“Becoming”– Versus Unbecoming

Indiana readers: If you haven’t already requested your absentee ballot for the June 2d Primary, don’t forget that you have to do so by May 21st. 


After several people recommended “Becoming”–the Netflix documentary about Michelle Obama’s book tour– my husband and I watched it. Now, I’m recommending it too–albeit with a caveat.

If–like me–you are already pretty depressed about what Trump and his toxic base have done to this country, you might want to skip “Becoming,” because it was truly painful to be reminded that we recently had an administration headed by a thoughtful, caring, sane and competent First Couple.

Could you fault some of President Obama’s policy decisions? Sure. Show me the political figure with whom you agree 100%. (If there is one, you aren’t thinking, just following.) What you couldn’t fault–at least not if you’re intellectually honest–was the integrity of his approach to the office. Both he and Michelle consistently elevated the interests of the country over political partisanship. (Actually, that triggered several of the criticisms I hear about his presidency; people wanted him to “play more hardball” with Republicans, who were clearly more invested in partisanship than patriotism.)

What I found both touching and illuminating was Michelle’s response to a question about how she felt the day they left the White House after spending eight years there. Her answer: vast relief that she no longer would have every single thing she said and/or did scrutinized and criticized.

For eight years, she had tried to be perfect, to meet the onslaughts of  slander and racism by “going high.”

The documentary underscored the vast differences between the Obamas and the Trumps without ever mentioning the latter.

Both Obamas are articulate, knowledgable, and civil. From all accounts, they are truly nice people. It’s impossible to imagine either of them bullying staff members, mimicking disabled people, or calling critics offensive names. But by far the most significant difference concerns empathy.

The Obamas have it; Trump doesn’t.

Several times, the documentary focused on Michelle’s frequent sessions with young women, and her encouragement that they “tell their stories” and follow their dreams. In another example, she recounted how excited she was when the Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality, and how she and Sasha “snuck out” to join the celebrating throng in front of the White House (where, as many of us recall, rainbow lights played across the facade).

That celebration came just a few hours after the Obamas had returned from services for the nine African-Americans gunned down in a church during bible study in Charleston. The documentary showed footage of the part of that service where President Obama broke into an impromptu “Amazing Grace” and then left the pulpit to hug and console the survivors and family members of those who’d been killed.

It is absolutely impossible to picture Donald Trump comforting anyone. Or showing respect for others. Or speaking eloquently (or using words of more than two syllables). Or ever acting like a mensch.

The documentary reminded me of a column by a British writer, who wrote it in response to the question “Why don’t most English people like Donald Trump?” It’s been making the rounds, and you’ve probably seen it, but the first few paragraphs perfectly encapsulated the distinction this documentary highlighted.

“A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

The contrast between Obama and Trump is the contrast between self-aware, civilized behavior and immature boorishness. Dim as he is, Trump knows that Obama (a black man!!) is vastly superior to him-intellectually, morally, and ethically. That recognition eats away at him; it’s the reason he’s so fixated on destroying anything Obama did, even when dismantling Obama’s legacy will clearly hurt the country he took an oath to serve.

Watching the documentary about Michelle Obama–as classy and brilliant and thoughtful as her husband– was a stark reminder of what we’ve lost–and the disaster that is the boorish ignoramus now defiling the Oval Office.

It hurt.


  1. Theresa; thank you for your comment, the reference to Trump being the “Shakespeare of shit” was the highlight of the article for me.

    I will definitely watch “Becoming” on Netflix; just seeing pictures of the Obamas makes me smile and lifts my spirits from Trump’s gutter politics. They also remind me that this country can rise above the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and return us to the heights of pride, trust and faith in our leader and give us hope, even during this Covid-19 Pandemic nightmare.

  2. I consider 45 to be the least interesting man in the world. As scary as he is, he’s not even tops at that, since McConnell sewed up that title long ago.

  3. I watched it and almost cried comparing what we had then and what we have now. The Obamas were so classy, intelligent, and compassionate, and the trumps are none of that. We have to vote to get them out of the White House and hopefully return to some semblance of dignity, honesty, and integrity.

  4. I don’t think getting rid of Trump will elevate this “country” much at all. Trump is a racist response to the Obamas being in the WH.

    When Trump leaves (with or without military intervention), the “country” will still have a significant problem with racism. The gun-toting racists will always be here because they were invited into the mainstream by the GOP. Not sure how you put that genie back into the bottle. The party platform (which is non-existent) is a racist Theocracy, so how do you go back to normal?

    I am sure another extremist will emerge to give the cult members plenty of pleasure.

    It would require wholesale denunciation by members of the GOP, and quite frankly, I don’t see that happening. They lack the spine.

    The Obamas had class and were both articulate. Obama made great speeches. I just wish they would have fought more for the working class while in the WH for eight years, but he quickly fell in line behind the DNC’s donors. His support for DWS, even after she resigned from her post at the DNC, was disheartening. It turns out; he was another faux progressive, just like Hillary.

    As for those who’ve fallen in line with the DNC and Robby Mook’s, “Russia did it campaign,” I would pay close attention as it begins to unravel. But don’t think for one instance that it will be covered on MSNBC while you sit in your lazy chairs. 😉

    They will not walk back their four-year-long unnecessary chatter.

    And Trump’s understanding of it is incorrect. He’s using #ObamaGate as a political weapon but doesn’t grasp the subtle intrigue because of Bannon’s ilk.

  5. Todd,
    Obama was mortally wounded, politically, after just two years of fighting, “for the working class while in the WH” after the Obama Care vote. After the 2010 elections, the Ds lost a chamber of congress and several statehouses which then allowed the Rs to have gerrymandered districts for a decade. He wasn’t even able to appoint a Supreme Court justice his final year in office. Don’t tell me he didn’t fight enough. He did – on healthcare – and it had a real cost. I never thought that fight was worth it – especially now since much of Obama Care is being dismantled anyway. But that’s what he choose to do, a fight to the death on a progressive issue (healthcare).

  6. Most telling in the movie was Michelle’s stark comment about the people who did not vote in 2016. She is one smart lady….

  7. I loved the book and got one for my Mother. I couldn’t put it down. But I don’t have Netflix here so I don’t know when or if I’ll ever get to see it. Thanks for the summary. I too get sad when I see the Obamas. What we’ve lost…sniff.

  8. I’m glad to learn there is a documentary. After waitingr my turn in the library hold queue I read the (e)book It was excellent! Patmcc, place a hold with your library, it is worth the wait.

  9. I tell my students that the only person they will agree with 100% of the time is themselves. If they want to vote for someone like that, run for office!

  10. Yes. If one MUST compare the Obamas to the Trumps, one might be better served trying to compare chalk to cheese. Todd is partially right about racism in this country. Frankly, after using black people as slaves in the New World since the 16th century, I don’t see how that specter of prejudice can ever be eradicated.

    Remember, it is the capitalists who prefer slavery to egalitarian employment. Slavery is cheaper and, for a while, makes the quarterly reports look good. Obama was their worst nightmare and they and their moronic acolytes went all-in on racist bigotry, dog whistles and all.

    “Or ever acting like a mensch”. Love the word. No, Trump is a thug and a criminal. He’s been one his entire life. He is like pornography: No socially redeeming value. Yet, those 62 million racist bigots voted for him and are still salivating over his every lie, his every racist/ethnic slur and his utter incompetence as president. THIS is where the Obama’s were so eloquent. They emulated was a classy president and first family should look and sound like. The racists and the bigots put in place the demon that’s been living in their closet for centuries.

  11. trump a thug,? nope, wannabe maybe, but the burg he escaped from,NYC wouldnt even see him as a thug,maybe a curse,or scum.. he cant muster a decent shrug to say hes a thug.. i guess my across the river street sense, tells me we would have pissed on him for just walking in our hood.. i just cant see him as a thug..jeezz.,but now theres a trump death clock in times square now,counting his corpses.if that gives any credit to his,,er,person..

  12. Todd @ 8:23 – “The gun-toting racists will always be here because they were invited into the mainstream by the GOP. Not sure how you put that genie back into the bottle. The party platform (which is non-existent) is a racist Theocracy, so how do you go back to normal?”

    Right on ever since Goldwater’s stance on States Rights having supremacy and then Nixon’s Law and Order and Southern Strategy, the GOP has become more concentrated and distilled.

    Goldwater said the following, Remarks in the Congressional Record (September 15, 1981):

    “I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?
    And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.” … This unrelenting obsession with a particular goal destroys the perspective of many decent people. They have become easy prey to manipulation and misjudgment.”

    It was during this time frame back in the early 1980’s the GOP began to kneel down and take their marching orders from the NRA and Evangelicals. The racism, anti gay and anti women’s rights of that era was masked behind code words and dog whistles.

    Today the Trumpet and Pastor Pence have given the yahoos, yo-yo’s and gun toting bible thumper’s their own respectability. The dog whistles are gone. Science who needs science?? Dr. Trump will tells us what is good for us, no questions permitted.

    The latest scheme from the WH is the number of Corona deaths is too high, just one more nefarious plot by the Fake News and the Democrats in the Deep State.

  13. I can’t imagine more contrast than comparing the Trumps with the Obamas. A to Z on the spectrum of humanity.

    Those who were here at Sheila’s political therapy sessions when Vlad the bad was successful at his peaceful invasion and conquering of American by infesting the Republican Party must remember as I do that almost everyone here saw exactly what was coming. In fact many of us said until others got sick of reading it that he’s simply not my President.

    His gross incompetence at handling the one test that he couldn’t avoid as well as his corrupt action pitching drugs that didn’t work were of no surprise to any of us. He’s never been a man and his lapdog wife has never been a woman. They inexpertly attempt to cover that up by facades made of inherited money.

    I’m hoping that in Nov Putin realizes that he went a bridge too far and hand picked a puppet too incompetent to help even the Russian oligarchs he leads. There is a load of accountability that America owes the whole shambles of an administration plus Mitch the enabler and his gang of oligarch wannabee Senators.

  14. TLentych- “Obama was mortally wounded, politically, after just two years of fighting, “for the working class while in the WH” after the Obama Care vote.”

    Hmmm… I gotta side with Todd on his analysis. I literally cried in both disbelief and pride when Obama was elected President. I had read both of his books the year before and was heartened to think someone in the mold of Bobby Kennedy could be elected as President and be African American as well. Dream come true.

    So, it was a bombshell when, after 8 years, the middle class (what was left of it in 2007/8) had shrunk even more and the poor got poorer. Fact. Yes, we got the ACA, but it was literally written by the private insurance lawyers and companies (modeled after Romney’s health care act in Massachusetts) who have made billions in profit more as if they needed it!!! Missouri, like other backward red states, never passed the expansion. Dead on arrival.

    Obama, unfortunately, rode out his last 6 years on the Wall Street donor train not unlike other Corporate Democrats. To me, THAT left a very bad (and angry) taste in the mouths of “former middle class” folk in the traditional Democrat (rust belt) states who had been (and still are) economically twisting in the wind for the better part of 40 years since Reagan started dismantling the middle class union-based foundation of this country.

    That anger, in my opinion, resulted in the “anger vote” for Trump against the Corporate/Wall Street Class politicians. Hillary represented everything these folks hated: status quo D.C. politicians who take care of themselves (careers) first and foremost.

    Of course, Trump presented himself as the “I feel your pain” Populist. He brilliantly took advantage of the 40 year denigration of the working class and accused both the Democrats and the GOP of “leaving the working man behind.” Never mind that Trump could care less about the working class, he wanted to WIN (that is central to his mo)… and it worked (barely), enough so that 3 1/2 years later he has possibly transformed politics in this country which would have been inconceivable a mere 4 or 5 years ago. The price of this narcissist achieving the unthinkable has been high and gets higher every day, week and month he occupies (when he is not out golfing) the most powerful office in the world. Orwell’s fiction is all but reality.

    Therefore, Trump filled a void left by BOTH political parties chasing after K Street Money. It is obvious, especially to those who own zero stocks or lost our pensions in the aforementioned dismantling of the working class. The Democrats, in my opinion, took their eyes off the people who traditionally been their base”: The Working Class. Too many of them (again, in my opinion) got educated and too comfortable in their own skins in the last 30-40 years without taking care of the horse (donkey) they had been riding on since 1932. Trump, I say, is proof of the Democratic Party’s dereliction of duty starting with Bill “I feel your pain” Clinton, another populist who shafted the middle class.

    As much as I do admire the Obama’s, in many ways his economic “policies” did more to piss off the already pissed and injured middle class than anything else. He rode into Washing ton D.C. relatively humble economically (although he did make a few million on his books, not unlike Sanders recently), and rode out of Washington D.C. with a much better business resume. People are not fools. We have seen this movie too many times before.

    I think if Obama had focused on bailing out the devastated middle class with infrastructure jobs, clean energy jobs, small business creation, etc, instead of bailing out Wall Street and giving private health insurance companies a golden goose with the ACA, we would never had heard of Trump. Naturally, this is all worthless arm chair “if dog rabbit,” but I think the records and facts back it up.

    I’ll look for the movie tonight. Thanks for the heads up! Peace.

  15. Vernon, you wrote:
    ” They emulated was a classy president and first family should look and sound like. ”

    I must correct you my friend. The Obamas did not “emulate” what a classy president and first family should look like–they epitomized it.

  16. I always felt Obama needed to stand up to the bullies. He gave them respect thinking that was mature, but it only encouraged them. I sure wish Obama was POTUS today. The hopeless mess in office now turns this crisis into a chaotic, wide awake nightmare. To use this pandemic to sow more aggressive divisions in an already unstable society, is criminal.

  17. Trump would have looked bad by comparison with most anybody, but the contrast with his predecessor is especially plain to see, and no, Todd, Obama was not perfect, but who ever was; even FDR (my all time favorite president), especially when confronted with a hostile House and/or Senate? Contemporary compromises by Nancy that hurt my ingrained sense of right and wrong, for instance, may be necessary to secure the greater good in any bill. Even the Constitution itself is a compromised document hammered out by southern slaveholders and Yankee shipbuilders.

    Those of us who look for personal nirvanas in a political world built on compromise will never be happy even if, for instance, Democrats enjoy majorities in both the House and Senate with a Democrat sitting in the Oval Office and a liberal majority on the Supreme Court. There will still be regional differences based on geographical and other dissimilarities as in (for example) California and Mississippi, i.e., Silicon Valley and the world’s fifth biggest economy versus a welfare state.

    So what? So we have to do the best we can with what we have and from where we are, understanding that at its worst democracy is superior to any other ism available to us at this point in history (though our economic system as currently practiced is at odds with democratic idealism), a problem with which I personally struggle in my quest for nirvana. And, as Kurt noted, so it goes.

  18. the questions i ask the trumpers when im among them is, what did he ever do for you? im being of my working class mind here,as many here know,i face the issues,in person.. the sad fact is, its the same answers i got when bush and his king george daddy and reagans time,the same answer,my f,,,,guns are safe…making a case here,and ill admit,i like guns too, but my mind state is,i live remote per se, and hunt.. im not, as what we seen,at the state capitals, a mob,as the defined by the ACLU,is not a protest..i dont know how many here actully talk with these people or even live and work with them,but i do.. many could care less about anything,except,god,guts and guns. but,,as i will admit,theres still some common decency somewhere in the talk. the trumpers,as ive been talking to,will admit,the change sometimes isnt good. more than half agree,the gun totten stuff is scary,and they dont want to see their kids crossing the street.. but many do preach hate and its seen by the rest.. when confronted in conversation,i will admit,they are lost for,words when democracy is bought up,and the only other goverment you will get is wall streets elite.. discribe the living wage against the profit numbers on wall street,explain how they have their hand in your pocket,the curtian opens somewhat,but, facts be damn,did the SOB ever invite any of you to his resorts or a BBQ? sounds man simple, but were dealing with basically simple minds. when the fox and trump game is on,every working hour decieving its people, for profit, ahh, wall streets whores looking to make a profit off your lose of freedom and rule of law, after all, when wall,street sees ya as a threat,well will barr will change that too.
    though its street language to you,its how they understand. bring up a subject that vastly makes a difference in discussion,damn,they didnt think of that! the conversation in not wasted,its a reality check. and i beleive many trumpers will see more,see the change if its pointed out to them,and why.. come november,and no ones looking over their shoulder,if we get another chance to vote..no,country is worth a few pennies when ,your whole future is at steak.. especially when a con man is pitting you against your democracy..

  19. Michelle Obama was always very Becoming! Her husband was always a decent guy that tried to find his way being from a mixed family and facing discrimination because of the color of his skin. I think it really ticks Trump off that Barack Obama is genetically related to 6 US presidents through his mother’s side of the family. That is something that Trump could never match, and it eats him up every day. And, for all of the attention on the current POTUS, the current FLOTUS, is of dubious character! She had an opportunity to marry an old man for money, no better than a hooker! She tries to curry favor by her anti-bullying campaign? And then crickets when her husband is out there eviscerating any and all targets! These rednecks in the White House right now give rednecks a bad name, LOL!

    Look at what is happening in Wisconsin and other states like Michigan and such, the White House puts out guidelines, and then realizes there’s some blowback from his supporters, so then he flips the script and tells people to go protest the lockdown the White House authorized in the 1st place! Then, they go to court, to fight with Democratic governors to overturn their lockdowns! I live on the border of Wisconsin, and I’ll tell you, there are some stupid people up there! They had a nurse on this morning talking about how it’s so nice to get outside and be with friends, they asked her if she was worried about catching the coronavirus, and, believe it or not, she said no! So when she comes down with it, she will probably blame it on whatever medical facility she’s working at, but at the medical facility, she has to wear a mask and PPE. At the bar she had no mask on and was sitting next to a whole bunch of folks, no more than 10 inches or so. I would say the whole group of right-wing goofballs must be willfully ignorant, because nobody can be accidentally that stupid!

    Watch and see how they will be whining when they are packing the hospital’s full again, and spreading it down here to Illinois, because plenty of those Wisconsinites work in Illinois. It makes no sense, and that’s the reason I said history repeats itself constantly. In San Francisco, 1917, there was a revolt on wearing facemasks for the Spanish flu, a few days later, thousands died! I believe it was either Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, held a huge parade to give people a little break from quarantine in 1917, 20,000 or so people died a few days later! I guess that parade was worth it! We shall see, but I figure there’s something else going on which nobody has gotten wise to yet. This is giving the current POTUS an excuse to cancel elections or declare martial law because of an eruption of this pandemic, or a re-eruption of this pandemic.

    So you know what’s Becoming? The United States is Becoming a fascist state.

    And, Todd!

    In 2010, after the ACA was passed, the Senate was lost! And pretty much Mitch McConnell said he was not going to put through anything Obama wanted! The only thing Obama got anything done was through executive order. And, McConnell Screamed to high heaven, and that it was illegal! Although, McConnell says it’s okay for Trump to do that now.

    Obama was hamstrung by what the GOP called sequestration, to pass anything, you had to cut spending somewhere else! I’m not seeing this with the current president, the GOP is just fine with unlimited spending, but with Obama, he was a traitor to the United States because of spending. And let’s not forget, a lot of the spending in the beginning of his 1st term was in conjunction with the previous president! George Bush contacted Obama and ask for his help before Obama took office, Barack Obama complied with the request, and George Bush was able to get a lot done concerning the great recession. So, I’m not sure what you are reading Todd, but that’s not the fact of the matter!

  20. Like you, my husband and I viewed “Becoming” with a mixture of nostalgia and validation for what was once a position of honor, and depression at how quickly the wheels of our once revered government have come off its tracks resulting in the greatest train wreck this country has ever witnessed.

    It’s one thing to read about Michelle Obama’s journey. It’s quite another experience to see and hear—and feel—the impact that a world getting ready to boil over had on the First Family.

    In spite of everything, what President Obama and Michelle were able to accomplish is breathtaking: a national health care act; capturing the world’s vile human being and plotter of 9/11; getting the marriage equality act passed; bringing awareness and healthy eating to school lunches nationwide. Each would have been singularly significant of a presidential term. That these and other accomplishments are documented testimonies of the Obama years will remain in our history forever. And that is something no one, even the current Occupant of the Oval Office, can ever take away or disappear.

  21. jack,

    “though its street language to you,its how they understand. bring up a subject that vastly tmakes a difference in discussion,damn,they didnt think of that! the conversation in not wasted,its a reality check. and i beleive many trumpers will see more,see the change if its pointed out to them”

    You’re right. That’s our last and only chance, and it’s doable. Our first step would be to find a new communication vehicle that could deliver a convincing message, before time runs out. Miracles do happen, if you’re creative enough.

  22. Reuters today,

    “The Senate is expected to vote Wednesday to renew the 2001 Patriot Act, and Mitch McConnell is pushing an amendment to the law that would expand the FBI’s surveillance powers. An amendment proposed by McConnell would, for the first time ever, let the FBI collect records on Americans’ web-browsing and search histories without a warrant.

    Another amendment drafted by McConnell would give the attorney general more oversight of FBI A bipartisan group of senators proposed a measure to block the FBI from accessing people’s web browsing history without a warrant, but it failed by one vote on Wednesday.”

    And we all sit here doing nothing of consequence, like the biggest bunch of fools that ever inhabited the planet.

  23. Are we all going to wait around and see what the Fascist controlled Senate is going to do next week? I’m not.

    Today, I’m activating P.E.I.S. Systems as a countervailing platform, anti-fascist force, much like my deceased partner, Professor Harvey Wheeler, created in his book and later movie: FAIL-SAFE.

    Miracles do happen. POLITICAL EQUILIBRIUM is still a remote possibility if we can conjure up the CIVIC COURAGE contemplated by DIETRICH BONHOEFFER, the German evangelical pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi dissident.

  24. It seems to me that the character of the Trump and Obama was shaped by their upbringing. Mr. Trump was parents were rich, not so Mr. Obama’s. That matters a great deal. Mr. Obama has empathy, not so Mr. Trump. To be fair to Melania Trump, she never asked too be First Lady.

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