Obama Made Dark Joke That Trump's Support with Whites Was Like How Some Black People Felt About O.J.: Book

"Trump was a lightning rod ... Obama’s frustration was more likely to come out in dark humor," a former adviser writes

Donald Trump, Barack Obama
Former President Donald Trump (left) and former President Barack Obama. Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty; Sean Gallup/Getty

Barack Obama once mordantly quipped that Donald Trump's appeal to white Americans was similar to the way Black Americans showed support for O.J. Simpson during his 1990s murder trial and subsequent acquittal, according to a new book by a former aide.

"Trump is for a lot of white people what O.J.'s acquittal was to a lot of Black folks—you know it's wrong, but it feels good," Obama's former speechwriter and national security adviser Ben Rhodes recalls him saying in After the Fall, published this week.

At the time of Simpson's trial in early 1995, about 22 percent of Black Americans believed the former NFL star was guilty of killing wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. That was compared to 63 percent of white Americans who believed he was guilty.

Although in recent years polling shows both Black and white Americans similarly believe Simpson, now 73, is guilty — he was found liable in a civil trial after he was acquitted, though he continues to protest his innocence — the differing opinions at the time of the trial were widely viewed through the lens of the country's racial divide.

Rhodes writes in his new book that Obama, 59, made the comparison between Simpson and Trump, 74, out of a place of "dark humor."

"Trump was a lightning rod," Rhodes writes. "But focusing on him avoided plumbing the depths underneath, the currents that shaped our country. Obama's frustration was more likely to come out in dark humor."

Then President-elect Donald Trump sits with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office in November 2016, shortly after Trump won the 2016 election. JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty

In the years after leaving the White House, Obama made it a point to avoid commenting on Trump throughout his successor's presidency — although reports and books since 2017 have given glimpses about Obama's private thoughts on Trump.

A 2017 PEOPLE cover story revealed that Obama had described Trump to friends as "nothing but a bulls------" after the two spoke on election night in November 2016.

In another instance, Obama told an aide of Trump: "I'm clearly renting space inside the guy's head," according to The New York Times.

In 2018, Rhodes wrote in his first post-White House book, The World as It Is, that Trump's election had made Obama question where the U.S. was headed morally and socially.

"Maybe we pushed too far," Obama suggested about his own administration, according to Rhodes. "Maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe."

Rhodes expands in his new book on how he says Obama felt, writing, "When he'd been president, Obama used a turn of phrase a lot when describing certain offenses, large or specific—widening economic inequality, for instance, or some act of bigotry. This is not who we are, he'd say."

"But the fact that someone like Trump could even get close to the most powerful office in the history of the world made plain a reality that didn't have to be named in conversation," Rhodes continues, "because it was so painfully obvious, hanging over the legacy of the Obama presidency like some toxic cloud: Maybe this is who we are."

Trump, for his part, built his political profile in part on spreading the racist "birther" lie about Obama.

Barack Obama
Barack Obama. Lynne Sladky/AP/Shutterstock

During the 2020 campaign, Obama spoke more openly about Trump as he came out in support of his former vice president, Joe Biden.

Obama warned that "democracy itself is on the line" during a pointed speech at the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

"I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies," he said then about Trump.

"I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously — that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care," Obama said.

"But," Obama added, "he never did."

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