The 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "A Promised Land" by Barack Obama. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What happened at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner? What did it mean for tensions between Obama and Trump?

At the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner, Obama had his opportunity to fire back at Trump for political digs and birtherism. Obama mocked Trump, but knew to take Trump seriously.

Read more about the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner below.

What Happened at the 2011 Correspondents Dinner?

On April 27, 2011, the state of Hawaii released Obama’s long-form birth certificate at the president’s request, “proving” that he was a native born citizen. Although Obama did not wish to give the appearance of responding to the ludicrous and offensive birtherism slander, he hoped that the release of the birth certificate would put an end to the “controversy” and allow the nation to move onto more important matters. Besides, Obama knew he would have the opportunity to exact some revenge on Trump at the upcoming White House Correspondents Dinner on April 30—the night before the planned raid on the Abbottabad compound.

The dinner was an annual get-together of Washington politicians and the journalists who covered them, usually featuring a performance by a comedian and a roast of the seated press delivered by the president. Obama generally found the event distasteful. To him, it was a self-indulgent spectacle that sent a terrible message to ordinary Americans and advertised Washington’s insider culture. In short, it was the epitome of what so many Americans (including Obama himself) disliked about Washington.

But Obama was eager to go to the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner. He knew Trump would be there and wanted to have the opportunity to embarrass him in front of the celebrities and politicians whose approval and validation he so clearly craved. The timing was also fortuitous. Given the secrecy of the mission, Obama’s attendance and comedic performance at the dinner would distract any potential media attention away from the operation—as would Trump’s presence.

When he took the dais, Obama roundly mocked Trump, as the real estate mogul sat red-faced and silent in the audience. Obama needled Trump over the low ratings for Celebrity Apprentice, his decadent and tacky aesthetic choices, and his penchant for wild conspiracy theories.

Although Obama knew he’d mocked and humiliated Trump, he also knew to take him seriously as a political threat. Obama understood that spectacle and outlandishness could command media attention—and that made Trump powerful. The dark forces of demagoguery and right-wing populism that Trump was stirring up had a long history in American politics. Trump may have been a con man and carnival barker, but he still represented something very dangerous for American democracy.

The 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Barack Obama's "A Promised Land" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full A Promised Land summary:

  • How Barack Obama went from relative obscurity to the first Black president
  • What principles guided his political leadership style
  • Why Obama retained an unshakable faith in the potential and promise of America

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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