Barack Obama and Donald Trump: Tensions Rise

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 was the relationship like between Barack Obama and Donald Trump? What did birtherism have to do with it?

There were tensions between Barack Obama and Donald Trump throughout Obama’s presidency. Amongst other things, Trump claimed that Obama hadn’t been born in the U.S., which became a larger political movement referred to as “birtherism.”

Read more about Barack Obama and Donald Trump below.

Barack Obama and Donald Trump: Celebrity Politics

While Obama was managing the volatile situation in the Middle East that arose out of the Arab Spring and planning the raid on Osama bin Laden, a new political figure was on the rise in the winter and spring of 2011—Donald Trump.

Trump was a New York-based real estate tycoon who rose to prominence in the 1980s and was known for his lavish and ostentatious displays of wealth, his thirst for media attention, and his well-publicized debauched personal life. In his public image, Trump presented himself as the living embodiment of both capitalist excess and entrepreneurial success.

While Obama was certainly aware of Trump, what he’d heard suggested that he was more of a self-promoter than an actual businessman. Obama’s contacts in the New York real estate development community told him that Trump was not a respected figure, hadn’t developed property in decades, and was probably not nearly as wealthy as he presented himself to be. By 2011, Trump’s business mostly consisted of licensing his name to a line of questionable third-party products; and hosting his reality television show, The Apprentice.


In early 2011, Trump launched himself back into the national conversation by publicly and loudly embracing the cause of birtherism. Birtherism was the term for a conspiracy theory on the far right that held that Barack Obama had not been born in the United States and, thus, was not eligible to be president.

The claim was blatantly false, but because of Obama’s foreign-sounding last name and his race, it gained currency among Americans who felt threatened by the nation’s first African-American president. Although Trump did not invent birtherism, he helped propel it into mainstream political conversation. When he spoke at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), he publicly called on the president to “release” his birth certificate and questioned whether Obama had legitimately gotten into Harvard. 

A Powerful Demagogue

To the Obamas’ dismay (especially Michelle’s), the mainstream media continued to give Trump free airtime to spread misinformation, treating him more as an amusing spectacle than as a potentially dangerous demagogue. This made the tension between Barack Obama and Donald Trump increase.

Despite Barack and Michelle’s disgust with Trump’s antics, however, he was undoubtedly making his mark on the Republican Party. Polls showed that a growing number of Republican voters accepted birtherism as a fact—and named Donald Trump as their preferred nominee for the 2012 presidential election.

Barack Obama and Donald Trump: Tensions Rise

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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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