If we’ve learned one thing about Barack Obama over the last eight years, it’s that he’s an absolute master of throwing shade. On Sept. 20, he proved this once again during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly. In his speech, Obama responded to Donald Trump Jr.’s Skittles tweet without ever mentioning Trump’s name. In his address, he stressed the importance of openness and acceptance, especially when it comes to the millions of refugees in need of aid, which was in direct contrast to the stereotyping and fear-mongering in Trump Jr.'s tweet.
Without mentioning either Trump Jr. or his father by name, Obama managed to deliver a point-by-point rebuttal to some of the major planks of the Trump campaign’s platform. He brought up (and promptly shut down) the proposed border wall and Trump’s position on trade, to name a few.
But the refugee crisis was the focal point of his speech. Granting safety to people whose lives are in constant danger in their homes shouldn’t be a controversial issue. “We should all understand that, ultimately, our world will be more secure if we are prepared to help those in need,” Obama said in his speech. Clearly, with Obama and Trump Jr., we can see the two basic responses to these sorts of crises: openness and fear.
It appears that Trump Jr. prefers to tweet out his feelings, whereas Obama prefers to take his position to the UN and extract pledges from a number of world leaders, effectively doubling the number of available spots for refugees. But Obama really (and subtly) shut down the absurd Skittles tweet with his rhetoric. He emphasized the importance of openness and acceptance in the face of uncertainty, which is essentially the opposite of the xenophobia that the Trump camp has been peddling.
Perhaps most important, though, was one of the outcomes of the summit, which came out on Monday: an agreement that the General Assembly would really focus their attention on addressing the safety of refugees and migrants over the next two years.
In one of his most powerful quotes from the speech, Obama asserted that “a nation ringed by walls would only imprison itself.” Poetic and vague though it is, its underlying sentiment — that refugees and immigrants are hugely beneficial to the societies they come to — needs no additional proof. For just one small example, without Syrian immigration to the United States, the iPhone that Trump Jr. used to post the tweet would never have existed. Steve Jobs, after all, was the son of a Syrian immigrant.
Instead of just angrily turning to Twitter, Obama let his actions lead the way as he pushed for greater freedom for refugees in need. And that’s what made his speech such an epic takedown of Trump Jr.’s tweet — before Trump can even begin to build the wall, Obama’s already tearing it down.