Obama Jabs At Trump In State Of The Union

On Tuesday night, in a joint session before Congress, President Obama delivered the final State of the Union address of his presidency, and he hit a lot of different notes. But one stuck out pretty glaringly, especially amid escalating tensions and attacks against American Muslim communities ― Obama's State of the Union jab at Donald Trump wasn't all that subtle, and that's a good thing.

Because make no mistake, Trump's political ascent and the vitriolic rhetoric he's voiced isn't subtle either, and it needs to be confronted. Ultimately, Obama's comment may still have been a bit more muted than it could have been, but it still stands as an important moment of recognition ― no pun intended, but Trump is a huge elephant in the room in American politics these days.

The statement came near the end of Obama's address, when he called for an end to politics that target people for their race or religion. And he specifically said that it wasn't a matter of "political correctness," a familiar Trump bugaboo, nor was it "telling it like it is."

That's why we need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn't a matter of political correctness. It's a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith. His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot I stand tonight that "to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place." When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn't make us safer. That's not telling it like it is. It's just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country.
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In case it wasn't clear enough who he's talking about ― and really, these are problems in American society that transcend the boorish Republican frontrunner ― Trump is the mainstream presidential contender who lambasted Mexican immigrants as "rapists" and "criminals" during the first five minutes of his presidential announcement (helpfully adding that "some, I assume, are good people"). He's also called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, and advanced the debunked claim that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001. He is, in every sense, the epitome of the politics Obama is speaking out against here.

It's not just a vague sense of discomfort or tension, either ― according to The New York Times, crimes against Muslims have been on the rise in the weeks and months following the high-profile terrorist attacks in Paris last year. While he may never have directly mentioned him by name, the message Obama was sending was naked and plain if you were really listening ― reject the politics of division, racism, and demagoguery. Or, to put it another way, reject Donald J. Trump.