In May 2008, Obama was in Oregon to celebrate his primary win there, which pretty much guaranteed him the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in August. In his celebratory speech Obama said that since the campaign began he had been in 57 states, but that his advisers talked him out of visiting Hawaii and Alaska.
I remember this occurrence and how it was widely reported, how Obama was mocked for it, and how his misstatement was even used as evidence he wasn’t born in America. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) went so far as to push a theory on the House floor that Obama’s 57 “slip” was actually a reference to the 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a group established in 1969. The right-wing media and talkmeisters wouldn’t even consider that Obama, a Columbia University and Harvard Law School graduate just might actually know how many states there are, that just maybe being on the campaign trail for 16 months and exhausted, could have caused the slip of the tongue.
More recently, on July 17th to be exact, President Donald Trump, not known for having command of the English language, met at the White House with about two dozen victims of religious persecution from different areas of the world. He read from a prepared statement, and then each of the invitees spoke about his/her individual experience.
One of the participants was Nobel Peace Prize winner and Yazidi activist Nadia Murad. The Yazidis, an ethnic minority, are mostly from the Middle East, with the largest population in Iraq. Trump didn’t know that Murad had won the Nobel Prize, which seems incredible considering how presidents are briefed before meetings with individuals and groups. Then again, Trump reportedly doesn’t read and ignores many of his briefings. He asked her what she did to get it, and Murad replied that she was the first woman to escape and speak out against the persecution. Murad explained that she didn’t want to be a refugee---she lives in Germany now---but that the Iraqis and Kurds were fighting for control of Yazidi lands.
Murad also said that ISIS had murdered her mother and six brothers. Trump responded by asking, “Where are they now?” Murad repeated that they were dead and buried in a mass grave. One has to wonder how closely Trump was paying attention.
A Rohingya victim told Trump about fleeing violence from Myanmar, formerly Burma, and Trump asked, “And where is that, exactly?” This was a big news story played out for months not that long ago, but apparently Trump seemed to have forgotten it.
Paula White, an evangelical minister from Florida and one of Trump’s faithful followers (some would say sycophants), commented that Trump had displayed courageous leadership, was a relentless fighter for religious liberty for people of all faiths, and that because of him (paraphrasing), Americans can say Merry Christmas again.
In watching the video of this gathering, I’m not sure I would share White’s confidence that Trump will be in the vanguard of pursuing religious liberty worldwide. And considering White’s Merry Christmas statement, I had to wonder if we have been living in two different countries. I was not aware that saying Merry Christmas had been banned by any government official at any level anywhere in the United States, and that Trump had legalized it again.
It was painful to watch Trump struggle as he pretended to know where the various religious persecution victims in the Oval Office were from. He seemed clueless. Perhaps like Obama, he was exhausted from his very demanding schedule, which includes a lot of golf, and wasn’t able to focus.
I had to wonder if Trump was stopped on the street by Jay Leno, who asks young college graduates where different countries are on a map, if Trump would have made a fool of himself as do most of these “educated” people in pointing to Australia, by way of example, as where Iraq is. To think that Trump has the code to launch missiles is not comforting. Perhaps the Pentagon also has a map of the world just for Trump to ensure he isn’t confused about which country to launch against.