President Barack Obama told the nation that the U.S. military had killed Osama bin Laden in a somber address, invoking the memory of 9/11, unity and the nation’s founding ideals.
“Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” said Obama, ending his speech on May 2, 2011.
In contrast, President Donald Trump announced the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi with a score-settling speech on Sunday morning, gloating and mocking the former ISIS leader.
“He died like a dog. He died like a coward. The world is now a much safer place,” Trump said in his final line (also once again demonstrating that he knows nothing about dogs).
Trump’s giddiness at taking down “bad guys” stands in stark contrast to the tone taken by other presidents. A reality show leader who focuses on us vs. them, winning and losing, he has presented other key events in much the same way ― no matter how tasteless it may seem to revel in death.
Trump has fully bought into traditional displays of masculinity and machismo and consistently tried to compensate for the fact that he never served in the military and dodged service in Vietnam. He surrounded himself with military generals for a time, claimed that he would have been “a good general” and threw himself a giant military parade to demonstrate strength and might.
“And those guns ― this is, ‘Boom boom boom!’ ― and they were out there perfect.”
On Sunday, Trump recounted watching the al-Baghdadi operation the previous day like it was a video game or a movie, talking about how the terrorist leader had been “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way.”
“I got to watch much of it,” he said. “No personnel were lost in the operation, while a large number of Baghdadi’s fighters and companions were killed with him. He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way. The compound had been cleared by this time, with people either surrendering or being shot and killed.”
So far, there is no evidence that al-Baghdadi was whimpering and crying. It’s a cinematic detail that Trump seems to have made up.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who was sitting next to the president as they watched the operation, told ABC News that he couldn’t back up the president’s description, although he said perhaps Trump “had the opportunity to talk to the commanders on the ground.” But there were reportedly no soldiers on the ground who followed al-Baghdadi into the final tunnel ― just military dogs.
Trump’s love of violence came out Monday afternoon as well, during a speech in Chicago to the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He paid homage to the officers who took out a mass shooter in Dayton, Ohio, on Aug. 4.
“I’ll never forget the scene. They showed four of them going down the street. There were six altogether. But it was on tape. And those guns ― this is, ‘Boom boom boom!’ ― and they were out there perfect,” Trump said, using his hands to pretend he was shooting.
The president also likes to dramatize the fate of undocumented immigrants, often referring to female trafficking victims who have their mouths taped up.
“Human trafficking — grabbing women, in particular — and children, but women — taping them up, wrapping tape around their mouths so they can’t shout or scream, tying up their hands behind their back and even their legs and putting them in a back seat of a car or a van — three, four, five, six, seven at a time,” he said on Jan. 11.
Trafficking experts say they haven’t seen such taping and they have no idea what he’s talking about. But Trump seems fascinated with what happens to female victims.
Beyond the gruesome rhetoric itself, there’s the question of how effective Trump’s comments are. They may spark some jingoistic fervor, but they could also potentially backfire internationally.
“[It] bothered me a little bit some of what the president did in providing detail about taking back to the United States pieces of Baghdadi’s body,” Mike Morell, former deputy director of the CIA, said on CBS Sunday. “It bothered me a little bit hearing the president talk about that some of that Syrian oil being ours, right. Because that’s what inspires some extremists.”