It took all of one minute and nine seconds for President Trump to go after his predecessor on Friday — just one minute and nine seconds to re-engage in a debate that has consumed much of his own time in office over who was the better president.
It was former President Barack Obama who started the policy of separating children from their parents at the border, Mr. Trump claimed falsely, and it was Mr. Obama who had such a terrible relationship with North Korea that he was about to go to war. Mr. Obama had it easy on the economy, Mr. Trump added, but let America’s allies walk all over him.
The litany of criticisms, often distorted, are familiar, but Mr. Trump has turned increasingly to Mr. Obama in recent days as a political foil.
In part, that reflects Mr. Trump’s longstanding fixation with the former president. But it may also stem from the fact that Mr. Obama’s vice president, Joseph R. Biden Jr., remains the Democratic front-runner in the 2020 election.
“If you look at what we’ve done, and if you look at what we’ve straightened out, the — I call it the ‘Obama-Biden mess,’” he told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before leaving Washington for a weekend at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “We’re straightening it out.”
The president’s focus on Mr. Obama after about two and a half years in office was even more intense during a trip to Japan and South Korea last weekend, when Mr. Trump repeatedly raised the subject of his predecessor without being asked, assailing him on a variety of domestic and foreign policy fronts.
“When in a corner, Trump falls back on the only organizing principle he has, which is attacking Obama — and usually lying about it,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser to Mr. Obama. “I wouldn’t read anything more into it than that.”
Since 2011, when he explored running for president against Mr. Obama, Mr. Trump has had a singular obsession with the 44th president.
He repeatedly questioned Mr. Obama’s citizenship as part of the false “birther” conspiracy. As president, Mr. Obama struck back at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in 2011, when he roasted the reality television star as a lightweight while Mr. Trump sat grim-faced.
Since then, Mr. Trump has been determined to minimize or unravel Mr. Obama’s accomplishments, and lately has even suggested that his predecessor was behind a deep-state conspiracy with law enforcement and intelligence agencies to thwart his 2016 candidacy.
While other presidents have blamed their predecessors for various national ills — including Mr. Obama, who in his first term regularly pointed to former President George W. Bush — Mr. Trump takes it further than most.
It is less common for presidents to take on predecessors who are more popular than they are; Mr. Obama was viewed favorably by 63 percent of those surveyed by Gallup last year, while Mr. Trump’s job approval rating is 41 percent.
But Mr. Trump recognizes that his political base wanted, and still wants, someone who would be seen as fighting against Mr. Obama. Especially as Mr. Biden stumps the country on his record in the Obama administration, Mr. Trump sees a political advantage in taking down his predecessor and trying to lift himself as an outsider taking on a system he has led for over two years.
“Tell Biden that NATO has taken total advantage of him and President Obama,” Mr. Trump said on Friday. “Biden didn’t know what the hell he was doing and neither did President Obama. NATO was taking advantage of — now they’re paying.”
“President Obama and Vice President Biden,” he added, “they didn’t have a clue. They got taken advantage of by China, by NATO, by every country they did business with.”
By Mr. Trump’s indictment, Mr. Obama was too soft on China’s trade abuses and too easy on NATO allies who were not spending enough on their own defense, two issues that the current president has pressed much more vigorously. Mr. Trump in recent days has also blamed Mr. Obama for a dispute with Turkey, a NATO ally, over its purchase of S-400 missile systems from Russia. A former Obama aide denied that he refused to sell a Patriot system to Turkey but did object to a technology transfer Ankara demanded as part of a deal.
In leveling his criticisms at Mr. Obama, however, Mr. Trump routinely stretches the facts. As he has repeatedly, Mr. Trump insisted on Friday that had Mr. Obama remained in office, he would have gone to war with North Korea, a claim dismissed as ludicrous by the former president’s advisers.
In recent days, Mr. Trump has added a new claim — that Mr. Obama tried to meet with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, only to be rebuffed, an assertion for which he offered no evidence.
“He called Kim Jong-un on numerous occasions to meet. President Obama wanted to meet with Kim Jong-un. And Kim Jong-un said no,” Mr. Trump said on Friday. “Numerous occasions he called. And right now we have a very nice relationship.”
After Mr. Trump floated this while in Asia last weekend, Mr. Obama’s final national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, used an expletive to deny it. “At the risk of stating the obvious, this is horse-sh*t,” she wrote on Twitter, asterisk and all.
Mr. Rhodes, her deputy, repeated the denial on Friday. “There is zero truth to the claim about wanting to meet Kim,” he said. “It’s completely made up and totally incoherent with his previous claim that Obama wanted to go to war with North Korea.”
Other former Obama-era officials have publicly disputed the notion as well, including James R. Clapper Jr., who was director of national intelligence; Wendy R. Sherman, who was under secretary of state; Daniel R. Russel, who was assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs; and Jeremy Bash, who was chief of staff at the C.I.A. and later the Pentagon.
Mr. Trump has also sought to rewrite the history of his own family separation policy at the border, telling audiences that it was Mr. Obama who started it and the current president who stopped it.
“President Obama built those cells. They were in 2014,” Mr. Trump said last weekend at a news conference in Osaka, Japan. He added, “I just say this: They had a separation policy. Right? I ended it.”
He was correct that the Obama administration built some of the detention facilities that have been at the center of the latest furor over the treatment of migrants detained at the border, but they were never meant for the long-term detention of children.
Moreover, while the Obama administration did break up families, it was relatively rare and typically in cases of doubt about the relationship between a child and an accompanying adult.
Mr. Trump’s administration announced a “zero tolerance policy” in April 2018 that resulted in nearly 3,000 children being forcibly separated from parents. After an outcry, Mr. Trump signed an executive order two months later directing officials to end the practice of family separation.
It’s generally agreed the measure of a president has to be based on the record. Then why does trump keep saying “I inherited a mess”? “A mess”? Sure … it’s Obama’s fault is it that he handed Trump a lousy economy that had created 16.5 million jobs? If you have near full employment, rising stock markets, strongest dollar in some time, rising consumer confidence, lowest uninsured percentage . . . What’s the mess he inherited?
Dow Jones going from 7,949 to 17,735 (+123%) S
& P 500 going from 683 to 2040
Unemployment down from 7.8% to 4.9%
GDP Growth up from -5.4% to 2.2%
Deficit GDP% down from 9.8% to 2.8%
Consumer Confidence up from 37.7 to 97.6
Uninsured Adults down from 18% to 11.8%
American cars sold up from 10.4m to 17.5m
This is what Trump inherited. He has created his own mess because he can’t grasp the magnitude and complexity of the job.
Allow me to kick things off with a (perhaps embarrassing?) confession: The very thought of writing this piece seemed really intimidating to me.
I was concerned about creating something that was thorough and accurate, yet still made sense and was easy to read. Plus, I knew doing so meant that I’d be elbows-deep in a lot of heavy psychological research.
So, do you know what I did? Like the responsible adult that I am, I avoided this assignment for as long as I possibly could. I tackled a lot of other smaller (and easier) projects first: I cleaned out my inbox, I called my mom, and I even brushed my dog.
Needless to say, it doesn’t require much psychoanalysis to figure out my default defense mechanism: avoidance.
We all have this “anti-superpower” which does more harm than good at times. Finding out what yours is isn’t some sadistic exercise—pinpointing it can help you move past it. So, what’s yours? What behavior do you rely on to fend off feelings of anxiety and preserve your own ego? Not so sure? Well, let’s dig a bit deeper and find out.
But First…Why Do We Use Defense Mechanisms?
Defense mechanisms were first noted by Sigmund Freud, the famed founder of psychoanalysis. However, they were further developed and expanded on by his daughter, Anna Freud, via her notable research.
At their core, defense mechanisms are really self-serving. We all use them subconsciously in order to ward off and protect ourselves from negative thoughts or feelings—such as anxiety or guilt.
Our defense mechanisms really kick into high gear during situations where we feel threatened. That doesn’t necessarily mean physically threatened—rather, these psychological strategies are prevalent in high-stress environments where we doubt our abilities and suddenly become hyper-aware of our own shortcomings. We go on the defensive in order to preserve our own egos.
Of course, defense mechanisms can crop up in all areas of your life. But they’re visibly prevalent in the workplace, where stress often runs rampant and there’s an overwhelming desire to put your best foot forward.
Here’s the thing: Defense mechanisms are normal, and we all use them to a certain degree. But, as the research explains, it’s when these behaviors are used to the extreme that things take a turn for the worse: toward obsessive and even neurotic tendencies.
How do you stop your own defense mechanism from becoming a bigger problem, especially in the workplace? The first step is to recognize which one you’re relying on. A quick search reveals that there are tons of different ones out there, so we’re breaking down just a few that are likely lurking right in your own office.
Mechanism Motto: I’m going to stay as far away from that stressful thing as possible.
Let’s start with my personal favorite. Whenever there’s something that you don’t want to deal with, it often seems easiest to just avoid it entirely.
Procrastination is the most common form of avoidance in the workplace (ahem, guilty as charged)—you keep yourself away from a potentially negative scenario by continuing to push it further down the line. However, avoidance in the workplace extends beyond your tasks and into your relationships as well.
For example, maybe you’ve been strategically planning your coffee refills so you don’t have to run into that colleague you had a disagreement with in the break room.
Here’s the major problem with avoidance: things don’t go away just because you ignore them. That assignment will still need to get done. That conflict with that co-worker will need to be resolved eventually.
And the real kicker? Things often get worse the longer that you avoid them. Not only does your deadline get closer or the tension with your colleague simmer, but the anticipation itself is torture and often makes you blow things out of proportion. The sheer dread leading up to the confrontation is a powerful (and stressful) emotion.
Science backs this up. In one study that involved 35 participants who received electric shocks, 70% of them opted to receive stronger shocks immediately, as opposed to less severe shocks later (simply because the anticipation would’ve been agonizing).
Mechanism Motto: There’s no way that’s going to happen.
Imagine that you and your team are working on a large project together. The deadline is closing in, and you still have a lot of work left to accomplish—so much, in fact, that several of your team members have expressed concerns about whether or not you’ll make it over the finish line.
Every time they show even a shred of doubt you quickly reply with a seemingly nonchalant, “Nah, I’m not worried. That’s not going to happen.” Sure, you could call that positive thinking. But really, it’s a defense mechanism we all know as denial.
Denial is more than just avoiding a potentially threatening thought or circumstance—it involves vehemently denying the fact that it even exists. There’s no way that your team could miss the deadline. It’s not even a possibility.
Of course, worst-case scenarios are possible (and that’s far easier to recognize when you aren’t in the thick of things). But this defense mechanism blinds you with optimism so that you can move forward without the burden of realistic expectations.
“There is an immutable fact about denial: it does not work long term,” writes Carl Alasko, Ph.D. in an article for Psychology Today. “Reality always wins. And when it does, the next step in the process is to blame, which shifts responsibility onto someone or something else.”
Mechanism Motto: That wasn’t my fault because…
Ah, the old blame game. That’s exactly where rationalization comes into play. With this defense mechanism, you come up with a bunch of “facts” that explain why a situation played out a certain way.
Let’s go back to our example of missing a deadline for your team project. Admitting that you didn’t get it done on time because you started too late can sting.
You know what’s way easier? To say that you missed that deadline because another team was late getting you what you needed. Or your computer crashed. Or someone drank all of the coffee again. Or all of the above. Taking an honest look at your own faults and acknowledging how you’ve contributed to your downfall is never easy.
“For many people, with sensitive egos, making excuses comes so easy that they never are truly aware of it,” explains Saul McLeod, a psychology researcher for the University of Manchester, in an article for Simply Psychology. “In other words, many of us are quite prepared to believe our lies.”
Research backs this up: In one study, 42 participants (half seniors and half millennials) were given a form with 102 questions asking them about what they did the previous day (i.e. “Did you press snooze on your alarm clock?”).
The researchers randomly chose half of the questions and told participants to lie in their answers to those questions. Forty-five minutes later, participants were instructed to answer all of the questions again—this time completely truthfully.
What they discovered was surprising: People (particularly those from the senior group) were more inclined to believe the false answer they had previously recorded. And what was even more shocking was that the electroencephalography (which monitored participants’ brain activity) data found that lying actually engaged the brain processes responsible for working memory.
Rationalization comes naturally to most of us, but it’s still not a healthy habit in the workplace—one study shows that it can even be contagious. And that’s bad news because research also shows that, on teams where blame becomes the norm, there’s less creativity and poorer performance.
Mechanism Motto: I need to find an unsuspecting target for my negative emotions.
Your boss strolled into the office an hour late. That’s a transgression you could’ve ignored…had they not had the audacity to then call you into their office and give you a lecture on the importance of showing up to work on time.
Smoke is coming out of your ears, but you know that you can’t yell at your boss. You keep your cool, apologize (…for nothing), and then exit their office.
What happens next?
If you rely on displacement as a defense mechanism, anyone who crosses your path is going to wish they hadn’t. You may become unjustifiably angry with your direct reports, or even snap at your innocent colleagues. Put simply, you’ll channel all of your frustration and negative emotions into the totally wrong target, all because directing those feelings at your boss would’ve meant consequences for you.
You’re human and bad days are inevitable. However, the fact remains that it’s not a reliable coping strategy and will only do damage to your working relationships long-term.
“Naturally, this is a pretty ineffective defense mechanism, because while the anger finds a route for expression, its misapplication to other harmless people or objects will cause additional problems for most people,” writes John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
Tear Down Your Walls: Can You Prevent Your Defense Mechanisms?
Remember, defense mechanisms are normal. And, when used occasionally, can actually help you. However, it’s when your defense mechanism becomes a repeated habit that you can sabotage yourself in the office.
I won’t sugarcoat it—stopping yourself from relying on these defense mechanisms is uncomfortable and challenging. It requires that you do the one thing you were hoping to avoid: allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
Like any other behavior, the first step in making a change is to recognize the problem. Analyze your thoughts, emotions, reactions, and exchanges at work to figure out which of the above defense mechanisms you’re using as a crutch.
Don’t see yourself in any of the above? There are plenty of other defense mechanisms out there, including:
- Regression: Reverting to childlike behaviors (i.e. Michael Scott mimicking people when he’s aggravated).
- Compartmentalization: Segregating different thoughts or portions of your life (i.e. shutting out any personal problems while you’re at work).
- Projection: Assigning your own thoughts and emotions to others (i.e. mentioning that your colleague looks really nervous for her performance review when it’s, in fact, you who is anxious).
- Undoing: Attempting to backpedal a negative behavior with a lot of positives (i.e. saying something rude to a co-worker and then showering him with compliments the rest of the afternoon).
Once you’ve identified what you’re using to preserve your own ego, it’s time to enlist some help so you don’t fall right back into old habits.
Find someone you trust on your team or in your office that can hold you accountable and identify when they see you putting your guard up. This should be someone who can, in the heat of the moment, direct your attention to the fact that you’re displacing your frustration or avoiding your to-do list.
It’s not a secret that accountability partners can work wonders. The American Society of Training and Development found that people are 65% more likely to complete a goal after committing it to another person. So, if your goal is to change your behavior, you can expect a pretty decent success rate.
The Best Offense Is a Good Defense…Right?
This sentiment holds true in sports, but not so much at work. Relying on any type of defense mechanism too much makes it all too easy to lose sight of the reality right in front of you.
Here’s the good news: You can do something about it.
After all, if I could finally force myself to sit down and write this article, I think you can overcome your own defense mechanism, too. That’s a fact that’s difficult to deny—even if denial happens to be your go-to choice of defense.
The primary problem is that our identities are too small. We tend to rely most on our smaller, cultural identities and ignore our larger, common identity as members of the body of Christ. . . . Indeed, adopting a common identity is the key to tearing down cultural divisions and working toward reconciliation. —Christena Cleveland 
The dualistic mind, upon which most of us were taught to rely, is simply incapable of the task of creating unity. It automatically divides reality into binary opposites and does most of its thinking inside this limited frame. It dares to call this choosing of sides “thinking” because that is all it knows how to do. “Really good” thinking then becomes devising a strong argument for our side’s superiority versus another country, race, group, political party, or religion.
It seems we must have our other! We struggle to know who we are except by opposition and exclusion. Eucharist was supposed to tell Christians who we are in a positive and inclusionary way. But many Catholics, particularly clergy, have made the Holy Meal into a “prize for the perfect” and a “reward for good behavior” instead of medicine for sickness—which we all equally need. Now I see what our real sickness is. Our sickness or “sin” is the illusion of separateness, a completely mistaken identity which is far too small and too boundaried. The Eucharist is made to order to remind us that we are all one body of Christ. Even those in “other flocks” (see John 10:16)—other religions or no religion at all—are still part of the one body of God, which is, first of all, creation itself.
Christianity’s long history of anti-Semitism is one example of this. Throughout Europe, leaders at the highest levels of church and culture, and even canonized saints, thought Jews were a problem—while their own leader Jesus, his mother Mary, and all the apostles were fully Jewish! Figure that one out. Anti-Semitism only lessened for a time during the Crusades when Christians directed their negative energy toward Muslims. Later, when there were no obvious “others” around, we Christians divided into warring denominations and did our fighting there.
Humans are wired to scapegoat and project our shadow elsewhere. Being able to recognize our own negativity takes foundational conversion and transformation of the egoic self. Unitive consciousness—the awareness that we are all one in Love—lays a solid foundation for social critique and acts of justice. I hope we will let God show us how to think and live in new ways, ways that meet the very real needs of our time on this suffering planet.
When my 10-year-old daughter was shunned by her friends a few years ago, we tried a surprisingly effective anti-bullying strategy.
The trouble started during a play date when three little girls battled over who would wear the one sparkly gown for dress-up. It ended up my daughter’s prize, infuriating one of the girls who told the rest not to play with her. My daughter defended herself, crying, as the other girls continued to taunt her.
Searching for answers, I came upon the work of Izzy Kalman, a school psychologist, educator and author of “Bullies to Buddies: How to Turn Your Enemies Into Friends.” His concept of the golden rule is to treat the person insulting you as a friend rather than an enemy, and not to get defensive or upset.
Following his online advice, I told my daughter: “If they say they don’t want to play with you, say very politely, ‘It’s a free country. It’s O.K. if you don’t want to play with me.’ Then find something else to do.”
It seemed like a lot to ask of a child who was already upset. But we role-played until she had the script down. The next time someone tried to shun her, she didn’t act offended, and the other children saw her as less of a target and moved on. Eventually, the friendships resumed with minimal emotional collateral damage.
Mr. Kalman’s strategy differs from the approach favored by many schools in several ways: It avoids labeling a child as a bully (it’s an insult, like “wimp” or “loser”), but also advocates going to adults for advice or help with role playing. His method encourages kids to solve problems on their own rather than asking an adult to put pressure on the school to take the side of the upset child over the one identified as the “bully.” He also teaches children how to handle threats and situations where they are made to feel unsafe.
Of course, if a child is physically attacked, he deems that a crime and endorses calling for adult intervention.
“The message given today is that although sticks and stones can break my bones, words can kill me, but that is counterproductive,” Mr. Kalman said. If someone is committing a crime against you, go to the authorities. “But not because they’re insulting you or don’t want to sit with you at lunch.”
Don’t Punish Kids for Saying Negative Words
Mr. Kalman explained that when we punish kids for using certain words, it teaches them that words are very harmful. And when an adult punishes a child for saying something hurtful, it magnifies hostilities and takes the solution for fixing the issue out of the child’s hands.
“Nobody can guarantee their children a life without difficulties. If you protect your children from the social challenges of life, it weakens them,” he said.
Instead of having adults act like law enforcement officers against bullying, Mr. Kalman advises teaching children the following four facts:
1) The real reason they are being picked on is that they get upset when they are picked on.
2) They have been making themselves upset.
3) Fighting back and acting defensive fuels the bullying.
4) By not getting upset, the child wins, and gets the bullies to stop.
“The way to reduce bullying is to not punish kids for exercising their freedom of speech,” Mr. Kalman said. Teaching children that everyone is allowed to speak freely removes much of the power of the bullying and enables children to be their own advocates.
The popular model of encouraging parents and educators to report and punish bullying often escalates to more aggression, according to Susan Kavich, a principal at Three Rivers School in Channahon, Ill., who uses Dr. Kalman’s methods.
Dr. Doris M. Greenberg, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician in Savannah, Ga., said “Of all the approaches to the problem of bullying, Izzy Kalman’s approach stands out.”
But many anti-bullying experts think Mr. Kalman’s scripts oversimplify things and call on a child who is likely to be upset to show outsize maturity and restraint.