Trolling is a subtle art, and the recent case of a Kentucky valedictorian tricking a seemingly pro-Trump audience into cheering for former President Obama is a master class in that art. Bell County High School grad Ben Bowling told his audience that some inspirational words he shared with them were a Donald Trump quote, when he'd actually recited a few lines from a commencement speech Obama gave in 2012.
"Don’t just get involved," Bowling told his fellow students and teachers. "Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table."
In footage shared by Louisville Courier Journal, it's clear that it doesn't take more than a second for the crowd to erupt into triumphant cheers, applause, and whistling. But it is precisely at that climatic moment that Bowling casually drops a truth-bomb on everyone: "I'm kidding. I'm kidding. That was Barack Obama."
It appears the Bell County High School crowd's admiration for the quote wasn't genuine. In the video of Bowling's speech, as soon as the valedictorian tells his audience that the quote is Obama's and not Trump's, you can hear a few confused laughs, less clapping, and at least one passionate "boo" from the rows. But Bowling appears unfazed.
The Obama quote came from a commencement speech he gave at Barnard College six years ago. After speaking the lines Bowling quoted, Obama's speech continued:
It’s been said that the most important role in our democracy is the role of citizen. And indeed, it was 225 years ago today that the Constitutional Convention opened in Philadelphia, and our founders, citizens all, began crafting an extraordinary document.
Bowling's harmless little trick may receive a heavy coat of irony if you consider the political makeup of his county. According to Politico, Bell County was heavily in favor of Trump in the 2016 American presidential election. Almost 80 percent of the county voted for Trump, only 17.7 percent voted for Hillary Clinton, and the remaining negligible percentage points went to four other independent candidates. In other words, Bowling was most likely trolling a crowd that firmly believes in "making America great again" like their Republican leader.
It's possible that Bowling would have received a similar reaction if he pulled the same trick in front of Kentucky at a state level. In 2016, 62.5 percent of the Bluegrass State approved of Trump. In fact, in all likelihood, Bowling may have gotten more than just one "boo" for reciting a few Obama quotes.
Bowling's principal, Richard Gambrel, told the New York Times that the cheeky valedictorian was "very politically aware." Perhaps one reason why Bowling's joke resonated with many on social media is because it seems to be lighthearted commentary on how no one really pays attention to what a politician is saying. Sometimes it all feels banal, overdone, and repetitive. If the lines are attributed to one politician over the other, most may not be able to tell.
Gambrel also iterated a similar point to The Times. "Most of them probably got the joke," he said. "It proves that people don’t read or pay attention."
While speaking with Louisville Courier Journal, 18-year-old Bowling recalled his experience, "The crowd erupted in applause and before they could even finish clapping I said I was kidding and the applause quickly died."
He added that he did not mean to sully anyone by his graduation day joke. "I just thought it was a really good quote," he said. "Most people wouldn’t like it if I used it, so I thought I’d use Donald Trump’s name. It is southeastern Kentucky after all."