The Obama-Trump One-Two Punch to America’s Political Culture

by Gordon M. Hahn

In a recent comment to a Facebook post I noted that America would be hard-pressed to survive the one-two punch of successive Barack Obama and Donald Trump presidencies. The recent spate of terrorism in America’s nascent civil war along with a recent study confirm worst fears.

Former President Obama famously characterized Republicans as the Democrats’ “enemies” and backward hicks “clinging to their Bibles and their guns,” referred to “typical white people” in his autobiography, and allowed his Justice Department to refuse prosecuting black ultra-nationalists after they were caught openly on videotape intimidating voters as they went to the polls. For all the talk of Trumpist fascism, it was President Obama who recreated the Nixonian ‘imperialist presidency’ in the modern era, by circumventing congress and usurping legislative power by issuing unconstitutional decrees. As leading liberal, pro-Democratic Party legal scholar Jonathan Turley characterized Obama’s “imperial presidency”: “Four decades ago, Nixon was halted in his determined effort to create an imperial presidency with unilateral powers and privileges. But in 2013, Obama wields those very same powers openly and without serious opposition” (Jonathan Turley, “A Question of Power: The Imperial Presidency, 21 May 2014,

Donald Trump encouraged violence against anti-Trump demonstrators during his election campaign, has overstepped all bounds of propriety – no less presidentialism – in criticizing opponents, and repeatedly has referred to women in mysogynistic ways, etc. Whereas Obama constantly played the race card, as did Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign, Trump shows a distinct rhetorical if not emotional insensitivity on the issue.

A recent spate of violence that can be characterized as terrorism and the possible beginning of an American civil war. In June a pro-Democrat attacked a Republican congressional baseball team practicing for an upcoming game seriously wounding several. If not a bad shot he could have killed tens of Republic congressmen attending the practice. The implications of such a turn of events are incalculable.

In Pennsylvania this month a Democrat attacked and killed his Trump-supporting neighbor ( and The Blaze

At the same time, a right-wing demonstrator drove his car at a crowd of left-wing protestors during two opposing demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia organized by radical leftists and rightists: Black Lives Matter and various stripes of communists and anarchists on the ‘left’ and KKK and other white racists on the ‘right’.

These attacks can be characterized as terrorist attacks in that they fit the definition of terrorism: violence perpetrated for political reasons against civilians or others during peacetime. They also resemble the beginnings of a trend towards civil war in the US between radical leftists and minority ultra-nationalists or racists, on the one hand, and radical rightists and white ultra-nationalists or racists, on the other hand.

obama trump

The rhetorical radicalism of our last two presidents has played a leading role in polarizing our politics, bringing us to this sorry state. The veracity of this statement can be seen in the conclusions of a recent scientific study. Using a content analysis tool, Ronald R. Krebs and Robert Ralston, a professor and PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota, respectively, found that both of our most recent presidents have used “authoritarian” rhetoric filled with “tenacity” and “self-referential” to a degree unprecedented among our post-WW II presidents ( To be sure, Obama’s condescending and aggressive rhetoric was well-masked by his usually, though not always restrained demeanor as well as his sophistication and eloquence, which the authors note. Nevertheless, Republicans, conservatives and libertarians were not welcome or their interests and preferences to be considered in Obama’s “fundamentally transformed America.”

Although the differences between the two presidents’ rhetorical styles might seem stark, the authors emphasize, in reality they “are remarkably like each other and unlike their predecessors” according to the authors. Obama’s speech is 69 percent more self-referential than the presidential average — Trump’s 20 percent (89 percent) greater than Obama’s. Trump and Obama, with the former leading, use far more first-person pronouns than the third most self-referential president, Gerald Ford, and approximately twice as self-referential as the post-war presidents’ average.

trump obama rhetoric
Both Trump and Obama rank very high on the “tenacity” or aggressiveness scale, which includes words such as “must” and “need” and connote self-confidence and “totality.” Obama’s speeches are around 45 percent more tenacious than the average; Trump’s even more so. Both “substantially exceed the average.”
obama trump rhetoric
Moreover, according to the study, their rhetoric “suggests that the prime mover of government is not separation of powers, political parties or the bureaucracy – but the will of the president.” Their “self-referentialism projects an image of strong leadership and of the president as the central pivot of action. Its tenacity expresses confidence that the president will triumph over the many obstacles in his way.” “Obama and Trump consistently presented themselves as the solution to the nation’s problems.” “The irony is that the predecessor who, on this dimension, most resembles Trump is the very one whom Trump cast as an utter failure and weak leader and as his chief foil.” Echoing Trump, Obama noted told the Washington Post in 1999: “I’m the one who brings change. It is my vision. It is my agenda.
The authors “believe it likely that Obama and Trump adopted the same rhetorical tack for the same reason: Audiences across the political spectrum have craved a strong leader who will overcome Washington’s paralysis and address the nation’s challenges.” If in 2007, honesty in a president mattered most to Americans in selecting the occupant of the Oval Office, with “leadership/strength” a distant second, by 2016, a “strong leader” had become most important “across voters of all parties, and was twice as important to them as it had been four years before,” the study found. (
In addition to their two recent presidents, it is the American people who deserve some of the blame for their radicalization, as they elected these two unqualified men to be presidents precisely in order to settle scores with their ‘enemies’. They have listened to them but only criticized the rhetorical terrorism coming from the ‘other’ side. Now we are becoming the enemies we longed for. As with metal fatigue – the weakening and eventual breaking of a metal piece when it is bent back and forth, so too with America’s political culture, on ‘left’ and ‘right’, certain racial minorities and the racial majority rotate holding the reins of power only to dictate and alienate the other side. In desperate times such as these, there seems a dark change in the connotation, if not denotation of a phrase previous American presidents once declared with pride and plead: “God Bless the United States of America.” Now it would be more apropos for a president just to pray: “God Save the United States of America.”
About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California,; an expert analyst at Corr Analytics,; a member of the Executive Advisory Board at the American Institute of Geostrategy (AIGEO) (Los Angeles),; and an analyst at Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation (Chicago),
Dr. Hahn is the author of the forthcoming book from McFarland Publishers Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the ‘New Cold War. Previously, and three well-received published books: Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction Publishers, 2002);  Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007); and The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media and has served as a consultant and provided expert testimony to the U.S. government.
Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia. He has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Kennan Institute in Washington DC as well as the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.


  1. “: “I’m the one who brings change. It is my vision. It is my agenda.”” Obama
    Funny, because of all the Presidents I can think of, Obama seemed to have less to do with his presidency than anyone else. it was entirely conducted by unelected Administrators. Next in the list would be GW.
    Trump trumps the list simply because he wants to dissociate himself from Obama the front man.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: