The Slatest

Obama Again Blasts White House Response to Coronavirus Crisis

President Barack Obama speaks at the online commencement event for students graduating from historically black colleges and universities that aired on social media on May 16, 2020.
President Barack Obama speaks at the online commencement event for students graduating from historically black colleges and universities that aired on social media on Saturday. Screenshot via YouTube

Former President Barack Obama again criticized the way President Donald Trump’s administration has handled the coronavirus pandemic. And this time, he did it in public. Obama issued the rare criticism of a sitting president from one of his predecessors while delivering a brief online commencement address for students graduating from historically black colleges and universities.

“More than anything,” Obama said, “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. A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.” Obama was the headliner of “Show Me Your Walk, HBCU Edition,” which was a two-hour event hosted by comedian Kevin Hart that streamed on social networks.

The former president’s address lasted less than 10 minutes but quickly made waves as Obama pointedly noted how the pandemic has been disproportionately affecting black communities. And he also tied that in with a reference to the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old who was shot and killed in Georgia in February. “Let’s be honest—a disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communities have historically had to deal with in this country,” Obama said. “We see it in the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our communities, just as we see it when a black man goes for a jog, and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him if he doesn’t submit to their questioning.”

Obama recognized that “the timing is not ideal” to graduate, considering it is “in the middle of a devastating pandemic and a terrible recession” but at the same time, the leadership void that has become evident during the ongoing crisis shows just how much the country needs the vision of the new graduates. “If the world’s going to get better, it’s going to be up to you,” Obama said. “With everything suddenly feeling like it’s up for grabs, this is your time to seize the initiative.”

Although Obama never actually mentioned Trump in his remarks, his address once again suggested how the former president is gearing up to participate in the election season. Last week, Obama made headlines with his harsh criticism of the White House’s “anemic and spotty” response to the pandemic. “It would have been bad even with the best of governments,” Obama said on a call with former administration staffers. “It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset—of ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘to heck with everybody else’—when that mindset is operationalized in our government.”

Obama’s criticism is bound to once again rile the president, who has taken to attacking his predecessor more than usual lately. After Obama’s criticism last week, Trump ramped up his efforts to blame his predecessor for the Russia investigation, characterizing it all as a broad effort to impeach him. In a move that is unprecedented in modern times, Trump has used official White House events and publications to accuse Obama of crimes that he has come to characterize as “Obamagate,” a term many like to repeat but no one seems to quite know what it is. Ned Price, a former CIA analyst who was National Security Council spokesman under Obama, characterized “Obamagate” as “a hashtag in search of a scandal.” But that has not stopped Trump, who on Thursday went as far as to write at tweet calling on lawmakers to demand Obama “testify about the biggest political crime and scandal in the history of the USA.”