoming incredibly difficult for the GOP to carry water for Trump.

    Looks like some of the GOP will tough it out.

    (CNN)Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao stood shoulder-to-shoulder Tuesday with President Donald Trump, the same man who railed against her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, last week and demanded that the lawmaker “get back to work” on health care.

    “I stand by my man — both of them,” Chao said, when asked by reporters what she thought of her boss’s criticism of her husband.

  20. MarkedMan says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    reading something by Daniel Patrick Moynihan

    Do you have a link? I find that really hard to believe. Daniel Moynihan certainly expressed concern about people becoming dependent on welfare, and also concern on whether it would contribute to fathers abandoning marriage and families, but he did so while tirelessly championing the creation of the social safety net as we know it today. In fact, later on he spent the Clinton years castigating his fellow Dems for abandoning and stigmatizing welfare recipients during the Welfare Reform effort.

    Now, Moynihan was a curmudgeonly guy in a lot of ways. And he was definitely a plain speaker in the way so many claim they want to hear. If someone were to say “I think the people on welfare are lazy and they don’t want to work”, I suspect his answer would be something along the lines of “Well, if we structure it this one way it would tend to attract people who are lazy, so it is important that we structure it this other way, and put in these 17 incentives and these 11 penalties…”, (and on and on until every non-wonk in the room begged for mercy).

    As you can tell, Moynihan was a man after my own heart, and he was a really practical guy that didn’t feel it necessary to lecture every bigot that piped up, but did feel it necessary to understand any legitimate gripe or fear they had and describe how it was being dealt with. We could use a few more Moynihans today. Unfortunately, I suspect he could never be elected in our present milieu.

  21. Mister Bluster says:

    Fox News, Daily Caller delete posts encouraging people to drive through protests
    Originally published by The Daily Caller and later syndicated or aggregated by several other websites, including Fox Nation, an offshoot of Fox News’ website, it carried an unsubtle headline: “Here’s A Reel Of Cars Plowing Through Protesters Trying To Block The Road.”

    We find them…You run them down

  22. teve tory says:

    Yes today’s press conference was a train wreck

    Remember a few months ago when we all said, “well, there’s no way this can keep getting worse, at some point he’ll get better at this. He has to.” I remember thinking that was virtually certain.

  23. Facebones says:

    @Mister Bluster: If you can prove he saw those stories, I think that would give Heather Haley’s family one helluva basis for a civil suit against Fox and Daily Caller.

  24. teve tory says:

    Patton Oswalt‏Verified account

    It just hit me: Trump will do something next week that will make me nostalgic for the Trump of today’s press conference.
    3:23 PM – 15 Aug 2017

  25. teve tory says:

    with Trumka, 10 of the 28 members of trump’s business council have now resigned.

  26. Daryl's other brother, Daryll says:

    Imagine that in the 30’s a large group of Germans had actually stood up to Hitler and the SS. Trump would judge them harshly…they shouldn’t have done that.

  27. Mister Bluster says:

    @Facebones:..I thought about that. But IANAL* so others will have to take the case.

    *My ex-wife was in Law School when I met her but I don’t think that counts.

  28. JohnMcC says:

    @MarkedMan: That’s terrific of you. Moynihan can’t be understood in the 21st century. I’ve given up looking for ways to interpret and explain some of the insights and wisdom of liberals of the fairly recent past. John Kenneth Galbraith is another.

  29. Hal_10000 says:

    Donnie: Both sides do it.

    If Trump had wanted to make the very narrow point that, according to first-hand accounts, some of the antifa protesters came to C’Ville ready for violence, he might have had a legitimate, albeit somewhat minor point. But you simply can’t equate the two sides here. The white supremacists came there with a message of hate, many armed, ready for violence. They were shouting epithets, harassing people in the street and calling for the subjugation of other people.
    That some of the counter-protesters were ready for violence is bad, but that does not make them equally complicit.

    I’m getting tired of telling the conservatives, “We told you so”.

  30. CSK says:


    I was thinking today that my late father and uncles did not willingly risk their lives fighting at Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, Anzio, the Battle of San Pietro, Salerno, and the First Battle of Monte Cassino so that some anus-mouthed chickenshit draft-dodging malevolent son-of-a-bitch buffoon could celebrate Nazis.

  31. Daryl's other brother, Daryll says:

    noun: incitement; plural noun: incitements
    the action of provoking unlawful behavior or urging someone to behave unlawfully.

  32. Modulo Myself says:


    Can’t find the original but here’s a Times article from 1994. Key graf:

    Just last month, Moynihan stepped into controversy again. During a hearing on welfare, he noted that within the next decade half of all American children will be born out of wedlock. That prospect, Moynihan said, marked such a change in the human condition that biologists could talk of “speciation” — the creation of a new species. Sharpton promptly denounced Moynihan as a “Harvard version of Jimmy the Greek,” a reference to the Las Vegas oddsmaker who lost his job as a television commentator after saying that black athletes were fleet-footed because they had been bred that way in slavery.

    Speciation, rather than species. Still, he was a racist prick.

  33. DrDaveT says:

    Presidents Reagan And Obama Teach Trump How To […]

    What a quaint notion, that Trump could be ‘taught’ anything. I doubt it was true 30 years ago; I’m sure it isn’t today.

  34. MarkedMan says:

    @Modulo Myself: I’m surprised. But I’ll still defend Moynihan, however that is interpreted here or elsewhere. He was truly concerned about the death of the two parent household. “Speciation” was a step too far but he was always aghast at the swift collapse of traditional marriage and believed it wasn’t leading anywhere good. The speed of collapse was worse than he contemplated but the results haven’t been as bad as he thought (insight with the benefit of 50 years of hindsight unavailable to him) but remember He was talking about the importance of decent jobs, and fighting for programs that he thought would bring those jobs back.

  35. Modulo Myself says:


    If you read the original Moynihan report there’s an insightful passage about black culture being by nature of white oppression a matriarchy. Black men, he writes, are completely targeted by whites, which is true. And according to Moynihan this presented a huge problem in that American culture as a whole was very patriarchal.

    What makes him so terrible is that in the end his critique about welfare became about how black families were pathological in ways that had something to do with laziness and having sex. And he didn’t care. He was an egotistical scumbag who cared nothing for black equality. He just enjoyed patronizing and talking in lofty tones about poor black people who were pathological because at 17 they were into sex, which is totally nuts. He turned poverty, which is a hard life, into pathology and he did it for his career and racism, and so that dim whites could make fun of them and think good things about their own lives.

  36. MarkedMan says:

    @teve tory: ok this is essentially an “I told you so” but I never doubted that Trump would continue to get worse wnd eventually cover all of his enablers with sh*t

  37. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Kylopod: I agree. “Better than Donald Trump” is not a high bar to jump over. Shirt, it’s not even a high bar to trip over.

    Trump is so low that he has to put up an umbrella when he’s standing next to an ant.

  38. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Hal_10000: You should just give it up. They don’t care what you think.

    It may be time for you to decide whether you are going to continue to apologize for Conservatism and the GOP or leave them behind. They aren’t who you thought they were–or who I thought they were as far as that goes–and they never have been.

  39. al-Ameda says:

    Presidents Reagan and Obama understood this, as did Presidents George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush. They may not have always borne that burden well or used the right words at the right time, but they did at least accept the burden. The fact that President Trump doesn’t recognize this is yet another demonstration of how much of an operational and moral failure the man has revealed himself to be.

    Exactly right, Doug.
    Dead on.

  40. drj says:

    In light of this latest Nazi apology performance, how hard, morally speaking, should it be for GOP senators and representatives to say it’s time for Trump to go?

    Apart from some empty words, they’ll do nothing.

    Ironically, in a week or two, we will be constantly reminded that “stepping up,” taking responsibility,” and “showing great leadership” are absolutely vital (on a football field).

    At the same time, it’s apparently pefectly acceptable for Republican politicians to mouth some platitudes and do absolutely nothing.

    Wrap your head around that double standard.

  41. Kylopod says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    “I stand by my man — both of them,” Chao said, when asked by reporters what she thought of her boss’s criticism of her husband.

    If there is any quote that better captures the complete loss of dignity of any Republican who joins the Trump team, I have yet to see it.

  42. teve tory says:

    Fox News, Daily Caller delete posts encouraging people to drive through protests

    Months before a man allegedly turned his vehicle into a weapon and plowed through a group of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, an article that made the rounds in conservative media encouraged readers to do something similar.

    See Also: Glenn Reynolds: “Run Them Down”

  43. Lounsbury says:

    no mate, Trump is the word president you’ve ever had by a long country mile.

  44. KM says:

    Ditto, I’ve never been so glad my grandfather and great-uncle have passed before – this would have killed him. Mine is a proud military family who’s service in WWII has been a great point of personal pride. We have a Medal of Honor winner in our ranks who gave his life fighting Nazis. My grandfather, his two brothers and 5 cousins were all at D-Day where we were blessed to only lose one. To hear the President give the enemy a pass, to hear him they’re good people….. my grandfather would have died of rage on the spot. What an insult to the greatest generation. They died in droves to defeat this menace only for their grandkids to take it up as lol trolling libs!

    I never thought I’d agree with Orrin Hatch in regards to morals. Satan’s probably better off investing in a Snowcat the way this administration is going….

  45. MarkedMan says:

    @Modulo Myself: Well, I agree that Moynihan was egotistical and smug, which came across worse on TV than in print, which explains how he got elected in the first place. Coupled with a face better suited to radio and a voice better suited to the printing press he would have no chance today.

    He believed strongly that bad life circumstances often led to hopelessness and anger and those in turn led to bad choices, which at the very least, did nothing to get you out of the bad life circumstances, and frequently exacerbated them. He worked his whole life for the idea that the government could be a powerful tool for changing those life circumstances, primarily by giving everyone a basic safety net which allowed a decent home and food on the table. He also believed that the government was obligated to provide opportunity to those in bad circumstances, whether that be better primary schools or student aid programs. He was also grating and blunt and delighted way too much in showing he was the smartest guy in the room. He didn’t do any of these things because they advanced his career, in fact he spent almost a decade in Democratic exile because of them, and I think he was well aware of his shortcomings. Conservatives detested him because he was a champion of the welfare state and although he conceded that poor people often made bad choices that exacerbated their circumstances, he placed the root problem at the feet of those Conservatives. Conservatives said that poor people were poor and their neighborhoods full of crime because they were genetically inferior. And Moynihan never hesitated to call BS on that. But the Liberals struggled with him too, probably because they felt he focused too much on bad choices the poor made, and his very strong belief that the best and most stable homes had a mother and father.

    Moynihan was a devout Jesuitical Catholic (although he may not have been religious at all. My fellow Catholics of a certain age will probably get what I mean). And he believed that an ideal America would be one where anyone could wake up on a Sunday morning, open the newspaper, check the want ads and circle a half dozen jobs with a living wage, apply for them on Monday and have one by the end of the day. Also on Monday, they would see their 1-4 kids off at the bus stop on their way to good safe schools that taught the classics as well as shop. And he believed that most people that came out of such an environment would live decent and peaceful lives.

  46. Franklin says:

    Please excuse the rhetoric, but how the f**K did we go from Obama to Trump?

  47. MarkedMan says:

    @Franklin: No sh*t. An entire generation is going to think of Obama as the norm for young black leadership and Trump as the norm for old white male leadership. Wrap your head around that…