Former president rebuked Trump administration’s response to pandemic, which has killed almost 90,000 Americans so far
Donald Trump has hit back at Barack Obama’s criticism of his administration’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, accusing the former US president of being “grossly incompetent” during his time in office.
It is rare for a former president to rebuke a successor, but Obama did so during an online speech to graduating university and high school students yesterday, although he did not name Trump in his comments.
“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain 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 said during an online commencement address to graduates of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) on Saturday.
On Sunday, Trump said he had not seen Obama’s comments, but added: “Look, he was an incompetent president, that’s all I can say. Grossly incompetent.”
Trump has faced widespread criticism for his administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed almost 90,000 people in the US, far higher than any other country in the world. Trump has insisted the US is making great progress against the virus, and has encouraged states to reopen their economies despite warnings from public health experts that such a move will lead to more deaths.
“So I think we had a great weekend. We did a lot of terrific meetings. Tremendous progress is being made on many fronts, including coming up with a cure for this horrible plague that has beset our country,” said Trump on Sunday. “It was a working weekend, it was a good weekend. A lot of very good things have happened.”
Although Obama has largely avoided criticizing Trump’s performance in office, in a call leaked last week the former president described the US government’s coronavirus response as, “an absolute chaotic disaster”, and questioned whether the justice department’s recent decision to drop charges against former national security advisor Michael Flynn could endanger the “rule of law” in the United States. The remarks prompted the US Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, a Republican, to tell the former president to “keep his mouth shut”.
Trump has recently sought to distract from the pandemic, including by pushing “#Obamagate” a conspiracy theory that accuses Obama of attempting to frame Trump for colluding with Russia to win the 2016 election. One former CIA analyst described as “a hashtag in search of a scandal”.
“Doing what feels good, what’s convenient, what’s easy – that’s how little kids think,” Obama said in a second virtual speech on Saturday evening for graduating US high school students. “Unfortunately, a lot of so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs, still think that way – which is why things are so screwed up.”
The former president’s comments came amid dual crises – one a pandemic disproportionately sickening people of color in the US, and another born by the economic impacts of attempts to contain the virus through lockdowns. So far, there have been 1.4m confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US, and millions of people are out of work.
“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,” said Obama in the HBCU speech earlier on Saturday. “We see it in the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on our communities.”
Those crises, as well as the high-profile killings of black people by police, loomed large in the virtual event, itself necessitated by the shutdown of large gatherings to stem the spread of the disease.
“These aren’t normal times. You’re being asked to find your way in a world in the middle of a devastating pandemic and a terrible recession,” said Obama.
He added that the injustices faced by African Americans are not new, and described the recent high-profile killing of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black jogger who was shot and killed after being pursued in broad daylight by a white former police officer and his son through a neighborhood in Georgia.
“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,” said Obama.